Last Wednesday, during a very windy thunderstorm and a few short power outages, there was a student-moderated Art Faculty panel discussion held in the warm and toasty confines of the Art Gallery. Ben Stinson, Sydney Brown, Nico Narvaez Soza, Natalia Petkov, Juliet Magoon, Eli Tuchler, Colin Nollet, and myself had the chance to ask our professors the hard-hitting questions we’ve always wondered.
Some questions focused on the art in the Art Faculty Exhibition, which surrounded us in the gallery, while others focused on personal histories, techniques, and preferences.
Antoine Williams was unable to attend, but present to answer questions were Roy Nydorf, Mark Dixon, Charlie Tefft, and Maia Dery.
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It was such a great format to learn more about my professors’ backstories, hopes, dreams, techniques, and even philosophies of life. I’ve picked out my favorite answer from each professor to share with you all. These four answers really spoke to me as an art student and as a person.
One of Maia’s answers that I want to talk about was in response to Ben Stinson’s question, “What are you hoping to instill into the next generation?” Maia talked about how she felt a lack of purpose in college until she got into photography, saying how photography was “a way for me to extend beauty and meaning into areas of my life that didn’t have beauty and meaning that I could perceive.” Maia quoted John O’Donohue, an Irish poet and a former Catholic priest/mystic/philosopher who once said that “every person is an artist whether they want to be or not”. She explained that “the central creative project that we all have is our own lives, and you can do a lousy job or you can do a good job and that’s entirely up to you, and, in my experience, one of the differences between something that is just pretty and something that is art is the maker being in touch with that ‘why.’ So I think that is what I hope for the next generation”… “the ‘why’ of education is something we all have to deal with; faculty and students.”
The way Maia was able to find that clarity and purpose in her life through photography made me think about my own college experience. I felt the same way during my sophomore year when I was introduced to printmaking. My dedication to art intensified from that point on and I just felt generally happier and more fulfilled as a student doing something that I loved, and my work was better because of that love.
Collin Nollet asked Roy the question, “How do your drawings inform your sculpture and the subjects you choose to create?” I feel like his response was so reflective of the fluidity of art as a practice.
Roy replied, saying how, “people were surprised when I started making sculptures around 15 years ago.” He views sculpture-making as a “process of drawing” by “using line in three dimensions”, seeing “what it can do and how it can move around and through and over and underneath and so on and so forth.” He also mentioned how, in the process of carving the sculptures for the Art Faculty Exhibition, he would draw on the figures to “figure out where I’m going next.”
This is what I love about art. If you’re good at one discipline, it can apply to countless others. Drawing can lead to printmaking. Printmaking can lead to sculpting. Knowing that art can be so fluid makes me believe that I’ll never get bored or stuck doing one thing in my career as an artist. There are so many directions I can take.
Adele Wayman posed a question for the whole faculty. She asked: What do you want from your audience as an artist?
Charlie replied, “We think we want praise, and certainly that’s nice, but that’s not always the most fulfilling thing to get from your audience.” He said, “I love having customers who span over many years and come back and who see and appreciate the growth and change, and maybe even sometimes challenge me on things. A discussion more than just praise.”
His answer made me think about my own personal stance on the matter. It’s hard for me not to crave praise for the work I spend countless hours creating, but Charlie is right; it’s not enough. My artwork is so personal to me, and that level of intimacy needs to be balanced by an open dialogue from my audience, so I can get out of my own head and see things more clearly. I need to be asked questions. I need to be pushed to do more and to do better. That’s how I will grow as an artist.
The last answer I want to talk about is from Mark, in response to Nico Narvaez Soza’s question, “Where do you (as an artist) find your “inspiration”? Is it before you start a project or during the process?”
Mark began his response with the quote, “inspiration is for amateurs, the rest of us just show up and get to work”, which is a quote by Chuck Close, an American painter and photographer. Mark explained that, “for me, 99% of my work is really labor in the trenches and the little accidents that happen in that labor generate more ideas than I could possibly ever do, but maybe the most consistent place for inspiration”… “in my life is that I have a fairly wacky brain and I make mistakes and misread and mishear and there’s just weird information gaps in the way.” Mark explained that these mistakes, that generate most of his great ideas, are due to a learning disability.
I think this positive outlook that Mark possesses is an invaluable human asset. He is turning an obstacle into an advantage. It’s like cheating the system in a way; finding out that what makes you different can make you better; what’s supposed to make you fail can make you succeed. As a person with muscular dystrophy, I know this challenge very well. I find that I’m a better problem solver, a harder worker, and a more observant person in general because of my disease.
I felt so connected to my college and its professors as I left this panel. It made me further appreciate their art and better understand their teaching methods.
I did a lot of thinking while writing this article, as I struggled to choose which answers to share, because they were all so worthy of knowing. Being at events such as these, where people speak their minds and share their hearts to a small room of people, I always think about the limited lifespan and reach of these spoken words. As someone who sometimes finds herself regretting skipping events, I know that many people may be upset that they missed out on knowing their professors a little better, and so, in a very time consuming effort, I have transcribed the entire panel discussion (I edited out some of the ‘ums’ and ‘ya knows’!). So, if you are interested in this little piece of Guilford I have archived, click here