Vizzini loosens up, talks art


Matt Crow

Provost Tony Vizzini can’t imagine a life without art.

Art — whether hung in his office, seen around campus, written in literature, or played as video games — is something Provost Tony Vizzini said he can’t imagine life without.

Behind the desk in his trinket-filled office in Morrison Hall are two paintings, both by William Gropper, a contemporary American artist and favorite of Vizzini’s.

He said he was astonished to find out WSU had a collection of Gropper originals.

Vizzini said he loves many of the sculptures around campus — a particular favorite being “Tres Mujeres Caminando,” the statue of three generations of women near the Grace Memorial Chapel which depicts a daughter walking away from a mother and grandmother.

“The daughter is walking away, head up high, and grandma’s like, ‘She’s going to come our way, I’m not worried,’” Vizzini said. “And mom’s looking over her shoulders to see if the daughter’s going to come along. In essence it could be the same woman. You can see the difference of their position in life in their confidence. The young is headstrong and confident. The old is headstrong and confident. The one in the middle is kind of torn.”

Vizzini said art is important to quality of life. His hobbies include consuming various art forms, both traditional — literature, of which Dostoevsky, Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, and Kurt Vonnegut are favorites — and non-traditional: He has a collection of vintage computer games, many of which he found on eBay. He buys in lots, he said, and keeps the good ones.

Favorites include real-time strategy games like Commander and Conquer — “Covert Operations, Red Alert — I’ve played them all” — and first-person shooters.

Vizzini applies a classic line of traditional art to video games, bemoaning the fact that new games are “not the way they used to be.”

“What bothers me about new games is you don’t own it,” Vizzini said. “You own a license to it, which is problematic when you go to sell a game … It’s just not the stuff of a free-access world of someone who grew up with floppies.”

Vizzini said he doesn’t have the time to play many video games anymore because his collection is “far too big” — but something fun to show off.

“It’s something that keeps you going, ‘Ah, look at this,’” Vizzini said.

Nowadays, he said he just has time for quick games on his iPad or phone.

“I play silly games like Clash of Clans … We won’t go there,” Vizzini said with his signature high-pitched chuckle. “It’s highly addictive.”

The first video game he played was Dungeon, one of the first role-playing games, which he played in grad school at M.I.T. The game ran on a PDP-10 mainframe computer made by Digital Equipment Corporation.

“That was before any PCs were out, back in 1981,” Vizzini said. “A lot of us graduate students would try to figure out how to crack the next puzzle.”

“It was inventive. It was a video game back when there were no games besides Pong.”

Vizzini said literature has been just as important to him as video games. He has a goal to read a book a month.

“I’ve been keeping record since 2000, only because it guilts me,” Vizzini said. “I have more books than I could read in a lifetime.”

Vizzini said music isn’t a deep passion of his, but he still keeps an original, first-generation iPod around for flights. Favorite artists include Harry Chapin, Ray Charles, and Diana Ross. He’s fond of Motown, the music of his hometown of Detroit, which he didn’t realize was its own style of soul.

“As you get older people ask, ‘Do you like Motown?’ I say, ‘The Motor City, Detroit? Yeah, I love Detroit.’ They say, ‘No, Motown.’ I’m going, ‘What do you mean? Didn’t you all have this music?’”

He said he also likes newer artists such as Three Doors Down, Linkin Park, and 90s nu-metal bands like Limp Bizkit and Korn.

Like music, film isn’t Vizzini’s go-to art medium, but he said he does enjoy movies — just not scary ones. He said George A. Romero’s “Night of the Living Dead” still makes him cringe.

“The ending of [“Night of the Living Dead”] is disturbing,” Vizzini said. “I did not go to sleep after that. Scary things bother me.”

“But it’s a classic. Watch it.”

Oh, and Vizzini isn’t a mobster — just Sicilian.

“Wow, I’m a gangster?” Vizzini said. “How has Hollywood typified Sicilians in that way? I actually had a TSA agent look up at me and say, ‘Looks like a gangster.’ And you just smile because you don’t want to say, ‘Really?’

“I dress and look the way I do because it’s my style,” Vizzini said. “Where I came from, dressing this way meant you were successful. And to me, it’s also a manner of respect. The philosophy is, if I’m meeting with somebody, I should not be dressed less than them.”

Dressing up has been Vizzini’s habit since he started teaching, out of respect for his students, he said. Now he dresses up anytime money is on the table — which is why he’s always dressed up.

“As you move to administration, you realize, in effect, money is always on the table,” Vizzini said. “Money is always a part of the discussion.”

Vizzini said though he dresses and looks a certain way, he doesn’t expect others to be like him. He went straight through college and grad school right after high school, but he said he knows his path isn’t the only one. His wife was a non-traditional adult student.

“What fits for me doesn’t fit for you, so I shouldn’t impose it on you,” Vizzini said. “It’s good to experience other people’s differences.”