Monday, August 2, 2010

Art Studio: A Personal Reflection

W. Keith Brown
Art Educator / Scholar / Writer
Stockyard Institute

In the 80’s and 90’s, art studio was the kitchen table or my bedroom growing up. When I went away to the University of Kentucky in 1998 for undergraduate studies in Fine Art, I realized the significance of space and the value of art studio. At the University of Kentucky, art courses are located off-campus in a semi-condemned tobacco warehouse formally owned by the R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Company. “The Reynolds Building” is freezing cold in the winter and downright stifling in the summer. As student artists, we weathered the harsh conditions like a badge of honor. Due to its location, there was nothing university about the art studio experience. It was more than a series of workspaces, it was a place to visit, talk, and get ideas from peers and professors. The accessibility to the physical structure and faculty remain its most redeeming quality.

It was in the art studios were I felt the call to teach. Helping friends hang shows and giving advice was how I learned about multiple perspectives and diverse artistic procedures. At the time, I was a graphic design and drawing major, working odd jobs and skateboarding. I gleaned meaningful experiences through conversations, visiting artist lectures, many art history courses, and helping others in the studios. After graduation, it would take me three years of being a freelance graphic designer to realize that teaching is what matters most. Showing others, mainly artists, how to do something or providing a resource to inform their work remains the most satisfying feeling.

In 2006, I moved to Chicago to become apart of our amazing city and pursue graduate studies in art theory, practice, and education. As an artist, I now use writing and teaching as foundations for what I see as conceptual art practice. I view the interaction between student and teacher as an artistic exchange. For me, talking about art with young people is the art. When we come together and learn from one another about the subject, we create a situation that changes something. We alter the way we think and talk about art from that point and beyond. Often times we discuss philosophical questions regarding art markets, value of work, and aesthetics, sometimes we just spend time talking about our experiences. I believe all of these conversations inform making and that exchange becomes an art practice. Call it relational aesthetics in a school setting or socially engaged praxis, but communicating art’s processes, practices, and production methods is what I try to do through teaching.

As an education person, I also have a background in critical pedagogy, social theory, and social justice education. Everything I do in visual art and education is slanted for posing questions and gaining meaning. I believe that knowledge has the ability to empower us. I believe that access to knowledge and questioning author / authority is necessary for constructing knowledge. Students / people should be invited to actively participate in the construction of their own knowledge as well as have a say in what subjects are relevant for them. Teaching and visual art are both cultural positions, as an artist or teacher you are a cultural worker, you have to form opinions and understand certain phenomena in order to do this work. Artists usually provide commentary on topics and teachers have to identify and explain those topics. Both positions communicate something to people. On a simplistic level, both positions are entrenched in the communication business.

My writing is somewhat separate from art education, even though I sometimes write about the field of art education. As a writer, I see myself as a translator, not in an authoritative means, but in the Benjamin sense. My interpretations of texts, art museums / galleries, and Chicago's numerous critical spaces; serve as ways of understanding context, visuality, and emergent situations. The process of writing a review, conducting an interview via email, and interpreting art spaces and theoretical texts is a laborious process, much more than my artwork ever was. I used to make a lot large-scale automatic drawings and figure studies. Living in my small apartments in Chicago pushed me to work smaller and to give up art almost exclusively. Writing is desktop oriented work; it is research based and gives me much fulfillment. Depending on a deadline, I can start writing on a piece three weeks ahead of time and use every minute until it is time to send. I write in very small chunks of time, once I have the ideas down, I begin editing and changing word choices. I can usually find three hours most mornings to write about something. I also carry moleskin notebooks and pens with me any time I leave the house. I always find something to sketch or jot down when I commuting around town.

Today, my “studio” is the dining room in my East Lakeview apartment. I like everyone else wish I had a different space to work, some days it is hard to focus in the house. I am distracted with other household chores and responsibilities. However, this is where I read, write, develop curriculum, and think about art and education. As humans, we can make do with almost any environment.

W. Keith Brown is a Chicago-based art educator, researcher, and writer. Aside from being an art history teacher at ChiArts, Brown is also a member of the artist-pedagogical collective, Stockyard Institute, founder of the Critical Visual Art Education (CVAE) Club, art critic for Whitehot Magazine of Contemporary Art’s Chicago division, contributor to Proximity Magazine, and editor for the Illinois Art Education Association (IAEA). 

The views and opinions expressed on this blog by W. Keith Brown do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of those organizations with whom he associates.

Image Credit: Courtesy of W. Keith Brown

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