Student-Moderated Art Faculty Panel Discussion
February 24, 2016
Partially Paraphrased Transcript
Professor participants: Roy Nydorf, Mark Dixon, Charlie Tefft, and Maia Dery
Student participants: Ben Stinson, Sydney Brown, Nico Narvaez Soza, Natalia Petkov, Juliet Magoon, Eli Tuchler, Colin Nollet, and Kate Mitchell
The first section of the panel consisted of general questions open to the whole faculty:
Of all the different options for art careers, why did you choose teaching? What are you hoping to instill into the next generation? (Ben Stinson)
Mark reflected, “teaching kind of chose me, in a sense. I’ve always really liked the interaction that teaching is: balancing space and structure to try and bring something out of a student and what I hope to instill.” He talked about how “many of my students just strike me as people who are going to be artists sort of no matter what and then many others are going to be in a position of being an audience to art and respecting art and being influenced by art so I’m also teaching those people”… “and I think one of the best ways to do that is through teaching the practice.”
Charlie talked out how he “never applied for a job at Guilford”, saying “I came back to teach for one semester in the spring of ’99 for one class and I’ve been here since.” In response to what he hopes to instill into the next generation, he said, “like Mark was saying, I realized that some of the students may never be potters themselves but maybe this will be in their life and be a way for them to socialize outside of school and be a way for them to remain creative outside of school and I guess that’s what I hope; that I would ignite something in them that gives them an outlet to be creative.”
Maia compared how, “very similar to Charlie, I didn’t mean to be anybody’s teacher and a friend of mine asked me to come teach Photo 1 one time in 2001 and I haven’t escaped since.” She talked about her experience as a college student in her early twenties. 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… I didn’t understand why I was in college and I really wasn’t in touch with my ‘why’ and I got in touch with it through photography”… “I think when I was in my twenties, I was really excited to have escaped that moment and all of that angst and misery and not having purpose and, because the universe has a sense of humor, I keep having to go back to that place over and over again with the new generation of students and try to help them figure out creative ways to get in touch with their ‘why’”. 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”. Maia 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.”
Roy said, “I guess my experience is a little different than my colleagues in that, I did start in my mid twenties on the college level, but teaching came naturally to me, which is one reason I went into it, and it was an opportunity for me to share and also to give myself enough time for my own studio practice, whereas I think high school teaching or teaching younger kids might be much more demanding and could possibly eat away at the energy level that’s demanded of studio practice. And as far as the next generations go, I think I’m hoping to instill meaning, also passion and the fact that art is central to being human and I think that kind of statement is not clear enough, so students who take a class with me, like or not, they’re going to be challenged”… “I joke to them, if you don’t learn anything else, you learn how hard this is, because to do anything with real meaning or passion or dedication is difficult.”
What do you do to move past a creative block when making a piece? (Sydney Brown)
Roy said, “I never make one piece at one time. I’m always making ten at a time.” He explained how this helps his creative blocks because, “if I get stuck on one thing, there’s always something after that and something along side of that and so on and so forth and sometimes it’s 20 pieces overlapping, which is a little dangerous because some things don’t get addressed and sort of get buried forever.” He also values other outlets, such as “drawing from life, sketchbooks, seeing other art, getting inspired, going somewhere and doing something that one loves.”
Maia explains how the practice of photography makes it easy for her to avoid creative blocks. She says this is because “I’m always ignoring a hundred thousand things that I’d like to attend to. So, like Roy, but more excessively, if I get stuck with where to go with one thing, a print or a composition, there’s 99,000 more right there that I can attend to and it’s going to be ok.”
Charlie said, “when I look back at the last matbe 12 years, what has spurred me to work, to make the amount of work I do now, is having deadlines; having shows that are coming up and times where I have to make pots to sell”… “you just have to live with them.”
