I first became acquainted with David Lang through his art, specifically with the large metal sculpture on the grounds of the Danforth Museum of Art where I once worked. Curvilinear in form and monumental in size, the piece stood delicately balanced on its pedestal, a twisted, disintegrating question mark that the artist entitled “The Question Is the Answer.” Solid, yet seemingly weightless, this formally abstract sculpture was most dramatically visible to students looking down from the second-floor classrooms in the museum’s school. Which was appropriate, given Lang had been a teaching artist for most of his decades-long career and never really stopped. When we finally met, it was when he came in to work with our teen docents, which led to many conversations about his whimsical kinetic sculpture (including ways to keep it working while on display) and so much more.
The path Lang followed had been circuitous in a pursuit of both science and art. It seemed Lang was not only proficient in both disciplines, but also an adherent of STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts and Mathematics) well before it entered pedagogical debate. During summers in high school and college, he worked as a draftsman for Sigmund Cohn, a Lower East Side New York City firm that employed his father and was renowned for the production of precious metal wires used in the medical, space and defense industries. He received his undergraduate degree in biology, but his love of drawing pushed him towards a graduate program in medical illustration at Harvard Medical School and Mass General. At first employed as a scientific illustrator by the chemistry department at Harvard, he was eventually enticed to become an art teacher at the Middlesex School in Concord, Massachusetts, where he explored his own artistic talent, as well as his singular talent for inspiring others.
Former student David Brewster remembered Lang as a generous teacher who created a curriculum that “liberated students to pursue their own vision.” For him, that meant a figure anatomy class with live models — unusual for most colleges in the 1970s given the art world’s focus on modernist abstraction, but practically revolutionary at the high school level. And Lang found ways to attract other kinds of students who might not have considered taking an art class in the first place. Continuing interest in science led him into conversations with AP physics students, but he was struck by their lack of practical knowledge.