The Biggest, Scariest, Most Exciting Project I’ve Ever Worked on

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Throughout my life as a student, professor, and artist,  I’ve worked on numerous projects, all of which have challenged me in different ways. I’m always looking for new artistic initiatives that will build upon my prior experience, but that will get me to exercise new muscles and take on new risks that will stretch me to new places I didn’t even know existed.

My graduate thesis Digging was the first time I had considered creating an interdisciplinary project, where multiple bodies of work in contrasting media existed under the umbrella of one core concept. Wading was a project where I began to explore a new depth of emotion and atmosphere in my work  that I had previously avoided. Falling was by far my most ambitious project at that point: the sheer quantity of drawings, prints, and sculpture that I produced, combined with the deeply personal subject of my long history with depression, demanded an immense emotional and professional investment that I had never experienced before.

Clay Portrait Sculpture

My mystery project, which will be announced in a few weeks is a completely different beast than all of these prior projects.  I see this new project as a culmination of literally every single experience I have ever had in my entire life.  It encompasses the moment I was able to pick up a pencil and draw as a young child,  the rush of joy working in my elementary school art class, my anger and frustration as a high school student desperately to find a way to rigorously study visual arts, the euphoria of attending art school, teaching studio art at the elementary, high school, and college level, working as a gallery director, and finally, my ongoing studio practice as a professional artist over the past 16 years.

The tasks involved in this project could not be more diverse and different than what I’ve done in the past: I’ve sifted through archives of photos I shot 15 years ago, revisited wrinkled paper handouts given to me by my professors when I was a student, rummaged into the corners of closets to find tools and art supplies that have been hibernating for years, reconnected with former students, colleagues, and friends, and asking for help and favors from people I’ve never met before-and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Inevitably, everything I take on asks me to draw from my previous experience in some form, but this project is on an entirely new scale that for me is completely unprecedented. In general, I have a monstrous work ethic, and I’ve always been known for attacking my projects and teaching with a feral vigor that can be intimidating for some people. Relatively speaking, the intensity and amount of work I’ve invested into this project makes it appear as if I’ve been slacking off for the past 20 years.

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Sara BloemCasey Roonan  •  Annie Irwin •  Lauryn Welch
Yves-Olivier Mandereau  • Alex Rowe


Another major difference is that I’m not alone in this project.  I have an amazing partner who I feel so incredibly fortunate to have met, an outstanding team of 6 former students, (see above) and a group of 9 interns.  The extraordinary momentum that we’ve built together over the past year and a half has been tremendous.  In my rough moments of doubt and worry, my team has picked me up and pushed me forward with their unwavering support and zeal. They have brought a range of expertise, opinions, and perspectives that cannot exist in one person. I’ve never experienced anything like this before, and I feel constantly energized by everyone’s collective passion and dedication to this project.


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ART PROF is a free, online educational platform for visual arts for people of all ages and means. artprof.org features video courses, art critiques, an encyclopedia of art supplies, and more.

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PORTFOLIO VIDEO CRITIQUES
Prof Lieu offers video critiques on portfolios for students applying to art school and working artists. More info.


ART DARES
Every month, we assign a topic for you to respond to with an artwork. We give out prizes in several categories!  More info.


ASK THE ART PROF was a written column in the Huffington Post from about art related topics. Visit our Pro Development page.


 

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Ask the Art Prof Live #1: Graduate MFA Programs

 

0:00
“Every year only a small portion of students go to graduate school. Why do you think it’s like that?

00:52
“What do you think are the most important values you can learn from graduate school?”

04:14
“Do you think it’s better to go to graduate school right after a bachelor’s degree, or after working for a few years?”


ART PROF is a free, online educational platform for visual arts for people of all ages and means. artprof.org features video courses, art critiques, an encyclopedia of art supplies, and more.

FB    Youtube    Pinterest     Instagram    Twitter    email    etsy


PORTFOLIO VIDEO CRITIQUES
Prof Lieu offers video critiques on portfolios for students applying to art school and working artists. More info.


ART DARES
Every month, we assign a topic for you to respond to with an artwork. We give out prizes in several categories!  More info.