Mark credited his means of “ getting through creative trouble” to his practice of collaboration. He explained, “I like to think of a collaboration as like a multi-cylinder engine, where different pistons are on their power stroke at different times, and I like a four stroke engine because I think most people are good about one day out of four at best. In a group of people, I like to feel somebody else in their power and then be the one who’s having a good day and see that kind of passed down the line and it kind of works out ratio wise.”
Where do you (as an artist) find your “inspiration”? Is it before you start a project or during the process? (Nico Narvaez Soza)
Charlie explained that “for me, if you want to think about inspiration as a breakthrough moment, and when do those things happen, that’s usually towards the end of a decorating cycle when I feel like I’ve gone through everything that I know and”… “I’ve got work that needs an image on it but I’m not sure what I’m going to do, and that’s the time when I really fire my brain in a different way and I have to start thinking about the piece; thinking about what I could possibly put on this and that usually pushes me out into a different route.”
Maia told it like it is, saying, “Photography is easy but, Photography is sort of a byproduct of a much more difficult project that absolutely requires inspiration. And that is engaging an audience around something meaningful and important and hopefully transformative and for better or worse, the primary audience that I have chosen and has chosen me is Guildford, and, you know, you people are a pain in my ass. You want to text during class and you want to drag yourself in late and you don’t really want to engage and that’s hard and I always get inspiration in those moments from both remembering being that pain in the ass (someone else’s ass) at that point, because I definitely was and also the student who writes me at thank you note for the “F,” which I get periodically and that is extremely inspiring to me and there are also the students who show up, but that’s, again, like photography being easy. It’s not that it doesn’t take a lot of effort, but that’s sort of the easy part. The hard part, the thing that you really need, that kind of breath of the gods to get through, are the challenges when you really wonder ‘why are you doing this?’ but the answer is always right there, sometimes you have to tear the piece up, though, to get to it.”
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, and part of that is learning disabilities stuff that doesn’t show as inadvertently at 40 than it did when I was young, but misunderstandings is where I get most of my ideas.”
Roy felt like this question was a great opportunity for him to provide guidance for to his students, who often say to him that they need, or are waiting for, inspiration. Roy explained that “one way is to meet artists and meet really good artists and sometimes, if you can, meet really significant, like world famous, artists and, if you can have that moment of interchange to listen, or the opportunity to hear what they have to say, you might learn a lot, but one of the things that I’ve taken, similar to Chuck Close’s comment that Mark quoted is”… “keep banker’s hours”… “its just about being in the studio and just doing it, but to answer a little bit more in depth, try different things”… “if you’re working with a piece of charcoal and you get into a dead end, then put it in the bathtub or spray it with a hose. Draw with your left hand if you’re right handed or work with a mop”… “change it up, change your medium, change your approach, go somewhere and encounter original art.” He concluded with, “it comes when I start a project and it comes during a project, all these revelations” … “be fresh, approach things in another kind of way.”
How do you think your past experiences have influenced your subject matter for this body of work? (Natalia Petkov)
In regards to her rooting interest in water, which led to her work about the Cape Fear River Basin, Maia said, “I’ve always photographed water my whole time as a photographer.” She told a story about her grandmother giving her an Instamatic for her 9th birthday and pestering her grandmother to take her to the creek down the road, the only place she found appropriate to take her first picture. Maia said, “even before I really thought of myself as a photographer, I thought that’s what pictures were of, that is water, that’s where fun is had and that’s where all the good stuff happens, around water.
Mark reflected, “my life growing up was constantly taking things apart and putting them back together and playing with tools because my parents had tools spread around the house, so yeah, my past, that facet of my identity, you know, where I was certainly encouraged to do all of that stuff, has become my art practice.”
Charlie explained how his skills for this project, even though it was completed in a few months, rooted from a “body of work stretched out over 15 years.” Charlie’s experience for this exhibition was different than the other professors because of the element of collaboration, He explains, “in a lot of ways, it was not typically what I do, in a way, interacting with someone and having to respond to something.”
Roy said that, “working with the figure, for me, really started when I was a teenager, I really just always stayed with it because it seemed to fulfill meaning for me personally.”
