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An Art Student Study: Part 2

We wanted to take a look at art students and discover what motivates and excites them as they look ahead to a career in fine art. This is part 2 of a two-series blog. You can read Part 1 here.

When you think of an art student, what type of person comes to mind? Is there a classic profile of an individual to which your mind immediately goes? Everyone may have a different mental image regarding the modern artist. But to be sure, enrollment in visual and performing arts programs is greater than ever before, ranking in the top ten of bachelor’s degrees sought.

Emillions Art believes the future of fine art is never in doubt, but always in flux. Therefore, hearing directly from the young minds and hearts that will shape fine art of the future is an exercise of paramount importance.

“Loopholes” mural, Berlin Barrera, California College of the Arts

We spoke with students from the California College of the Arts in San Francisco, asking a few questions and giving them the opportunity to lend their voice to the conversation. Daniel and Berlin were eager to participate in the narrative of our topic.

Daniel is pursuing a BFA in painting and drawing at the California College of the Arts in San Francisco with a minor in visual studies. The program emphasizes the development of a personal voice and an awareness of contemporary issues within the expanded field contemporary painting.

Daniel Thomas, student at California College of the Arts

Instruction includes painting’s familiar formats and extends to interdisciplinary material strategies, reaching far beyond the brush. The visual studies minor meaningfully supplements studio practice with critical thinking, research, and writing about contemporary visual culture. The discipline both integrates and expands art history, using a range of methods and theories to analyze fine art, film, design, mass culture, and other visual texts.

Art from an early age.

We asked Daniel at what age he first realized he wanted to pursue art. “Many artists present a childhood story about introduction to art-making that began with their very first box of crayons—my story is more circuitous.”

“As a very young person, I was actually skittish with drawing and materials, easily discouraged by unsuccessful first attempts. I can now see that I was naive about the creative process, with its winding paths, fruitful failures, and beautifully unexpected results.”

Daniel is passionately articulate in his recounting of how he came to a love of art and his desire to pursue fine art education. “I came to painting through art history and design. I became really interested in Cezanne in high school, particularly his Mont Sainte-Victoire series.”

“From there I began to deep-dive into the history of Cubism and the origins of abstraction in the West. Throughout my early teens, I thought I would study and pursue work in graphic design. I met a couple of designers through family friends and high school teachers and interned with them. It was certainly a productive learning experience, but I was discontent with the emphasis on literal meaning and the primacy of client approval in the field.”

It’s interesting to note that while Daniel was initially drawn to this commercial execution art form — graphic design—his explorations ultimately lead him to a deeper form of self-expression: painting.

“I started painting after a digital media arts class lead me to an interest in physical processes. I was fifteen at the time. I knew that painting was something very special and important to me from the beginning, but it took some time to understand how to prioritize my many interests in an authentic way.”

“It wasn’t until my sophomore year of college that I was fully committed to painting. I loved my Painting I class in first year, but it took a few more semesters of exploration to fully understand that I am not a designer or a scholar; I am an artist.”

Berlin Barrera and her art, California College of the Arts

Another of the students we met was Berlin Gabrielle Barrera, who is currently pursuing a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in painting and drawing. We asked Berlin how a love of art and the desire to pursue fine art as a career came into existence.

“During middle school, I would say, was when I realized I would like to pursue art as a life-long career. But it wasn’t until high school when I came to the decision to pursue a fine art degree at an established art school.”

“Being brought up in the public education system, my parents constantly encouraged me to pursue higher education and the many opportunities that followed after. I wanted to study art in a higher education environment because I felt that I would be more engaged in the curriculum and would ultimately find pleasure.”

 

The world of fine art: as good as advertised?

When they find themselves engaged with their new field of study, many young artists discover a world very different from what they imagined. We asked Daniel how his perspectives have shifted or evolved during his time as an art student.

“The evolution is too dynamic to concisely summarize. In general, I would say that I’ve become more open to challenging and complex artworks and concepts. I have come to see the shallowness in insisting on singular reads for artworks and the necessity of experimentation and departure in studio practice. Stated differently, I’ve become more comfortable with Marina Abramović’s wise quote: “The true artist is willing to walk off the end of the earth, only to find that the Earth is round.”

“Painting is very unique among the visual arts disciplines. Consider, in contrast, bookmaking, woodworking, or filmmaking: all of these formats require making a plan, story, or script and—most of the time—sticking to it. All these material strategies are valuable and worthwhile, but I find painting to be deeper.”

“Philip Guston writes that there’s a third hand involved in his paintings, and I feel similarly. When I release the plans, schemes, and agendas of the ego self, a beautiful collaboration begins with energies external to me. This approach could be perceived as an interest in the properties of material, an openness to chance, or something prayer-like and deeply spiritual… maybe all three.”

“Ecstatic Twist” (2019) Daniel Thomas

On, perhaps, a more down-to-earth register, the materials and formats of painting are very capable. Painting allows for the richest deployment of color, with the infinite possibility of mixing and glazing. David Hockney calls the illusion of pictorial space a kind of glamour: it’s a striking, mesmerizing, and thrilling deceit, which is interesting to experiment with even in abstraction.”

“Finally, the fact that painting resists finite definition, makes an expansive field of inexhaustible opportunity: I often depart from the rectangle, incorporate collage material, and make 3-D objects, and it’s all painting to me.”

Even with all of Daniel’s verbal dexterity in communicating his story, passions and experiences, there are still uncertainties with regard to the ‘becoming’ involved in turning a fine art education into a fine art career.

Says Daniel, “Being an artist, to some extent, means not having a career. The practice of art-making, in itself doesn’t generate income; it’s not wage labor—yet, studio practice itself is the cornerstone of any successful career in the art world. I aspire to a life of dedicated art-making, financially supported by a collections market. I also acknowledge that this can take a sustained effort of both art-making and self-promotion to attain.”

“Until then, I’ll stay diligent in my painting practice, while looking for work that supports me creatively and financially. I’m interested in teaching art at the college level, higher educational administration in an arts and humanities context, and writing for publications about contemporary art.”

 

Technology, the native language of young, fine artists.

We asked Berlin, who’s work utilizes acrylic and mixed media, what role technology might play in fine art of the future. This is a topic of intense interest in the fine art world of today and one art students bring naturally to the forefront as digital natives in the very tactile world of fine art.

“I believe that art and technology have created a new gateway for the way art can be expressed and how widely accessible it is with a push of a button. However, I do not believe or agree that technology could pose a threat to art.”

Daniel has a similar perspective as Berlin and expands the idea even further, “Digital technology has brought a wide range of new fabrication tools and research strategies to artists. I often use digital printing, photography, and laser-cutting in my process. The internet has cultivated a dynamic and global conceptual discourse on contemporary art through platforms like Hyperallergic and The Brooklyn Rail.”

“Skeptics would say that these technologies have led to more homogeneity and slower innovation. If artists are more interconnected, they’re more likely to quote each other. Then again, this fits into a larger postmodern discourse on pastiche and the constructed subject. In other words, the quotational nature of contemporary art could be a meaningful reflection on the cultural moment.”

“Loopholes” installation, Berlin Barrera

“The online art market can both highlight and obscure. The art market’s narrow attention span is often criticized; there’s usually only a handful of art stars in the spotlight at a time, which excludes swaths of worthwhile art that could benefit from financial support.”

“The internet can give a platform to artists on the margins, who may not have access to the gallery system, but the algorithms have to work in your favor. The internet is so full, that while a mere presence isn’t important, an effective strategy for getting attention is.”

The insights and perspectives of these young artists and their importance cannot be overstated. As with all things, the evolution of our complex society has a tremendous impact on fine art. It’s more critical now than ever to do the work of attempting to understand the lasting effects of this evolution and find a way to get our arms around the mindsets of those who will champion fine art in the future.

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