Seph Rodney stood in front of his class at the New School’s Parsons School of Design, trying to think of something worthwhile to say.
It was his last day of teaching a “mixed bag” of a class, with a few especially difficult students, and Rodney was in the middle of what he admits was a less-than-inspirational talk.
“I was trying to just give them something to go off on, that would be useful … and one of the students asked me whether I had any real-life advice to give them,” he said, “and I thought about it for a second, and thought, ‘Actually, I do.’”
Now he hopes to impart the same wisdom he gave his class at Parsons to the Students and Emerging Artists at Chautauqua’s School of Art.
Rodney is a writer, museum scholar and senior editor at arts magazine Hyperallergic. He will be giving the summer’s last Chautauqua Visual Arts Visiting Artists Lecture. Rodney’s talk will air at 6:30 p.m. EDT Tuesday, Aug. 25, on the CHQ Assembly Virtual Porch.
When Rodney was talking to his students at Parsons, he was inspired by an interview he watched with actor and singer Billy Porter.
“He said something really beautiful, his own piece of life advice,” Rodney said. “(He said) that you need to believe in yourself, you need to bet on yourself and you need to treat yourself.”
Looking at his own life, Rodney is able to use those three principles to trace his journey, from a kid growing up in a working-class family with little exposure to visual art or literature, to an arts writer and critic with a doctorate in philosophy and museum studies from the University of London.
“There’s not much in my family’s history that would indicate that I would end up doing the things that I do now,” he said. “I had to really bet on myself, and I had to treat myself well, because the whole process of getting a Ph.D. was brutal, and I don’t use that word lightly; it was the hardest thing I’d ever done and it was much harder than I thought it could or would be.”
Rodney said that, although “treating yourself” and “self-care” have become popular buzzwords used to the point of losing their meaning, at their core remains an important reminder.
“That buzzword tends to break down to something that’s actually very useful,” he said, “which is treating ourselves as if our bodies are finite energy resources, (that) actually do need downtime to just look out the window and recalibrate.”
He hopes that Chautauquans will leave his talk with these three key principles in mind.
“I want to talk about how really fundamentally important it is to do these things, to really bet on yourself — and by bet I mean take risks on yourself — and to treat yourself,” Rodney said. “I want to talk about all that and use my own story as a way of hopefully being inspirational.”