Artist traces non-traditional background

On Wednesday afternoon, artist and writer Carol Diehl encouraged students at the School of Art to create “participatory” art — works that inspire audiences to immerse themselves into the themes and ideas expressed by the creator.

In front of an audience of roughly 20 graduate students, Diehl described her evolution from an employee at the Office of Graduate Admissions at Yale to the cover-art commissioner at TIME Magazine. One of the country’s renowned art savants, Diehl also offered words of encouragement to the students, emphasizing the need for introspection and persistence in art-related careers. As part of the lecture, Diehl displayed slides of her work as well as works by her friends, collaborators and artists that have influenced her.

“When I was 19, I gave up my education to put my ex-husband through Yale Grad School — I had no ambitions, I did what women did those days,” Diehl said. “My degree is a vicarious Ph.D. from Yale and experience in the real world.”

Diehl’s breakthrough into the art world came when she was simultaneously working on a political campaign in Chicago and taking abstract painting classes. She began to write for New Art Examiner — a now defunct art magazine — where she rapidly rose through the ranks to become its managing editor. The forays into the Chicago art scene she was making at the same time were as influential as her work in the magazine, she said, adding that encounters with several prominent artists of the period — including Robert Irwin and John Coplans — “changed her life.”

Diehl said her disparate experiences allowed her to develop a view on art that remains that of both an outsider and an insider — of someone immersed in the art scene yet lacking formal training. She noted her admiration of Banksy — a British graffiti artist and political activist — as an example of her ability to appreciate art that many professionals in the field disdain.

“Many people in the art world think that if something is popular, it can’t possibly be good,” she said. The fact that New York Magazine senior art critic Jerry Saltz, who is Diehl’s friend, expressed contempt for Banksy’s “Ronald McDonald Shoe Shine” only increased her appreciation of the work, she said, strengthening her belief that their contrasting views enhance the effect of the piece.

She expressed a similar view of the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, D.C., explaining that every member of society — a scholar and a grocery-store owner alike — is able to appreciate the sculpture. It is an “inclusive” work, she said, much like Banksy’s controversial political manifesto.

Diehl’s unique perspective on art stems from her emphasis on inclusiveness, said Brandon Coley Cox ART ’15, adding that he thinks her multifaceted, populist background has been a crucial factor in molding her views and ideas.

Blackman said he found Diehl’s presence positive and inspirational.

Diehl concluded her lecture by saying that the future of art is in the hands of those in the room, whom she encouraged to persist in their efforts despite potential obstacles.

“[Your work] may not be popular with your peers,” she said. “But you will be recognized by those who are of a like mind. You are doing the work of the future.”

Diehl is the 2011 recipient of the Creative Capital/Warhol Foundation Arts Writers Grant.

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