Back to Milwaukee to Talk

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The opening of Generation NEXT went really well. MIAD wanted to do a small lecture series in conjunction with the show, so on Tuesday night I was back in Milwaukee to talk about the work I have been making and the work I am planning to make while here. It was a small gathering in the gallery.

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The nicer part of the evening was after the talk. MIAD students wrote small essays about why they wanted to come out to dinner with me after the talk. Six were selected and off we went. It was actually the best part of the night. We were at dinner for a few hours and there were lots and lots of questions asked, both about my work, my professional life, and why I was returning to school and what that was like.

The six of us went to a nice little restaurant downtown along with Jason Yi, the curator of the show, and Mark Lawson, the gallery director at MIAD. The idea behind the dinner was to have a more one on one talk with students about the realities of artistic life and, in my case, of graduate school. We were at dinner for at least a couple of hours. Several of the larger topics that came up were “how do you market your work?” and “why go back to graduate school?” These are large questions and ended up taking most of the evening.

I tried to explain to the students that making work is a small, yet extremely important aspect of my work in general. It is important to have good work, but if you cannot get that work to the public then it rarely will be successful. Some of the things I do other than make the work are write about work I want to make, send out portfolios, email people I am interested in talking with, maintain a personal blog, maintain a personal website, track my web presence, research publications I want my images to show up in (then talk with the editors), research artists who’s work has a bearing on what I do, search for models, meet with models interested in shooting, find locations to shoot, and the list goes on and on. So doing the actual shooting is a very small part.

Then there was “why to go to grad school? That is a BIG question. I think for a lot of people, going to graduate school fresh from undergraduate is a bad idea. I think there are a lot of people, not just art people, that are scared of being out in the world. So school seems like a safe place to stay and hide. The problem with something like art is that you need time to see if you can make art outside of an academic setting. Making work outside of an academic space is hard, and at the same time you learn a lot about what you can do and what you want to do. I took four years. Those four years were great. I didn’t make a lot of work, but the work I did make was good and prepared me for the work that I want to make now.

Graduate school is about time, time to make work that you think is important. It is time to just make work, without having to work three jobs to get by. In all likelihood, you will never have that opportunity again. Being a professional artist (without having any other job) is like being a professional athlete, only a very small percentage of those who try can do it. So graduate school is our one time to have that. Which is why you don’t want to waste it trying to figure out what you’re interested in. And while there is always some experimentation that is done in graduate school (another great reason to attend a three year program like Columbia’s) the time in between undergrad and grad should be used to work that stuff out. So much more can be gained from your graduate school experience if you have clear goals when you start.

That was just some of the reality imparted on those at the dinner table.