I Solemnly Swear That I Am Up To No Good: Harry Potter between Classicists and Artists

Last Fall, when I was teaching the class for the OSU Art department (with artist Suzanne Silver) called Drawing Ideas, we explored how Plato’s philosophy, and the Republic in particular, offered ways of thinking about key themes in drawing (e.g. form, idea, mimesis, dialogue and myth). One of the topics was on ‘Formlessness and Nothing’ and we were able to juxtapose the Ring of Gyges episode (Republic 357a-361e) with ideas of the dematerialization of art. For the assignment associated with this topic, one of the students wrote the words I Solemnly Swear That I Am Up To No Good on one of the classroom’s walls and then painted over them with white paint. When this work was ‘revealed’, many of the students laughed in satisfying agreement at the reference to the Marauder’s Map in the Harry Potter books. If I had known more about them at this time, I would have connected the Ring of Gyges more directly with the Invisibility Cloak that also appears in J.K. Rowling’s epic. This was the first of many moments when the topic of Harry Potter came up with art students at OSU, both BFAs and MFAs. As my son, Eneko, has been reading the books (he’s just started the seventh), I have been all the more attuned to how significant they are in the formation of our students. Furthermore, when teaching both Art and Classics students this year, it quickly became clear that Harry Potter could be used as a secure point of reference to connect questions of art making and studying antiquity. For one, the way that the Harry Potter ‘myth’ rewrites the quest narratives of antiquity in ways that focus on friendship and community opens up a space to discuss the topic of collaboration in artistic practice.

I hope to explore this topic in more depth and complexity in the future, but for today, given that the people of France are voting in such a crucial election, I merely want to harness the brute power of the Harry Potter myth in the hope it does its magic (for good)!

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