Isabel Dawson

Final Project: Petals

watercolor and ink installation

Just like a flower, Siena will fall apart over time—in both its physical form and in the thoughts of my mind. Today I can see the buildings, strong and full of vivid color. But in time they will only exist for me, in pieces. Like the petals of a flower, memories fade over time and lose their intensity. Petals scatter in the wind—and with time, my images of Siena will fall away. Although destined to become fragmented, my remnants of Siena will always hold the beauty that comes with knowing how they once were. Now it will be up to me to piece these petals together.


Reading Response to Alfredo Jaar “On the Being of Being an Artist”

In “On the Being of Being an Artist,” Alfredo Jaar comments on the constant effort of man to create a new order of reality for himself different than that which is given to him. Immediately, this idea reminds me of the Artist’s Paradox (“The constant struggle of the artist to recreate or transform real life into an art form through a process that can be carried out successfully only when the actual is transmuted by the artistic imagination”), a quote I was made to memorize in high school, by author Henry James. Jaar contemplates the reality that he was given inside a society filled with difficult times. He questions how we can make art that works here and that will fit into this crazy world. He realizes that we make art because we have to—ultimately, his reality is art: what we all need in order to understand and express how we feel about the world around us.

Reading Response to Jerry Saltz “What Art Is and What Artists Do”:

Jerry Saltz has a theory about art within which he sees it as a catalyst for change. Its part of a universal force–as an energy source that helps make change possible. He suggests that we exist to make art and that it works through us to mold history. It’s a necessity that we can’t quite understand or explain but yet he describes it so distinctly in this theory. He can’t do so fully, as he explains, and yet his words capture the idea of art beautifully. He says that no thinking exists without feeling, and it’s clear that his theory shows evidence of both. Saltz seems passionate about art, and this way of looking at it inspires me to create more.

Artist Statement:

I consider art to be fueled by our emotional connection to a moment in life. Methods, materials, and processes can all be inconsistent and rarely do we love what we create when we do so without emotional investment. The urge to create art can only go as far as the love or the distaste we have for the moment. My emotional contact with the people and places in my life influence my desire to create. The focus is on feeling, because this is what we remember after we have left a moment. It is the moment we find ourselves filled with emotion that should drive our work. I love to be moved, but movement can also reveal our vulnerabilities. Vulnerability allows us the opportunity to embrace feeling in the moment; it opens the door for individuality and pushes us to communicate in new ways.

Mid-Term Project Statement: 

The city of Siena invites us all to visualize it as: a flower–a rose with petals that form layered circles around one another. Its heart is Piazza del Campo and its petals are the streets that branch away from it. All parts stem from one seed, and from this they can bend away with minds of their own. Fragile, intimate, and pretty; sprinkled with light and rooted in a proud and abundant past. History has a pulse here and it runs through these streets like veins. They wind around each other leading to new places, and still, they all find their way back to the heart of the center.

#SpaceToMake walk – The Hidden Fountain: 

The Fonte del casato is a medieval fountain that was built by the people of the area in the mid 1300s. It’s hidden from view but once you find it you are faced with a large set of stairs leading down to the water. Originally the stairs were an inconvenience for people to use as a place to get water so it was mostly a trough for animals—this inconvenience led to the fountain being forgotten and unused. It’s not very artistically significant but it is very unique because it was built in a central area of the city but hidden between houses. It has always remained hidden, but I found it—and now it’s one of my favorite places in Siena.

Response to Rebecca Solnit “Blue of Distance”:
To Solnit, the word blue captures so many different things. It can be the light that got lost within a distance—the further the distance the deeper and more vibrant the color. It describes emotion—the emotions that come with distance or separation. There is a range however, and what is close to us can still be a mystery. We desire to know these mysteries and to close these distances because desire is a problem when there is distance between us and what fills this desire.
Solnit has such a brilliant way of discussing this distance—a way that speaks to me and compelled me to keep reading. She questions perspective and how even the slightest change to it can be it’s own entirely new outlook; we all have our own “longing” and therefore our own desires and ways of understanding distances in our lives. Even still, we can hardly “know our own depths.” There will always this “ambiguous faraway,” this island in the distance. I agree that art has the ability to draw a distance closer and that it attempts to capture it. Solnit’s idea of distance being blue is so well fitting and I believe it is a beautiful way of accurately describing the emotions which accompany distance in its many forms.

Guidebook Project: 

This guidebook is a compilation of all of drawings I created during one week here in Siena: one Wednesday to another. I used the booklet as a journal or personal diary and drew images in it each day. These images recount moments I shared with friends or spent alone–at cafes, the hot springs, school, etc… I used a variety of materials such as pen, watercolor, and marker when creating these daily doodles–using whatever medium I had nearby at that time. The drawings were sporadic in design, not placed in any order, but just done randomly. However, they all hold a similar carefree way about them and most, If not all, have a wide range of color.

