Building an art practice whether through school or on your own is not the easiest of things. It takes time and energy, and the action of discarding and keeping habits and practices that keep you going. I like to build my practice in a way that each step informs the next and then brings it back to a circular way. I have built my art practice on three building blocks: research, exploration and discovery.
What does research look like? Research as an artist takes on many forms. Sketches, collages, photography, surveys, articles, can all be research. Essentially research is something that informs your practice, but may or may not make it into the final cut. In my practice I use Pinterest as a way to research visual material for texture and form, none of the visual material derived from there makes it into the final work, but I use it for inspiration. The main purpose is to give me, “permission”. What do I mean by that? Sometimes you might not pursue work because you aren’t sure that its a) acceptable to you as art and b) acceptable to professors as art. Visual material gives permission and acts as art history for what you’re making and building. Research also acts as a spring board. While you aren’t making the exact thing you are researching, the material you look at and record gives you a launching point for new work.
My second step is exploration. I really don’t think that art schools give enough credence to playing and exploring. If we aren’t exploring and playing then we reduce art making to the work of a factory. We should be sketching, sewing, collaging, exploring new materials, questioning how we can use new materials and such. When we begin to get outcomes that we are happy with we replicate those and then vary the ways that we can display them. I like to look at design for new and interesting ways to display work. Exploring should really be an opportunity to play around and get different variations of things even if they don’t make it into the final outcome. Final pieces that are really good often have so many crappy ideas behind them. Don't be afraid of the bad ideas, it’s part of the process often a bad idea is a starting point. Start with the bad idea, set something in motion, you’re much more likely to get an outcome, because it was set in motion.
The third step is the discovery. I like to see this as a final outcomes from your research and exploration. The discovery is the “ah ha” moment from the exploration, the crux of the idea being expressed in a way that works well both aesthetically and conceptually. Usually the discovery is one or two pieces that begin the launch of an exhibition or a body of work. Eventually, the discovery after it is finished finds its way back into the research pile most likely informing the next thing that you will make. Its the life cycle of work.
How about you? Do you have any pillars that you build your art practice on? Let me know in the comments below!
Does environmental art change people? Does every artist need to make a political statement or challenge something with their work? I really don’t think so. I’ve seen a lot of political or challenging art, and unless someone is there to unpack it with you it tends to have the opposite effect of what we want it to have. Most people aren’t equipped with critical thinking skills, its not something that’s taught in high school or in most academic degrees. Lets look at what some questions we can ask about making environmental art.
Does art have the power to change people?
Well that depends on the a few things: the person and the cause.
Some people are easily influenced in making changes, they want a better future, they want to have a better place, they find it easy to incorporate life changes. Others are overwhelmed simply thinking about it, the problem feels so massive and they feel like life is complicated enough.
As unfortunate as it may be, some people simply don’t care about the same things we care about or rather should care about. Those things can change depending on life situations, stories, time, age, financial situation, etc. As much as we want every single person on board for a certain thing like the environment, some people simply won’t care.
What can we do so that our art makes a lasting impact?
I think that one of the best ways that someone can try and make changes with their art is a call to action or a take home project. A major theme in work right now is the topic of the anthropocene. How we as humans are affecting the planet significantly. Most people don’t know how to make changes in their thinking or in their actions. Can you make a brochure or a take home project for people to use in their homes to enable better recycling or less waste? Make it simple, people are busy and we need to give them solutions that are fun or easy to help impact the environment. One step at a time, once one thing is conquered its easier to start making changes elsewhere.
Often times lots of us are busy trying to survive, we need simple steps to follow if we want to make an impact. We need small bite-size chunks and we need solutions not shame. We need encouragement even for the small things we do, because at the end of the day they do make a difference and we need to have recognition for the small things. So, now the challenge is to you, how can you make art that impacts, while including solutions for your audience?
One of the things I feel like schools often fail in teaching is how to navigate the creative process. Creation is a bumpy process, because transferring from mind to creation involves difficulties and problems along the way. What starts off as a really good idea in your mind will travel through different iterations and needs to be edited due to a few different things. I like to split the creative process in three points in order for you to understand it a bit better. Bear in mind many people have spoken about the creative process and my opinion is just another one to add to the pile to better understand our thought processes.
Illumination: Usually the creative cycle starts off with a really good idea, you begin said idea and then realise very quickly that what you thought was a brilliant idea is not as easy to pull off as it was in your mind. Often when creating conflict arises and we find that we lack the resources, skills, or magic in order to make what we want happen. When that conflict arises we must work to find a resolution that is both conceptually and aesthetically resolved.
Deterioration: Another point in the cycle is that what you felt was a masterpiece in the beginning often starts feeling like a disaster at some point in which there is no turning back to get it back to a good idea. The idea at this point feels like the worst thing you’ve ever made. (This is usually not true, its just the feeling.) You then usually collapse in a moment of defeat and hopefully don’t throw the whole thing away, but its good to walk away at this point.
Resolution: The next day you walk in and see what you can salvage from the original idea and you have two choices. Keep pushing through or admit defeat and start over, but in starting over do realise that you begin the process all over again. Here comes the pivot point, you realise that you don’t have what it takes to succeed in achieving your original idea, but you can resolve it another way that is feasible. While it doesn’t look like the original idea in your mind, it actually has blossomed into something much more interesting.