How do the materials you have at hand (whether it is a piece of wood, obsolete percussion objects, water, etc.) influence and inspire the artwork you create? (Elena)
Mark expressed, “I hate buying things, so I’m always stockpiling and boarding things that I find and I try to limit myself to those things that I can find or repurpose.” He explained how, “part of working with only things that, or really biasing towards things that I find or get for free means that it’s a limit and one of the things that affects me as an artist, and I think as a person too, is too many choices. It has to do with my identity, you know, who I am but it also has to do with kind of like capitalist United States and a middle class experience and it’s anxiety provoking to think that I can just walk in any box store and get so many different things so if I can just say ‘No, not going to do that,’ then there’s problem solving. I also like the history that those bits and pieces bring into a piece. I can walk you through the display in the Carnegie Room and point out the hidden histories that I don’t think are necessarily obvious specifically to other people but it’s really fascinating to me.”
Charlie said, “I work with clay in a very traditional way. I make functional pots and, within that very small realm of ceramics, there’s a tremendous amount of decisions you can make around those things and so, instead of feeling like ‘how can I spread wide, how can I focus deeply?” and so making functional pots, I can see this progression over the years of how in-tuned I am.” Charlie explained that there are limitations to his materials, saying how, with “the temperature of firing at 2300 degrees, there’s only certain things that will survive that, so that changes what we can work with.”
In discussing water as a material for her art, specifically her art pieces in the faculty show, Maia said, “it doesn’t matter what it takes my fossil fueled infused existence, I’m gonna get to the water. I think the other half of that is, not only do I go to the water every chance I get, but I keep coming back here and the part that was at hand was this understanding of place based on shared water and that took me a long time to get to and it was right at hand. That was the material and a process and a way of understanding that was right underneath me and around me and it wasn’t until I was almost 40 years old that it occurred to me, and so I’m chasen by that still. I mean, I’ve spent all of but three years of my life in the Cape Fear River basin and I never thought that way until I was in my late thirties so at this point, I think water has basically shown me how much of a tool of my cultural limitations I am. I continue to be, I have been. So I am committed to, as long as I teach at Guilford, every time there is a faculty biannual, I’m going to do one thing that I know I can do well and one thing that I’m pretty sure I’m going to suck at and so that’s what I did and I did that last time too because we ask you all to do the same.”
Roy said, “I like to think of the material as almost having a mind or a soul and so the tools that one uses, if you connect to them, if you like the way they feel in your hand, I think you’re going to do better art. The materials that I’m using for this show all were either given to me or I found. Some of it came from this campus when they were cutting down some boxwoods. I knew that boxwoods had some incredible properties for carving and polishing and I knew the color of the woods, so it was and, in a sense, everything was free except for some of the mounts that I had to hire out- the metal mounts. I like to find things. I’ve always been a treasure hunter. I just delight in discovering things.”
The next section of the panel consisted of questions aimed at specific professors.
Juliet Magoon asked Maia Dery: We all know you love to surf- do you believe in a philosophy of surfing, if so, how does this impact your work?
Maia responded, “if you know anything about surfing, you know Kelly Slater, who is the best surfer in the world, and if there is a philosophy of surfing, I can assure you his and mine are not the same. I learned how to surf when I was 40 years old and, after having gone through my entire life, I got very excited about it and remained very excited about it and I wanted to learn everything that I can about it including about its indigenous roots and it contemporary capitalistic manifestations and neo-colonial manifestations very exciting guilt-free stuff but, I would say, more than a philosophy, it has given me extremely useful metaphors for understanding all sorts of things. There are waves that are awesome rides that leave you excited and energized and there are waves that kick your butt and leave you confused and a little bit bruised and it’s a lot like teaching first years, so that’s just one example of the way in which it’s all beautiful. I mean, even if it is a day where you have no control, and you’re exhausted before you accomplish anything, its still beautiful, so I think, humility. If I had to say, is there a philosophy of surfing that I believe has influenced me, I would say its humility”
Kate Mitchell asked Mark Dixon: How much does chance and experimentation play a part in your process, and what do you value in art the most: the unknown or control?
