Daily Archives: May 2, 2009

a degree in decorative arts and Material cultuRe Studies


A good friend of mine laughs when people say Albion is a place where a lot of people come to get an MRS. degree – “if that was my plan, honey, I’d have gone to Yale.  That’s doing it right.”

The other night, some of us were sitting around our dining room, cluttered with snack-wrappers, decongestants, crumpled/official institutional papers, and the remnants of creative party costumes, and we found ourselves researching a certain academic institution.   Their slogan, “A Place to Think”, smacked of our latest investment, the beloved “Always Thinking” campaign, but we chuckled, thinking that their rhetoric fit the bill better than our sweet Midwestern face.  Recreationally perusing their assets, we restlessly explored their internet space, imagining degrees and futures and places far from here.  I happened upon their graduate degrees, finding one dedicated to the study of “decorative arts” and the study of material culture.   They, with futures in translational neuroscience and clean water activism couldn’t help chuckling, and I laughed too.

It got me to thinking about material culture.  As an amateur psychologist and an aspiring marketer, I am fascinated by why people purchase what they do, how it makes them feel, and what that means about them and all of us.   I suspected I would enjoy the field of study, but was equally convinced I would jump out of the window of an Upper East Side apartment if I spent too much time there.

And I’m looking around the dining room table now while I should be writing a final exam paper, and I’m noticing the tremendous amount of “stuff” I’ve accumulated over the week.  Transitional periods in life are usually accompanied by the acquisition of things, as if we like the ancient Egyptians are trying to gift our leaving loved ones into success in the next phase of life’s journey.

In this week, I’ve acquired a lot of material.  This includes but is not limited to:  A silver-plated frame engraved with “Albion College”, penis shaped wine charms and ice-cube trays, a marble paperweight mounting a bronze plaque inscribed with my name, a sequined butterfly thong from Meijer, plastic lobster shaped plates, a fair-trade obnoxiously beaded but stylish ring from India, and highly-caloric snackfood courtesy of the admission office (hoping to appease the younger ones into retention and the older ones into donation).

It’s funny, sitting with all of it surrounding me here in the dining room.  A little tipsy, I can’t help but laugh at the juxtaposition – the ceremonial next to the absurd, the creative next to the conventional, and how much that feels like these last 8 days of our time here.  We bounce back and forth from pomp and circumstance to feet pounding down the stairs and a stream of obscenities as someone has tackled someone else on the floor.   The days are divided into the sentimental and the escapist, the formal and the utterly casual, the poignant and the ridiculous.  Hardly a day passes where someone hasn’t sobbed and laughed hysterically only an hour later, and honestly none of us are sure whether we should be blinking proud tears or scoffing at the stolen Balwin trays arriving daily at our door.

These days are strange ones, and all I can think to do is finish my paper on the most significant theories in the field of Communications, sipping on the wine in my glass adorned with a red beaded charm and a dangling dick.  A somewhat realistic one, with veins and everything.   Cheers.

The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed
ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to
function.  – F. Scott Fitzgerald