President’s Pages in Princeton Alumni Weekly
Tales of Two Lampposts
May 16, 2012
Throughout the academic year, Princeton’s staid metal lampposts sprout colorful appendages that capture, in microcosm, the vibrancy of campus life. Battered by wind and rain, stapled together in untidy agglomerations, and never the same from one week to the next, these posters attest to the remarkable creativity and curiosity of our faculty and students, to the eclectic nature of their interests, and to the unique juxtaposition of opportunities that defines a university like ours. It is true that digital advances and environmental concerns are changing the way we publicize events, but whatever the future holds for conventional posters, their graphical message will remain an important form of individual expression, public communication, and institutional identity. For all these reasons, I thought I would introduce you to two lampposts as they appeared on a bright spring afternoon.
The posts in question were largely obscured by 12 different posters, all jockeying for attention and, in places, overlapping one another. Two were modest affairs on letter-size paper — one posted by the Princeton Scandinavian Association, promoting its “Viking Study Break 2.0” from 9 p.m. to midnight at Whitman College, and one posted by Theatre Intime, announcing auditions for 7 Stories by Canadian playwright Morris Panych, with show dates coinciding with Reunions. (Mark your calendars!) But the other posters were larger, more elaborate, and as different in appearance as their themes, which ranged from a call for Princeton Preview hosts (“Earn Your Stripes; Host a Future Tiger”), to a list of Holy Week services in the Princeton University Chapel, to an open invitation to “An Evening of Vinyasa Flow Yoga and North Indian Sitar,” combining practice, discussion, and performance.
Emblematic of Princeton’s educational mission was a poster depicting part of Raphael’s celebrated fresco, The School of Athens, with Plato and Aristotle front and center. This formed the visual backdrop for the fifth annual graduate conference in political theory, jointly supported by the Department of Politics and the University Center for Human Values — an opportunity for our graduate students to discuss the work of visiting peers. The poster listed all eight papers to be given, as well as the intriguingly titled keynote presentation by Professor Elisabeth Ellis ’90 of Texas A&M University, “Extinction and Democracy: Species Conservation and the Limits of -Politics.” Also tempting passersby was a poster announcing the Lapidus Family Fund Lecture in American Jewish Studies, to be delivered by Professor Jenna Weissman Joselit of George Washington University. The title of her talk, “Mr. Wyrick’s Tablets: America’s Embrace of the Ten Commandments,” was underscored by the poster’s use of red, white, and blue, as well as a 19th-century drawing of Moses receiving the Tablets of the Law atop Mount Sinai.
Contrasting sharply with these examples of representational art was a poster whose vivid hues and abstract design could pass for an artist’s concept of the cosmos. Under the heading, “Religion and Race,” it announced a four-person panel discussion chaired by Associate Dean of the Graduate School Karen Jackson-Weaver ’94 and sponsored by the Office of Religious Life and the Women’s Center. Attendees were promised “a dynamic and thoughtful conversation about the intersections of religion and race from feminist and womanist perspectives.” Race also formed the subject of another poster, this one featuring photographs of award-winning playwrights Jorge Ignacio Cortiñas and Young Jean Lee, the latest speakers in the Center for African American Studies and Department of English’s Critical Encounters Series. Entitled “‘Enabling Violations’: Race, Theater, and Experimentation” and co-sponsored by the Programs in Gender and Sexuality Studies and Latin American Studies, this “open conversation” reflects the series’s aspiration to offer “a forum that bridges the gap between scholarship and the creative arts.”
The arts made an appearance on three other posters, including one promoting Theatre Intime’s production of Private Lives, directed by Savannah Hankinson ’13. Nöel Coward’s classic comedy of manners was skillfully represented by the silhouettes of two embracing couples linked to one another by outstretched cocktail glasses. Another poster announced the first in a series of movie screenings and discussions with the engaging title of “Hollywood Science Gone Bad,” hosted by the Princeton Undergraduate Geosciences Society. Featuring the 2004 disaster film The Day After Tomorrow and a conversation led by Dusenbury Professor of Geological and Geophysical Sciences Daniel Sigman, this event was vividly captured by the Statue of Liberty in mask and snorkel, about to be enveloped by a monstrous wave. Equally eye-catching, albeit in a less dramatic way, was a poster advertising “Inspiration Night” at the Princeton University Art Museum — a “Late Thursdays” event designed to give participants an opportunity to sketch, compose, or write in the presence of inspirational works of art, with drawing materials and refreshments provided. The poster was itself a creative gem, depicting one of the museum’s best known paintings, Monet’s Water Lilies and Japanese Bridge, spilling lilies onto a young artist’s open sketchbook.
Remarkably, this is just a small sampling of the hundreds of posters that adorn our campus lampposts. Next week, they will tell an entirely different story, reminding us that life outside the classroom is as rich as life inside it.