Mark replied, “I think about my art practice as experimental, not because it’s designed to be alienating and weird, but just in a more literal sense of experimental. I start with questions: ‘what would it sound like if…’ is a common kind of first part of that question, so for the piece in the Carnegie Room, what would it sound like? I wanted to notice when a rhythm started to break down so if I had 256 holes around the outside of a giant spinning wheel and those are kind of articulating a real clean ‘boom bap’ kind of rhythm, what happens if you take one of those pegs and just move it 1/256th to the left. Well, you don’t hear it but where is the moment when you hear it? It’s kind of a search for that thing because we’re immersed in electronic music. It’s conceivable to have kind of a perfect beat, but we understand that the imperfections are really exciting and we’re drawn to them in music. That’s why it’s kind of hard to replicate a good human drum roll with an electronic machine.” He said, “I wanted a device to have a natural peg hole where that starts to make sense and the relationship between”… “the unknown and control, and what I like the most, I can’t like either without liking the other. It’s the relationship between those two, and this is true in my practice and it’s true in all of my teaching. I’m trying to figure out where is the solid ground and where is the mystery because I think you have to somehow welcome somebody into a piece with something to hold on to. If its just a kind of primordial ooze, that might be rich and amazing, but it takes a pretty unusual person to really dig that. I might be one of those people. I can listen to things that I make that I would never put forth to an audience, and that dial between the known and the chaotic is exactly the dial that’s the most important one in my practice and sometimes it’s just too obvious and sort of too ‘yeah yeah yeah’ and sometimes things are too ‘what’s going on here’ and that’s the hot spot for me.”
Eli Tuchler asked Charlie Tefft: When collaborating with an artist, how do you decide how much and what elements of each artists work to include and showcase in an art show?
Charlie repIied, “I guess you can look at it two ways, as the collection of work that’s here and then when we’re actually working on the pieces, so from the standpoint of the collection of work that’s here, this is what we were able to do within the short time period- that month- and this is the space we had to fill, so we pretty much filled it out but as far as the pots: so Phil and I started collaborating probably about 2 years ago and have collaborated on a couple sets of cups in the fall and in the springs since, probably 3 sets of 6 cups, and in that time he would deliver pots to me and I would draw on them and paint on them and I delivered them back to him and he would then respond to that and vice versa, so I deliver pots to him, he’d draw on them and bring them back to me, and we were getting down to the wire on this one and we had a snow day so we just hung out at my house for an afternoon and drew out a bunch of stuff and this was the first time that we didn’t actually commit it to something non-erasable. It was just pencil, so that’s going to burn away, so we were able to go back and forth and talk about the pieces a little bit and it’s new and exciting for us and there is a sense of like mystery and, I think one of the first things is Phil- there’s a square plate and Phil drew a window in the middle of this plate and I was just like ‘what am I going to do with the window in the middle of a plate?’ and I ended up drawing a goat looking out of it and so that one probably went back and forth more than any of the others and it felt unresolved to both of us, so I returned it back to him after I’d drawn the goat on there and he thought ” well maybe I want to try something outside” and I thought I’m going to make this feel like a indoor outdoor by adding this brown color and Phil said, ‘I’m going to draw this portrait of another goat’ and so it’s playful and I don’t think either of us are that attached to the work because it doesn’t feel like either thing is ours, because he’s making a piece in the physical state and handing it to me to decorate and, at that point, the making of it is kind of not the hard part. The decoration and the response to the decoration is the hard part, so I don’t really feel ownership over my work when I’m handing it to him and I don’t think he feels ownership over it either, and I think it’s new for us and we’ll see where it leads and I can look at some of the pots and be pretty excited about them and look at other ones and think like that they could use a little bit more and something different could have happened with the kiln.”
Colin Nollet asked Roy Nydorf: How do your drawings inform your sculpture and the subjects you choose to create?
