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Sunday, May 4, 2008

On Target - The Art of Archery - What does it have to do with anything?

Jessica R. Alexander, Reference Librarian


At this time of year I think a lot about exams and studying.  I empathize with nervous and self-doubting students.  I have been thinking about how to write a blog piece about zen and exam preparation and performance - like "Zen and the art of taking law school exams."  But this title for a blog piece seemed phony and trite.

Then there is coincidence. Today, my friend Ward and I went to the Houston Center for Contemporary Craft.  Its a wonderful place where visitors can view sophisticated art, talk to the artists in residence, take classes, and buy pieces of art.  I happened to venture into a small studio labeled fiber artist.  Its inhabitant was Greg Rubio, who turns pieces of recycled cloth having significance to his past into art.  The archery target is the central theme.  (You can view his work at The Drawing Center viewing program. At the home page click on Viewing Program and do a key word search for Rubio.

As a fabric collector I was fascinated.  We talked about his art and about his love of archery. (My friend Ward has a connection to archery because his grandfather, C. E.  Schurman,  was once the Nebraska state men's archery champion and President of the Nebraska Archery Association. He was also a craft person and artist who carved his own elegant bows and made his own arrows.)

The synchronicity and ironies just kept coming.  When I told Greg that I was a librarian at STCL, who likes to collect book jackets and every so often, when in a certain "zone," can create art out of fabric or recycled book jackets, he told me that a friend of a friend is a first- semester student at STCL.  He related that the student is rather frantic about final exams. At that moment, my attention turned to pieces of ecru paper tacked to the wall above him.  The papers contained intricate writing that seemed almost indecipherable.  I asked him about them and he told me that they are notes from his archery teacher about technique.  They will be the subject of his next art project.  I inquired further and he explained that archery requires the archer to defeat body reflexes to the extent that they impair the physics of the string and bow, and the accuracy of the archer's sight.  Curbing these reflexes requires "a certain letting go." The archer cannot turn his head to peer around the side of the arrow, a natural reflex, but must allow his eyes to focus in a straight line.

I exclaimed that his friend's STCL friend should talk to him as soon as possible about her exams.  The same "flight or fight responses" to the self-doubt and fear of exam taking impairs an otherwise intelligent and prepared student.  His coach's approach in writing to him in an art form about the psychological-physical "zen" of archery is exactly what some students need to turn hours of study into success.