Engaging Artists Beyond the Studio
Charting your path and planning for your future as a new undergraduate student can be overwhelming. At the Visual & Critical Studies department, we encourage experimentation and variety in your course choices for maximum exposure to as many potential opportunities as possible. Below, find four examples of curriculum paths that have lead our alumni to become artists, curators, entrepreneurs, publishers and even a sushi chef.
My career path post-VCS was all accidental; I never intended on becoming a “sushi chef” until the final semester of my senior year, when I had moved up from waitress to prep chef/apprentice chef. But it was the combination of all of the core classes over my three years with VCS — philosophy, writing, criticism, etc — that ultimately prepared me with the perfect storm of mental headspace that this profession requires. The mentorship I took on with the chef I worked with felt like an extended VCS class, in the sense that it required me to work long “studio” hours, learn the history of sushi from a cultural and scientific standpoint, marine biology, the effects of climate change on sea wildlife and the cultural and social patterns of New York “foodies.” Being a sushi chef, who stands and converses with diners eight hours a night, is as much a job of social science as it is culinary artistry.
I felt the department provided this for us. Quite literally, visual, critical, multidisciplinary studies that can carry someone into a diverse world, where creative jobs demand so much variety in knowledge and skill.
There were so many classes I took — and had the freedom to take (since we were allowed to sneak into other majors’ classes) that ultimately made my experience at VCS so full. (Plus that it allowed for a lot of independent research papers/projects and self-directed learning).
So in saying that, I don’t want to leave anyone out. But Greg and Isabel both helped me a lot with my work outside of class, and I’m so grateful for them. Amy, Peter and Tom, too. And probably others!
The program I am currently in at Sotheby’s Institute was not the normal track for a student coming out of VCS, because it is an Art Business program that some would see as solely the commercialization of art.
My senior thesis presentation at VCS was a documentary about brick and mortar galleries, arts districts and their role in the gentrification of neighborhoods. I knew that business experience would have to come into play if I wanted to apply my thesis to real life, and to be able to help artists and thinkers in my field solve societal problems where artists normally aren’t included in the conversation outside of their own bubble. The other work I showed was an accompanying series of large scale oil paintings (thanks to Leigh Behnke) of women of color naked in recognizable — yet empty — public spaces, facing the windows on West 21st Street. They were a personal representation of my predicament of trying to understand the uses of public space, and place myself in a very meticulously defined world (both art world and in general).
Since Amy Wilson is a political organizer herself, she would invite me to film for my documentary of her neighborhood and let me sit in and film their town meetings about redlining and areas with toxic waste. Milton Glaser, who [had been] at SVA forever, sat down with me for an interview at 89 years old in his office to talk about how art is a vehicle for change, and how images can be dangerous propaganda or positive propaganda. That conversation is so vivid even now. Shellyne Rodriguez heard about my project from other students and took her own time to meet with me. We had a three-hour interview about art, money, real estate, land, culture and policy. She laid out every piece of text I would need to reference (going back to the 1920s) of art as dissent, performance as protest and the many ways displacement has always been a theme. Suzanne Joelson was my mentor in curating our senior thesis exhibition and gave me so much creative and administrative control that I became addicted to exhibition design and studio visits with my peers. Once I had rooted back in LA, Tom Huhn invited me back to curate another show, and instead of telling him I no longer lived in New York, I was flying back and forth for six months working on it. I realized my life was also playing out in this nomadic cycle. This was really when the idea started gelling for my current project, Superposition Gallery. We pop up in different cities, expanding and contracting within a week’s time, holding place for discussion with the neighborhood and the artists. I’ve worked with over 50 artists since our first show in August 2018, and it’s all thanks to the one-on-one mentorship I received from so many art teachers at SVA.
Of course, while the program is mostly theoretical and not necessarily driven toward job placement, there were a few teachers that were instrumental in my job opportunities. Jan Avgikos was an incredible teacher to have in shaping my voice for the times I have written about art. She also helped me understand my generation of cultural dissemination, which is important to have a strong grasp of in order to have an effective role in the process. I took a class in the photo department called Curating and Photo Editing and, I must say, it was my relationship with one of the two teachers from that class (Bill Hunt) that remained the longest and directly led to a few great job opportunities. VCS made that possible due to their class structure and opportunity for exploration in other departments.
Jeremy Sigler’s Reading Thinking Writing was one of my first classes in VCS. Jeremy’s style of teaching and the content he presented really intrigued me and was a great gateway into the program. Jeremy was also able to get me an internship at Distributed Art Publishers, which proved to be an invaluable experience that continued for two years and turned into a paid position. Jeremy was also very instrumental in my application process when applying to graduate schools.
Similarly Peter Hristoff’s courses — of which I have taken many — helped me challenge myself and produce work that pushed the boundaries of my style and comfort zone. Peter’s encouragement along the way helped me find something that I felt was much closer to my own personal artistic voice and expression. His help during my application process also came in the form of critiquing my portfolio and helping me pick out my best work.
My goals in entering VCS were to gain a substantial background knowledge of philosophy and art history to help supplement and inform my own work. I could not have imagined the extent to which the program succeeded in this. VCS opened up a new side to history and art that would have been nearly impossible for me to discover on my own. It has helped remind me why I pursue an education in these subjects and why I make work, period. These lessons I learned — which can’t be taught directly or quickly — have already proved to have lasting effects on how I interact and establish myself in the work world, art world and hopefully moving forward onto the next phase of my education.
The other professors that stand out to me and influenced me greatly that come to mind are Allyson Viera, Tom Huhn, Constance Beckley, Lynn Gamwell, Devi Dumbadze, Kara Rooney, among others too long to list. I can honestly say I never had a bad class in the VCS department.