Arto Vaun, known to AUA students as a professor in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences, is an individual that has several professions and interests other than teaching.
As a writer, musician, and poet, Mr. Vaun gave us an idea of what it feels like to be able to multitask and make the best out of it.
Professors take the weight of sharing their knowledge and educating future professionals. According to Mr. Vaun, teaching is public and performative, while writing and music are private acts that require solitude and time. “I tend to prefer my alone time in order to work on poems and music, but teaching challenges me to think out loud, interact with bright students, and engage in a two-way learning process. Oftentimes, I end up intellectually refreshed through classroom discussions. In some ways, I get to merge my two sides into one when in the classroom.”
Often times, writers have to put themselves in their characters’ shoes or imagine being in situations that their characters may face. However everything depends on the environment. “I don’t think my core personality changes when I write. Of course, our identities are always in flux, based on our environments, situations, and contexts. When writing about someone, one must inhabit another person’s world, another person’s mind. This calls for empathy. Empathy is one of the most important human resources that is sometimes lacking not just in Armenia but in most countries. In the 21st century, empathy is one of the only things that can rejuvenate humanity or derail it further. One of the main purposes of a strong undergraduate education is to teach true empathy. We must not forget that.”
Arto Vaun’s music video If you’re here/եթե հոս ես” is sung both in English and Armenian. Although there’s a stereotype that art and music are linked to romanticism, Mr. Vaun’s inspiration comes from a different source. The background of what made Mr. Vaun write the song in two languages speaks to his acceptance of the complexities and nuances of cultural identity. “I don’t believe in inspiration in the romantic sense. I believe in work. Inspiration is secondary and doesn’t equal high quality art. My last two records were more straightforward indie rock albums. Now I’m experimenting a bit more and I thought one way to do so would be to incorporate Armenian into my lyrics. I consider myself equally American and Armenian, so both cultures exist in me in more or less even amounts. So now I’m seeing how the Armenian language might interact with my songs and poems.”
To the idea whether poetry is a way to escape reality and live in another world or whether it’s just a preservation of ideas, Mr. Vaun answered: “Poetry is a journey into reality, not away from it. This idea that poetry is an escape is just another way that hyper-capitalism has tried to keep art and artists on the margins. What those in power often or choose to forget is that the humanities and the arts are the foundations of civilization, and that without them we would be nothing but consumers with allegiance only to money and material things instead of allegiance to each other. Nations, if we care about them so much, cannot survive and develop without vibrant, serious cultural production. This is a major crisis, especially in small, developing countries like Armenia that don’t have the military, economy, or population of superpowers. What we have is a dynamic, potent culture, but it needs to be invested in heavily now. Poetry is, and always has been, the answer to the dehumanizing forces of ‘the market’ and plutocracy. Governments, markets, and companies come and go, but poetry remains, from Dante to Siamanto, Charents to Auden.”
This semester, Mr. Vaun launched Locomotive, an Anglophone literary journal which is edited and exported from Armenia. The journal brings together innovative contemporary work by diverse global voices, connecting them to AUA. The first issue, out now, will be available in various bookstores around the world. The Center for Creative Writing (CCW), which Mr. Vaun directs, was also launched at AUA this summer. “Through Locomotive and the Center for Creative Writing, my goal is to make AUA a regional hub for high quality creative writing and literary studies,” said Mr. Vaun. “It will connect the AUA community, as well as local Armenian writers and poets, to the wider world of literature and publishing.”
Photo by Anush Petrosyan