Art & Craft reflection: 

The artists I have seen since being in Siena have shown a range of different approaches to art and they each have a different understanding of what it means to be an artist, artisan, or crafts-man. Pier Giorgio Bertolozzi, made a point to tell our group that he was not an artist but rather, an artisan. An artisan is distinctly a skilled worker who makes things by hand. He specializes in what he loves to do and has a strong connection to his culture and his community. His work with calligraphy and bookmaking shows years of finesse and craftsmanship. The precision shown in each mark was astounding, and the passion that he had for his work was visible in the way he spoke about it. Pier Giorgio’s jewish heritage is a large influence for most of the work he produces–this connects them all and makes each a sibling to the rest. His connection with his community in Siena and the intention he has for each piece provide evidence that he is an artisan of his craft. I don’t want to overlook the network of talented artists that Pier Giorgio is a part of; Instead, I intend to go back and visit their studios (Pier Giorgio’s in particular)–so I can learn more about their techniques and ways of life.

Tempo Zulu Project: 


The walk we took led us to several different stones placed within the streets of Siena; each with its own story. Some showed designs or symbols and others had words or phrases; each was worn down and faded from the constant wear and tear of the city.

When asked to imagine my own stone, it was difficult for me to move past the initial mental road-block telling me that Siena is only a city I’m passing through; I am just a visitor so what image or idea could I possibly put on this stone that wouldn’t seem self-centered or out of place amidst this history-filled city?I googled zulu stones to get a better idea of what makes a stone a zulu stone, but instead I ended up discovering zulu crystals. These are brightly colored gems meant for chakra healing. The images gave me the idea of designing a stone full of colors. I researched colorful stones that might be durable enough to withstand cars and constant walking, and came across mosaics full of stones with different shapes and colors.

I love the way mosaics look knowing the time and effort that goes into them–they’re brilliant. But where could I place this mosaic? It would need to be somewhere not too out in the open where It could be crushed by cars but instead somewhere private yet busy enough that it would be seen and remembered. Bernardo had mentioned designating an area in the new garden as a place where people could hang out – we could put a few tables and chairs and even a lattice or umbrella above them. This location would be a perfect place for my stone because I intend to involve myself in the garden’s development and I see it becoming a special place for me here in Siena. Ideally I’d gather some stones/pebbles from around the town, but if I wanted to stick with my idea of a colorful image there are some stones I could purchase online. The image should be of the Siena Art Institute/ School for Liberal Arts because this building is its new location and I would love to create a piece celebrating that.

Reading response Rebecca Solnit “Shape of a Walk:”

The chapter caused me to reflect on all of the walking I have done since being here in Siena and on my walk of destiny, in particular. Solnit mentioned that marks in a landscape and the views of the world can be something so beautiful and peaceful to be surrounded by. Walks allow us to take in countless views and images of the world distinct to a single place or moment in time. When we make art or capture these moments in photographs we have the power to remember how we felt as well as what we saw along those walks. The chapter mentioned several artists and the influence walking had on their artistic voices and I hope that my time walking here in Siena will do the same for me. What I have seen of Italy so far has been unbelievably beautiful and I am so grateful for the opportunity I have been given to study here and for right now, thats what I see and think about when I walk. But overtime I know that some things will become familiar and more ordinary and Solnit explains that these ordinary things can often be the most meaningful. “Walking as art can call meaning to even the simplest aspects of the act”.

First Intro Unit Project: “Walk of Destiny:”

For the walk of destiny reflection I decided to draw some quick sketches in the moment as I came across my final destination. The walk led me from Piazza del Campo to a fountain by a cafe I recognized from a few nights ago. The fountain had a statue who pointed off into the distance and behind him there was a secret passage leading to another street I couldn’t see. The water was green and looked beautiful–contrasting with the red of the fountain’s brick structure. When I turned around to leave I noticed a figure in one of the windows behind me. It was a white statue peering out from behind a yellow curtain. My sketches are of these two statues and they aim to show the two takeaways I had from my walk of destiny; which gave me a new appreciation of an old location and led me to notice some things I hadn’t before.

Bio statement: 

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Art has always been a way for me to express myself through texture, line, and form. I want my artwork to depict how I feel as I create it and represent any thoughts or perceptions I might have, at the time. At Holy Cross I’ve found a love for printmaking within which woodcut and drypoint are two of my favorite styles. The works I create often share a similar gestural mark-making technique. My style is free-spirited and full of active marks that show movement. I am an easygoing but always moving girl and its visible in my art.


Selection of previous work: