Polymathic Pizza: Art Enlightened

March 20, 2024 - March 20, 2024
Harman Academy

…painting is the grandchild of nature because all perceptible things are born from nature, and painting is born from the nature of things.  So, strictly, we shall speak of it as the grandchild of nature and kin to God. ~ Leonardo da Vinci

“It is impossible for light not to get noticed, especially in the dark.” ~ Matshona Dhliwayo

Art possesses the power to illuminate and enlighten.  In his own practice, Leonardo da Vinci employed imagination, creativity, and studies in nature, where he intentionally blurred the mundane (from the Latin, mundus or world) with the sublime (from the Latin, sublimis, meaning elevated or spiritual) to reveal truth. 

For this polymathic session a practitioner in the dramatic arts will be in conversation with an art historian to examine the legacy of the illuminative power of art to light our way through the challenging and sometimes dark times in which we live.

  • Oliver Jai'Sen Mayer

    Oliver Jai'Sen Mayer

    Professor in Dramatic Writing

    Oliver Jai'Sen Mayer is the director of the MFA Program in dramatic writing, a professor in dramatic writing, associate dean of strategic initiatives and associate dean of faculty at the USC School of Dramatic Arts.

    Mayer is a playwright, poet and librettist, whose new opera 3 Paderewskis, composed by Jenni Brandon, received its world premiere at Washington D.C.’s Kennedy Center in November 2019, as well as in Poznan, Poland and on the USC campus. Their new musical Amour Fou is currently in development. He is the author of more than 30 plays, from his ground-breaking Blade to the Heat to its long-awaited sequel Members Only. New plays include Ghost Waltz (commissioned by the Latino Theater Company), The Dragon Tree, and Letters from the Black Sea (commissioned by the Getty Villa). Other produced plays include Blood Match and Yerma in the Desert, inspired by the plays of Federico Garcia Lorca; Fortune is a Woman, The Wallowa Project, Dias y Flores, Dark Matters, Conjunto, Young Valiant, Joy of the Desolate, The Sinner from Toledo, Laws of Sympathy and Ragged Time. Mayer also wrote the libretto for the opera America Tropical, composed by David Conte, and the book for Blue House with music and lyrics by Perla Batalla and David Batteau. He writes essays regularly for Zocalo Public Square, and has written a book of poetry entitled Body Languages. He also wrote the children’s books Big Dog on Campus Learns to be a Trojan, and its follow-ups Big Dog on Campus Goes to the Library and Big Dog on Campus Goes on Patrol.

    On campus, he has received several university honors, including the USC Associates Award for Excellence in Teaching, Phi Kappa Phi Faculty Recognition Award, and a Mellon Mentoring Award for mentoring undergraduates. His writing has received various awards, including The American Prize for new opera.

  • Kimia Shahi

    Kimia Shahi

    Assistant Professor of Art History

    Kimia Shahi is Assistant Professor of Art History at the University of Southern California. She researches, teaches, and writes about art and visual culture of the United States and its oceanic surroundings in the long 19th and 20th centuries, with a focus on environmental and multidisciplinary perspectives. She is particularly interested in the intersections of art and knowledge production and explores how diverse historical media and technologies of visualization—from landscape paintings to drawings, maps, scientific illustrations, navigational guides, and image databases, among other examples—both shape, and are shaped by, changing relationships to environments. Shahi is currently at work on a first book project, Uncertain Contours: Coastlines and Visual Knowledge in Nineteenth-Century America, which expands beyond traditional accounts of nineteenth-century seascape to examine how diverse encounters with coastal environments across art, science, and visual culture reshaped relations between seeing and knowing during a period of U.S. imperial expansion and widening oceanic presence. A second book-in-progress, Information About this Land: Project Documerica and the Environmental Image, examines the roles of new technologies of image-making and information storage in the production and present-day afterlife of Project Documerica, an Environmental Protection Agency initiative to photographically document the state of the American environment in the early 1970s.