ASK THE ART PROF was a written column in the Huffington Post from about art related topics. Visit our Pro Development page.

An Email that Could Have Been Written by My 16 Year Old Self

Gesture Drawings in Ink

I get emails daily from my blog readers on a diverse range of topics. Everything from questions about what drawing supplies to buy, advice on MFA programs, and concerns about careers in the visual arts.  You name it, I’ve gotten an email about it.

Once in a while, I get an email that is much more than questions.  I recently received an email that I found to be particularly poignant and moving.  I was riveted by this email because I felt that it could have been written by my 16 year old self.   While I admit that my memories of trying to study visual arts in high school still make me boil,  it’s very rewarding to hear that I am filling that same void I experienced 20 years ago for someone today. I always say that no matter how difficult a class I teach is, if I can just reach one person, then that makes it all worth it.   I’m delighted to know that I’d a meaningful impact on one of you in this way.

Here’s the email I received:

“Firstly, I would like to thank you for your blog. It has given me great insight and joy to read about your perspective on art school, teaching, and being a practicing visual artist. Your blog has also given me amazing tips that have helped me build my portfolio. I feel I owe a great deal of my confidence in my work to your writing, so thank you so much.

Secondly, I would like to share my experience in high school art classes. I am much like you described yourself in your blog post. I am withdrawn, shy, and lack confidence. Although I have always excelled in academics, I always have felt like I don’t belong in my school. Since I was little, I could not stop thinking of things to make. I loved every art class I took; I would finish a project and beg to know what the next one would be in order to think of what to make.

As I started my freshman year in high school, I saw that most people thought of artistic people as outsiders, so I felt I shouldn’t do anything artistic anymore. Although I felt I left part of myself behind, I hoped that it might lead to friends or to popularity, but it obviously was not the case. As sophomore year began, I met my Art I and AP Art History teacher. She was a wacky painter that would push you both academically and creatively to the extremes. Because of her, I rediscovered my passion for art and fell in love with the history and study of art. I have been enrolled in her class since junior year, and it has been my escape from everything that makes me anxious or sad.

This summer, I attended the RISD Pre-College program and was inspired by my peers to push my technique and pursue ideas that are outside of the norm. I thank two of my favourite teachers there for believing in my vision, but more importantly, teaching me how to believe in it myself. I have seen a resurrection in my creative process.

 I think the greatest problem in my school is ignominy that comes with being an artist. Because it is a private school in a country outside of the US, most student’s parents are politicians, economists, etc. so creative fields are completely alien to them. I see people every day that are amazingly creative and tremendously talented, but they say that they could never dedicate themselves to a creative field because they want to “have their lives matter.” I find this not only deeply troubling, but also the reason why schools all over the world don’t emphasize the arts so much; because the students don’t take advantage of creative opportunities.

At the high school level, I think an individual’s responsibility is to find what they love and explore it to the best of their abilities, but the reason why people that could be artists don’t pursue it is that the school system does not push the arts. A school should give students the opportunity to study their artistic passions and should promote the development of visual language throughout the curriculum, not only isolated art classes.”


ART PROF is a free, online educational platform for visual arts for people of all ages to learn visual arts in a vibrant art community. Imagine all of the resources here on our blog, except exponentially bigger, in greater quantity, and in more detail. Our Kickstarter campaign hit its $30k goal on July 19!  Get info on our future launch by subscribing to our email list.

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Ask the Art Prof Live is a weekly live video broadcast on my Facebook page where I provide professional advice for art students and professional artists. Ask the Art Prof began as a written column in 2013 and was featured in the Huffington Post from 2013-2015.  Ask me your questions by commenting on the live video post as the video streams, and I’ll answer right away. I’ll discuss being an artist today, art technique & materials, work strategies for artists, career advice, teaching art, and more. Like my Facebook page and you’ll receive a notification when each live video begins.


Video Critique Program
I offer 30 minute video critiques on 8-20 artworks for aspiring/professional artists working on a body of artwork, and for students working on an art portfolio for college admission. Watch sample video critiques and get more info here.

