Don Kimes thinks he’s talked enough about his work during the 15 or so lectures he’s delivered as artistic director of the Visual Arts at Chautauqua Institution.
In Kimes’ lecture at 7 p.m. Tuesday, August 7, in the Hultquist Center, which will wrap up the Visual Arts Lecture Series for the summer, he’ll mention his own art. But he really wants to talk about his 33 years at Chautauqua Institution in general, he said.
Kimes considers himself a “friendly philosopher,” he said, not a “heavy-duty” one, and that will influence the tone of his talk.
“I’m going to talk about being an artist, … how one manages, how you live life as an artist, how you deal with the unexpected, how you survive,” Kimes said. “It will be fun, it will be philosophical in a shopkeeping philosophical way.”
Kimes came to Chautauqua Institution in 1986 and completely rebuilt the School of Art and its visual arts program. Prior to that, he worked at the New York Studio School as a professor, program director and ultimately faculty chair and board of governors chair.
Around the same time Kimes was hired by Chautauqua, he also started teaching at American University. Currently the head of studio art there, he also served as art department chair for a year and established study abroad programs in Italy.
During his time at American University, Kimes was also instrumental in raising funds for the construction of the school’s Katzen Arts Center. According to the building’s website, it houses 30,000 square feet of museum galleries and 37,000 square feet of studio and fine arts space.
Kimes is a painter, and his work is mostly contemporary, abstract and modern. In 2003, his Washington, D.C., studio flooded, and Kimes lost 25 years’ worth of work; since then, his paintings have focused on nature, time and other related subjects.
“To put it in even simpler terms: I am using the second part of my life to re-paint the first,” Kimes says in his biography from Denise Bibro Fine Art, the gallery that represents his work. “The flood turned out to be a gift, an exquisite interruption.”
Kimes loves teaching. Professors often credit their students with keeping them young, but he feels slightly differently. Borrowing a phrase from Kurt Vonnegut, Kimes said his students keep him “unstuck in time.”
When he first started teaching, Kimes felt more like an uncle to his students, he said, and had to grapple with how much he should act as their friend as well as their professor. Now, though, Kimes said he enjoys the lack of “confusion” that his years of experience have afforded him. Art students now refer to Kimes as “Dad” (and his wife, VACI Managing Director Lois Jubeck, as “Mom”).
“There’s a certain level of wisdom that comes as you get older,” Kimes said. “I can’t imagine a student could come to me with anything I haven’t already been through.”
Kimes’ students have also taught him more literal, practical things — like how to navigate Gmail and his computer. They’ve also helped him see the evolution of how people view art now, versus the way they did when he was a student.
“That world that is one step in front of the other is so different than the world of multiple simultaneous realities that we all exist in now,” Kimes said. “It’s something people see in the way we produce art … the way they experience work is multiple layered realities. That’s the biggest paradigm shift since the printing press was invented.”
To Kimes, art is a crucial component of society. When people study ancient civilizations, he said, they don’t always remember everything, but they do remember art.
“If a civilization doesn’t have (art), it has nothing,” Kimes said. “Art is what makes us human. Art is what distinguishes us from the animal kingdom. Art is what gives us our soul.”