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Trying to Figure It Out mi Michael Snow was awarded an honorary doctoratefrom the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design in Halifax. His acceptance speech, which follows, was spoken (read) to Garry Neil Kennedy, the director, the faculty, the graduating class and students on 7 May 1987. Thank you very much, Garry, and thanks to all who were responsible for my selection for this honour. It is indeed an honour. I am really tempted to believe that I, or the work that I do, merit the distinction of this doctorate and this occasion by the respect I have for the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, what it has been, what it is and what it signifies. The source of that respect is, of course, the success of the college in its function as a school, which has to include the decisions involved in its founding and development but comes from a recognition of the depth and range of its teaching and an acknowledgement of the talent here on the academic level but finally for me an admiration for the extraordinary talents as practising artists of many members of the faculty. They are amongst the most interesting artists working anywhere today, and contact with them can be invaluableto a student. I am also honoured by the respect I have for the work of previous recipients and my inclusion in their company. Admitting, as is often the case, the difficulty of having sufficient experience and information to make a relevant judgement from reasonable comparisons, I feel that the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design is the best such organization in North America. But what is such an organization and what is a College of Art and Design concerned with? The word "design" doesn't oscillate like its companion. It seems to be about intention, about conscious schooled arrangement of parts, about systems and patterns. I am here by Design. This talk, I say, is designed. The other three-letter word "Art" is much more problematic. There are occasions when it can usefully be used precisely because it is problematic. How can one - someone or an organization - teach a "subject" upon which there is incredibly little consensus as to its nature, function and boundaries. There are almost as many definitions of quote "art" unquote as there are critics, historians and artists. What is it and what do those who call themselves artists do? What do I do? What have I done? What will we do? It is to the credit of the college that it seems to have taught the excitement of an involvement with an ambiguity, of an involvement with the creative gardening of definitions ... of art. I was informed of my selection for the honour of this doctorate by someone who has known me and my work for several years and whose knowledge and friendship I value. 279 T 280 The Collected Writings of Michael Snow In the course of the phone conversation, he mentioned that though he recalled my saying on several occasions in the past, sometimes in speeches, that I was reluctant to make speeches, to give talks, that I didn't think I could contribute to that medium, he hoped that I would waive trepidation and talk on this occasion. My belief that I am capable of producing works of interest in several media, though occasionally shaky, has been reinforced to the point of conceit by receiving this doctorate, and this confidence has led me to the present attempt to make an exception to what I thought was my rule. I am convinced at any rate that this is a speech or a talk, whether it can be defined as "art" or not. Language lives - grows, bulges, shrinks, learns to talk, loses its hair and despite the quote "fact" that there can be no discourse without an unprovable community consensus as to the meanings of the words employed, there is a sense in which the cloudiness at the edges of the compendium of definitions of Art, which is especially noticeable, is also discernible, on examination of all definitions. So that to have been taught "art" well is to be led to a position which is as enlightening and as "truthful" as is possible vis-a-vis a confrontation with definition. The famous Lacanian blah blah might as well be put, though not as excitingly as in its original form: "L'art n'existe pas." The cloudiness at the edges of definition is in fact...


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