My Poisonous Checklist

John Waters speaking at this year’s RISD commencement

Since it’s graduation season, there are tons of commencement speech videos circulating right now. My perspective may be cynical and unpopular, but I will admit that I find most commencement speeches irritating because most speeches tell you that the world is your oyster, and that you can do anything!  Frequently, the speeches offer a bullet list of things to do in order to achieve success. What most speeches don’t mention is that things will probably go nowhere before they go somewhere.

What I’d like to talk about today is what to do when you’ve been consistently doing everything on those bullet lists for years, but nothing is happening. I would estimate that artists are more likely to experience this circumstance than phenomenal success.  The truth is that the vast majority of people will not be the top superstars in their field, most of us will not win the Turner prize or a Guggenheim grant.

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At my MFA graduation in 2004 (I’m on the right)

When I was a graduate student, it was easy to imagine and aspire for the most prestigious professional achievements in my field.  After completing my MFA,  I felt ready to take a serious plunge into the professional art world. Everything seemed possible simply because I hadn’t experienced anything yet. At that time, I made a checklist of long term goals that was very specific:

1.  Win a top artist grant.

2.  Be represented by a respected New York City art gallery.

3.  Get my artwork into major museum collections across the nation.

4.  Become a tenured professor.

It’s been 11 years since I received my MFA, and I have yet to check off a single item on that list. I’m know that 11 years is a drop in the water compared to some other people, but it’s long enough that I don’t feel like I graduated yesterday. In retrospect, it seems like I must have been egotistical and naive to have thought at one point that one, even several of the items on my checklist could be in my future.  I’m not deluded enough to think that I would just wake up one morning to a call from the MacArthur Foundation. I was well aware early on what I had signed up for by choosing to be a professional artist, and certainly, I’ve made some personal choices that determined where my career could go.

Still, it’s tough to have toiled this hard for this long, and not feel disappointed. With every year that passes, I watch the ship sail further away. At this point, becoming an internationally renowned fine artist is just not in the cards for me. Looking at what I’ve done so far, I know that I will never have a solo retrospective at the Whitney Museum of American Art, and that I won’t be representing the United States in the next Venice Biennale.

Whitney Biennial Exhibition

Over the past few years, I watched my checklist transform from a positive source of inspiration into a toxic distraction. Obsessing over this checklist became extremely unhealthy; I used to torture myself by reading articles about artists who had achieved meteoric success in their 20’s.  I became very resentful and making art wasn’t fun anymore.  What was supposed to be one of my greatest joys in life had mutated into something that just made me miserable.  If you’ve ever experienced this, you’ll understand what a truly frightening place this is to be.

Below is an excerpt from a column by New York Times columnist David Brooks titled “The Small, Happy Life.

“Elizabeth Young once heard the story of a man who was asked by a journalist to show his most precious possession. The man, Young wrote, ‘was proud and excited to show the journalist the gift he had been bequeathed. A banged up tin pot he kept carefully wrapped in cloth as though it was fragile. The journalist was confused, what made this dingy old pot so valuable? ‘The message,’ the friend replied. The message was ‘we do not all have to shine.’ This story resonated deeply. In that moment I was able to relieve myself of the need to do something important, from which I would reap praise and be rewarded with fulfillment. My vision cleared.'”

That checklist wasn’t my own; it was a very narrow minded idea of success formulated by other people that I let myself succumb to.  Reading this column reconfirmed that I don’t need to fulfill those items on my checklist to be creatively satisfied.

I’ve moved the aspirations on my old checklist to the back burner. The goals are still simmering quietly, but they are no longer front and center in my mind. Oddly enough, letting myself not care has been remarkably effective, and this is the first time in a while that I have been able to think clearly. This week, I’m going to start writing a new checklist.


ART PROF is a free, online educational platform for visual arts for people of all ages and means. artprof.org features video courses, art critiques, an encyclopedia of art supplies, and more.

FB    Youtube    Pinterest     Instagram    Twitter    email    etsy


PORTFOLIO VIDEO CRITIQUES
Prof Lieu offers video critiques on portfolios for students applying to art school and working artists. More info.


ART DARES
Every month, we assign a topic for you to respond to with an artwork. We give out prizes in several categories!  More info.