Roy replied, saying how, “people were surprised when I started making sculptures around 15 years ago. I thought to myself that”…”it was like using line in three dimensions, so they really were a process of drawing for me. That’s how I think about using line in three dimensions, so I think about line and what it can do and how it can move around and through and over and underneath and so on and so forth and so that’s kind of how I think about the sculptures. I also drew on them all the time, if there’s any remains of pigment on some of the pieces, it’s probably from the drawing process; trying to figure out where I’m going next and I think that the whole body of work is about 2 years in the making.”
The last section of the panel consisted of questions asked by the audience. I have selected one in particular to share, as well as one striking comment.
A question was posed by Adele Wayman for the whole faculty. She asked: What do you want from your audience as an artist?
Mark said, “Sustained attention over time. I don’t think anything is possible without that ground floor. I’m trying to, with what I do, create a situation. One of the reasons why I moved to performance is that performance has time built into it and it doesn’t necessarily guarantee that person isn’t thinking about their laundry list or whatever, but my best experiences have been sustained attention over time.I like it when people have that relationship with my work.”
Charle 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 guess the same way that Mark does, 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.”
Maia said, “I think the best thing would be to help me figure out how to establish a community that will launch, maintain, and spread a global empire of love. I really think that artists ought to be trying to do something radical, and love is about the most radical thing that we can do at this point and that’s what I want from you all.”
Roy replied, “I would agree with Mark, that what I fantasize about when I put my stuff out there is that it’s going to grab somebody and keep somebody, and it doesn’t for everybody, and that’s just the way it is.” He said, “personally, I have chosen to pursue art that is not too, in my mind, elitist; that anybody can understand with education or no education, American or from Africa or New Zealand or anywhere on the planet. That there’s a recognition there, that’s a base level recognition of something” He said, “that’s just something I came to later in life, that I wanted to be understood by as many people as possible at a certain level but there are many other meanings that I would hope, ideally, somebody would want to connect to.”
Comment made by an audience member (name unknown):
As an audience member, what I would love to say is how blessed this community is; to have this art faculty and the ones that came before them, and have this gallery. I’m a non-artist, I don’t know much about art. I took a few classes in school. I know what I like and I buy what I like. I have a house full of Roy Nydorfs ,Adele Wayman and Charlie Tefft. I probably have more Charlie Tefft pottery than anyone else in Greensboro, but what you all do, sometimes you don’t even know. Last year, I bought a piece. It was a painting by one of the senior thesis students and she was so befuddled. She had never sold anything. She said ‘this is my first peace that anyone has ever paid money for’ and she was so touched and I treated her just like I would somebody from the Hirshhorn, or any of you, because it was a beautiful piece of art. It made me feel good. In this community, there’s so much opportunity, because we’re fairly small, for that interaction. The art faculty are not somebody over there on Mars. They are living breathing parts of this community. We have opportunities to do this sort of thing with faculty, with students, and even those of us who were not educated in art, have this easy informal way to interact. So all of you art students and non students and art faculty and non art faculty, this is just the greatest thing and you don’t always know what an impact you may have on those of us in the community. I bought one of Charlie’s $100 pots. It would have made a beautiful vessel to put something in, but I bought it because, visually, it was pleasing and its round and large and, when I go through my kitchen, I usually stop and I put my hands on it and just feel it. I feel connected to the earth. I feel connected to life, because of that pot and even the cups that I have of yours, they’re smaller but I like to put warm beverages in them and just put my hands on them and feel the warmth of my hot chocolate through your pottery. You all don’t always know all of this, but I just think we have this wonderful opportunity here at Guilford College that not everyone appreciates and don’t ever think you’re not having an impact and the impact you think you might want to have might not be what hits somebody, but if we all appreciate your art, student or faculty, that’s what it’s about, and so we purchase what we love. I would never had bought this much artwork if it hadn’t been this connection with Guilford College and now I have a house full of it and I just appreciate all of you.”