Keep making art, keep pushing through that crazy creative process. xoxo
In my undergrad we had a session from a psychologist on how to deal with stress as art students. I have to confess that I literally did not take one single thing away from the session that she said, rather the most impactful piece of advice was from one of the professors as he introduced the psychologist. He said, “My best piece of advice for stress is that be where you are. If you’re printmaking, then focus on printmaking, don’t be thinking of painting. When you’re painting, focus on painting and be there in the moment. Don’t get ahead of yourself and be where you aren’t.” The best advice ever. Be present where you are in the moment. Train your brain to be in the moment and focus where you are at, instead of where you aren’t. xoxo
First day of art school, fresh faces, sharpened pencils from 4H-6B, the smell of rag paper, and new aluminium tubes of paint waiting to be squeezed. Look to your left, that classmate probably won’t be with you by the end of the year. Look across the room, that classmate probably won’t be there by the winter semester. In my last post I wrote about why you should go to art school, well here are my reasons why you shouldn’t go to art school.
1- Art is more of a hobby and past time than a job
When you go to art school, it becomes like a job. Show up to class, do the work, hand in the project, get feedback and grade, next project. Also, you’ll be juggling art projects from different classes which will most likely all be due around the same time. The reason people often drop out is because they realise that although they like art, perhaps they didn’t like it as much as they thought they would as a job. While you might sell a painting or two, you can’t imagine surrounding yourself with as much art as you do in the first year.
2- You don’t really want to change or expand your practice
If you want to paint and draw cats all day long then go for it, just don’t expect it to be accepted at the school. In art school their job is to teach you and help you develop critical thinking skills, conceptual and visual relationships and to expand your visual and abstract vocabulary. If you really don’t want to expand that or work with any other subject matter thats totally fine, its just that art school is probably not for you.
3- You’re not interested in the why
Art school includes within every year art history classes. The first year or two will consist of more formal training such as recognition of art periods, artists and historical contexts while the following years branch off into more abstract and modern art classes. All of these classes contain writing components and are essential to understanding the why and what about different art periods and how art has grown throughout the ages and how art has been used throughout the ages.
4- You don’t know the difference between art school and art class
Everyone loves the high school art teacher. Why? Because they are usually fun, understanding, let you be yourself, etc. Art school is not like art class. Art school is a formal training to educate you as an art professional. That’s why you usually will spend the first year learning about design elements, doing projects like a colour wheel and drawing spheres and cubes. For the most part you don’t even get to touch any subject matter that you are interested in until sometime in your second year. Most high school art teachers don’t receive the same extent of art education as you do in art school, because their degree is based on learning about pedagogy as well as art.
I hope this gives you a better insight into why art school may or may not be for you. Let me know in the comments!
Going to art school was one of the best experiences of my life and I spent 6 years in three different universities/colleges learning and meeting many people. I liked art school, because I was constantly learning something new, pushing myself and expanding my art practice. I really took the opportunity to dip my “brush” just in about everything I could from drawing, painting, printmaking and embroidery to express my ideas. If you’re toying with the idea of going to art school here are some reasons that you should go.
1- You want to get better at what you do…and quicker.
You’ll fast track your learning through art school, because of the pace of the projects and the critical feedback that you get from professors and peers. Professors will give you the skills and tools you need to become a better artist and thinker.
2- You want to expand your art practice conceptually
How many times has someone said to me that art is about emotion. Well…….yes and no. Art evokes an emotion, but for the most part has always been based on an idea or the exploration of an idea. When you go to art school, they teach you for example not only how to draw a portrait with accurate proportions, but dive deeper into what portraiture is all about, how did different artists treat portraiture, how to use symbolic visual language to convey meaning, what symbolic language you might not be aware that you are using, historical expansions on how portraiture was done, all of these help to inform your visual practice as an artist and round you out to have a more mature and polished practice. Your art practice may be about silly things, but it can still be mature in the ideas that you ground yourself in.
3- You want to connect into a community
Love them or hate them, art school brings all kinds of broody, crazy personalities together and whether or not you like someone, you can receive and be incredibly impacted by their feedback as well as artistic practice. There are people that I don’t particularly care for that have offered me great suggestions, advice and feedback. I also learned through looking at their art how to expand my visual vocabulary. Also, I made some of the best friends I probably will ever have through art school. Lots of times friends in our regular community don’t really understand the studio practices and things we go through as artists so its nice to have friends that get it.
4- You want to learn to use equipment that will enable different processes to expand your practice. Art school brings about tools and equipment that you might not have access to or wouldn’t have access to without learning about through school. In my bachelor’s degree alone I learned: how to use almost every power tool in the woodshop and how to build things, learned how to weld, used printing presses and learned a variety of printmaking techniques (also painting, sculpting and drawing with various mediums). These things are great because the more you know how to use, the better you can expand your practice.
Oh hello, welcome to my blog, hacking a BFA. Is it an academic blog or is it just an art blog? I don't really know. Some of this might be relevant to art students only, some of it relevant to art amateurs......does it really matter? I invite you to treat this blog as an art buffet. If you want something more in depth...its here, something more geared to art newbies....it's here. Enjoy!
Melissa Cayford is an artist, designer and educator bent on making art and art education more accessible.