ASK THE ART PROF was a written column in the Huffington Post from about art related topics. Visit our Pro Development page.


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Ask the Art Prof: How Do I Find the Right Graduate School for Fine Arts?

Chipboard Sculptures

“My friends and I are all beginning to look into graduate school and what our future may hold for us as fine artists. We range in age from our mid-20’s to mid-30’s and are at all at different stages of our adult life. We all dream the dream of being strictly a studio artist, and have considered the advantage of being professors one day.

We all want to apply to the right graduate school to help set up our future, and don’t want to be in a school that doesn’t fit us. What advice do you have for students like us? How do we approach the hunt for graduate schools?”

Before you apply to graduate school for fine arts, you have to honestly ask yourself what your long-term goals are. Do you want to teach at the college level? Do you want to show in commercial art galleries? It may seem premature to think that far ahead, but it’s important to think through and answer these questions before you leap into applying to graduate schools.

When I was getting ready to apply, I primarily thought about graduate school as a place where I could mature as an artist, and continue to push myself creatively. I wasn’t thinking ahead in terms of my future, and didn’t realize that one of the most critical goals of graduate school would be making professional connections. No artist can build a successful career on their own; they have to make key contacts that will launch their careers in the right direction.

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On top of that, I was not prepared for how obscenely competitive the process would be. Applications are continually growing at a rate that cannot match the scarce number of openings. When I applied, I assumed that I had done everything “right” up until that point: I had graduated with a high GPA from one of the top art schools in the nation; I had been consistently teaching and exhibiting my work professionally; my portfolio was mature and cohesive; and I had outstanding letters of recommendation. I was confident enough that I announced my departure at my teaching job before receiving the decision letters.

I received five rejections, was put on two waiting lists, and was offered admission only at my safety school. I was in complete shock. I was so ready to stop working and return to school. Having already quit my teaching job, it never even occurred to me to start over and re-apply the following year. I felt like I had no options, so I enrolled at my safety school with extreme reluctance.

To this day, I regret that decision. Experience has shown me that there are doors that never opened for me because of that decision. If I could do it all over again, I would have taken off only one year (I took off four) after art school to clear my head, and then started the application process, knowing that it would likely take several years of applying before I was accepted to a program that I really wanted to be in.

In retrospect, I can see now that there are five main aspects to research when applying. There are other considerations like studio space which might seem important, but actually the five factors below carry far more weight.

Final Crit

1) The faculty.
Do extensive research on the faculty. What kind of artwork do they make? Does their work engage with a contemporary audience? What kind of venues do they show their work in? Have they had solo exhibitions at major galleries? Is their studio practice active? What is their online visibility? What is the turnover rate of the faculty and administration? (A high turnover rate is a red flag.)

2) Location.
Location matters in graduate school. For example, if your ultimate goal is to show in New York City art galleries, going to school in Kansas is not a good choice. The professional contacts you make will be based in the city the school is in, and these contacts can launch you right into that art community.

3) Teaching opportunities.
One of my colleagues told me that her biggest mistake was attending a graduate school that did not have teaching opportunities for their graduate students. The consequence was that when she started applying for college level teaching positions, she had no teaching experience and had difficulty getting hired. If teaching at the college level is a priority for you, make sure that the school you attend provides teaching opportunities for their graduate students.

4) Current student work.
Viewing the artwork being made by current students is one of the best ways to get a sense of the school. Can you envision yourself having a lively creative exchange with these students based on their artwork? Look for diversity in the student artwork; it’s not a good sign when all of the student artwork looks the same. If possible, take a tour of the school and talk to some current students in person.

5) Alumni.
What are recent alumni doing? Where are they showing their work? Peruse their resumes online and try to get a sense of what kind of careers they have. Do they teach at the college level and if so, at what kinds of colleges? Do they have full-time or part-time teaching positions?

Remember, choosing a graduate school program is all about finding the right fit for you. Every artist has different goals, and a program that is right for one person may not work for you. Figure out where you want your artistic career to be in 20 years, and then find the program that will help put you on track to get to there.


ART PROF is a free, online educational platform for visual arts for people of all ages to learn visual arts in a vibrant art community. Imagine all of the resources here on our blog, except exponentially bigger, in greater quantity, and in more detail. Our Kickstarter campaign hit its $30k goal on July 19!  Get info on our future launch by subscribing to our email list.

FB   Youtube    tumblr    Pinterest    LinkedIn    Instagram    Twitter    snap_chat   email


Ask the Art Prof Live is a weekly live video broadcast on my Facebook page where I provide professional advice for art students and professional artists. Ask the Art Prof began as a written column in 2013 and was featured in the Huffington Post from 2013-2015.  Ask me your questions by commenting on the live video post as the video streams, and I’ll answer right away. I’ll discuss being an artist today, art technique & materials, work strategies for artists, career advice, teaching art, and more. Like my Facebook page and you’ll receive a notification when each live video begins.


Video Critique Program
I offer 30 minute video critiques on 8-20 artworks for aspiring/professional artists working on a body of artwork, and for students working on an art portfolio for college admission. Watch sample video critiques and get more info here.


Related articles
“Is graduate school worth it?”
“How are European MFA degrees viewed in the United States?”
“How do I choose a field for graduate school?”

Ask the Art Prof: How Do I Choose a Field for A Graduate Program in Visual Arts?

Skeleton Drawing Assignment

“I am a junior art major, and I cannot really tell what I would like to focus on if I go on to graduate school. It makes it even harder for me to choose schools because I don’t know what field of art I want to pursue. I just love everything about art to be honest. For such people like me, feeling lost in what we’ve been doing, yet longing for higher education in graduate school, what advice do you have?”

For many art students, choosing their major in order to apply to a specific graduate school is a tremendous source of stress. Being required to select a major when applying to graduate school can feel like being asked to make a permanent declaration of your artistic identity. In reality, your field of study in graduate school does not have to set your artistic future in stone.

While a school may ask you to choose a specific field, the truth is that many professional artists work fluidly in a number of fields. Many of my favorite artists are the ones whose works defy categorization, and who are extraordinarily prolific in a number of contrasting art media.

Take someone like the contemporary South African artist William Kentridge, who has worked in everything from drawing, animation, sculpture, and printmaking, to stage design. Picasso began his career as a painter, but experimented tremendously with found objects, drawing, and printmaking. The 18th century Italian printmaker Piranesi began as an architect who later created etchings which depicted imagined architectural spaces. These artists may have started out studying one specific field, but eventually their work in multiple fields blended together into one cohesive vision.

art21-wkaip-films-003-540x356

William Kentridge,

When it came time for me to go to graduate school, I intentionally chose sculpture, a field that I had very little experience with at the time. My primary interest and background was actually in painting, but I was curious to see how studying a different field could influence my paintings. Not only did I end up discovering a new passion for sculpture, but I found myself in the print shop for days on end. Eventually, I dropped painting altogether and emerged as a sculptor and printmaker who specialized in drawing. In this way, I created an interdisciplinary approach for myself that embraced a broad range of fields. My major might have been initially declared as sculpture, but that did not prevent me from branching out into other media.

You can approach this process as an opportunity to study an area you’ve always been curious about, but haven’t done much work in. Or, choose an area that you already have a strong interest in and would like to develop a deeper understanding of. Think about the major you select for graduate school as a departure point. From there, you’ll be able to spread out into other media as your interest and ideas dictate.


ART PROF is a free, online educational platform for visual arts for people of all ages and means. artprof.org features video courses, art critiques, an encyclopedia of art supplies, and more.

FB    Youtube    Pinterest     Instagram    Twitter    email    etsy


PORTFOLIO VIDEO CRITIQUES
Prof Lieu offers video critiques on portfolios for students applying to art school and working artists. More info.


ART DARES
Every month, we assign a topic for you to respond to with an artwork. We give out prizes in several categories!  More info.


ASK THE ART PROF was a written column in the Huffington Post from about art related topics. Visit our Pro Development page.


Related articles
“Is graduate school worth it?”
“How are European MFA degrees viewed in the United States?”
“How do I find the right graduate school for fine arts?”

Ask the Art Prof: Advice for Recent Art School Graduates

Pastel Portrait Drawing Assignment

“I just finished my BFA, where I specialized in painting and drawing, graduating in spring 2013. I am now living back in my hometown. I work at a restaurant as a dishwasher and am living back at home with my parents. I try to go to art openings in the city near where I live. I also have a small studio that I share with three other people and the rent is very affordable for me.

I am in an odd point in my life though. I love painting so much and work on painting every single day. I don’t know what to do for next year. I come from a working class family and money has always been a tough issue for me. I get depressed sometimes, thinking about how expensive life is. I want to live in a cosmopolitan international city to pursue graduate school. But I stress about the money all the time. What is your advice to young students who have just graduated from their undergraduate degree?”

Life immediately after art school can be traumatic. Most art students go through immense culture shock when they transition from art school into the “real world.” Going from being intensely saturated with artistic activity and other artists to almost nothing can be incredibly depressing and difficult to deal with. Feelings of isolation are common for young artists, and many find themselves at a loss for how to begin and what to do.

My greatest piece of advice is to be as proactive as humanly possible. Many young artists get caught up in what they can’t do. In doing so, they deplete their energy by focusing on the obstacles and limitations that are in the way of what they want. The problem with this approach is that you can end up convincing yourself that you are helpless with your hands tied behind your back.

The truth is, you are never helpless. Instead, focus on what you can do. Get creative with the supplies, facilities and time that’s available to you at the moment. You’ll be amazed at what you can accomplish. When I was a young graduate, I couldn’t afford a studio space, so I purchased a small, inexpensive printing press and made a series of 4″ x 5″ drypoint prints (a non-acid intaglio printmaking technique) in my apartment living room. I had a friend in graduate school who used to get some of her supplies for her sculpture from the garbage on the streets of New York City. One of my colleagues works with nothing but paper towels, cardboard and Elmer’s glue.

Once you’ve developed the circumstances to be creating your work, be sure that you never, ever stop making your art. The first year out of school, I hardly made anything. I told myself that I was too exhausted from my day job, that I had no studio space, that I couldn’t afford art supplies. I sketched in my sketchbook every once in the while, went to the occasional life drawing session, but nothing remotely substantial or even skimming the level of production I was at in art school.

So what happened? Someone gave me a sorely needed wake up call. By chance, I ran into one of my former professors who I really liked and respected tremendously. We chatted and then he asked me, “So, how is your artwork going?” I felt so ashamed to tell him that I wasn’t making anything, and ran through my list of excuses. He firmly stated, “Clara, you were one of my best students, you have to make your art.” He gave me his contact information and agreed to look at my artwork now and then. Knowing that someone was out there looking out for me got me incredibly motivated to make my work. We’ve sustained our relationship now for over 15 years, and to this day, I look forward to our regular conversations with enthusiasm.

This brings me to the next thing you can be proactive about: building your own artistic community through artist friends and mentors. As intimidating as it might seem at first, don’t be afraid to call or email one of your former professors to ask for help and advice on a regular basis. I’m so glad that I forced myself to get over that fear and contacted my former professors early on. Most professors are happy to hear from former students, and they can provide practical guidance for how to navigate life as a professional artist. They will understand better than anyone else where you are coming from and commiserate with your struggles. Even as a mid-career artist, I find conversations with my mentors to be compelling and important.


ART PROF is a free, online educational platform for visual arts for people of all ages and means. artprof.org features video courses, art critiques, an encyclopedia of art supplies, and more.

FB    Youtube    Pinterest     Instagram    Twitter    email    etsy


PORTFOLIO VIDEO CRITIQUES
Prof Lieu offers video critiques on portfolios for students applying to art school and working artists. More info.


ART DARES
Every month, we assign a topic for you to respond to with an artwork. We give out prizes in several categories!  More info.


ASK THE ART PROF was a written column in the Huffington Post from about art related topics. Visit our Pro Development page.


Related articles
“What do you do after you’ve finished formalized training?”
“When you have a fine arts degree, what do you do for the rest of your life?”
“How do you stay motivated after school?”