Available on JSTOR at: doi.org/10.2307/3336853

Abstract

When I arrived at UCLA to study with Arnold Rubin, I considered myself fairly well informed about African art. To my dismay, I soon realized that if I intended to remain in his graduate program, I would have to unlearn what I knew and start all over again. Arnold had an unsettling ability to cut through academic rationalizations in order to examine art history with absolute clarity, and conventional approaches to the field began to seem hollow. As I slowly and painfully scrapped attitudes that I had gleaned from years of study, the freshness of his vision, his rigor and enthusiasm, and his absolute integrity changed my life. He challenged me, inspired me, and constantly approached my ideas from unexpected points of view. He saw complexity and significance within the simplest arrangement of stripes on woven cloth or in a heap of rusted automobile parts, and he found cross-cultural correlations where others had merely recorded the appearance and function of art objects. When I went to Benin City, Nigeria, to study the iconography of the Igbesanmwan, Arnold urged me to include peripheral sculptural traditions in my investigation and to look into customs preserved in villages removed from the court. His advice was invaluable, and as I considered the questions he might ask, I began to appreciate the agility of African symbols and the flexibility of oral histories. In spite of his intolerance of conventional thinking, Arnold placed great value on the quality of individual human relationships and was extremely generous with his time and his insights. He was unforgettable as a mentor, and as a friend.