A Decade of Teaching at Mizzou

_MG_3410Me, teaching in 2011. Photo by M. Kannan.

Ten years ago this month, I arrived in Columbia, Missouri to start teaching painting and drawing at the University of Missouri. I remember the experience of arriving in town well. My wife was reading to me from the new Harry Potter book (Deathly Hallows was just released the week prior) and we, being Missouri newbies, inadvertently took a scenic route from Chicagoland to MidMo. Those first months were nerve-wracking. It was a one year Visiting appointment (Eventually it was extended, then extended again). I loved the challenge and pretty soon felt at home, especially once Alison joined me. By 2010 I was able to apply to a Teaching Track position.

DSC02231Triumphant with former grad Ian, 2012.

I really am one of the lucky ones. Unless you’re living the art/teaching life, I don’t know if you can comprehend just how lucky. Yes, I’m a competent teacher. I’m a vigorous and engaged artist. But my art-making is not revolutionary, it is investigatory. I don’t believe in originality, I believe in interrogating meaning and experience by acknowledging the vast array of cross-contextual elements that surround us (histories, cultures, systems of thought, traditions of creativity, etc).

Just as nothing that I make exists on its own, so too my teaching is based on the broad constellations of influences that have coalesced into my particular perspective. My frame of reference is not only my own, it’s a kind of index of everyone and everything that has inflected my understanding.

SONY DSCPosing for one of my former grads, Jake Johnson, way back in 2009. Photo by Jake Johnson.

Ultimately I’m not a huge standout from the other (VERY small number of) MFA graduates who are able to keep up the studio work, exhibitions, and become embedded as an educator. I learned early on that teaching scratched the same itch as painting did for me. I’ve used that. I’ve lived that. If I’m down, feeling blown out and sort of worthless – put me in front of a class of 20 twenty year old undergraduates. I’ll come out supercharged. That’s the power of working with human beings who are in the midst of a transfiguration of personality and purpose. I love teaching.

sloanekinkadeIan and Sloane at the first Thomas Kinkade’s Christmas Cottage viewing party…

Consider it: I get to think about art, creativity, and even BEING itself for a job. I get to push paint around, push ideas around, and push minds around (including my own). I get to mentor and be mentored by amazing people. I get to work with creative humans of all ages, backgrounds, worldviews, and experiences. I get to read and write and speak about things that move me. I get to show my work around the country (and sometimes around the world). I get to spend time exploring what it means to make things in the world (and what it means for things to make us who we are, too). I get to share those realms of exploration with others.

I’ve gotten to travel around the world to adopt two of my children.  I’ve been afforded the chance to elevate my standard of living well beyond what it was while growing up. I have the privilege of good insurance and great health care – two things that have made the quality of my post-heart attack life, and the life of my daughter suffering from osteogenesis imperfecta, much better. I’ve become a home owner. A mini van owner. A back yard mower.

enchanter-whatgradclassisWith former grad Jane Jun at the old Shakespeare’s, 2012.

12832461_10106823713056199_4957316273168848908_nWith former grad student Laura at a gallery opening, 2014 or so.

All of these things have come to me through the blessing of employment at Mizzou. It is “an honor and a privilege”* to go into my classroom, greet those faces, and set off on a task of vision and awareness.

So many have challenged me and moved me forward. Bill Hawk, now retired, calling me out in my first talk at Mizzou and asking me to point out what I meant by an abstract assertion I had made. Lampo Leong, telling me to “just teach them” in that first class. Dr. Adrienne Hoard, guiding me in the subtle art of holding a grad student’s feet to the fire. Professor Chris Daniggelis, feverishly baptizing me into the art of mezzotint. Catherine Armbrust and the latex, Jane Jun and identity ghosts, Eric Sweet and the teeth, Maurice and the parking mountain, Shannon and the tree outside the art building, Tina and Midwestern dreams, Norby and graying out, Marcus and awkward dad jokes, Emily and softball excellence, Simon and Caymanian memory… so many more.

So much love, and work, and determination. So many reasons to be grateful.

chrishallapproves-03Joke meme image I created for Chris Hall.

13432296_10107258458921999_331676234204831219_nQuality time with former student Marcus Miers, 2016.

The first round of grad students I worked with still loom large in my mind. Ian, Sloane, Nancy were the first… then Natalie, and then Chris, Jane, and Norby… eventually Colleen and Nikos… Each and every one brought a unique inflection to my experience of the world. I am so much better for having spent time with them.

11960094_10106163680641449_3315752712489631165_nWith Lishan, Simon, and Sumi at an art opening a few years ago. Photo by Bobby.

There are so many stories I could put down: grilling pizzas with Maurice, brewing beer with Norby, taking art trips with everyone, having wonderfully intense conversations in Graduate Theory classes, and hilariously irreverent conversations over beverages at any number of our local establishments. I’ve had many wonderful students from China, and I’ll never forget Peking Duck with Jackie or making won-tons with Tianyuan and our children in the kitchen. I’ll never forget when I got to officiate the wedding of two of my former students. I’ll never forget the response of my students and colleagues to my heart attack, and how they supported me and helped me through it.

Jake, visiting for an evening of food and drink, 2008 or so. Nancy isn’t impressed, 2010.

I know that I can’t really express what all of this has meant to me. If I had to bring it all down to the most important thing, I think I would say it’s time with the students. That’s what secure employment for teachers creates. I get the time to get better at teaching and the students get the value of an educator who is growing alongside them. Continuity – hours and days over the long haul – makes the difference. Those students see me living day to day and I see them living day to day. The ones who get it, who really believe they are real and that others are real, who believe in translating human experience into evocative forms… they are the people that get me out of bed. They’re the ones who inspire me.

20091219_WinterCommencement_0007Standing as a faculty mentor with Shannon at Honors Convocation, 2009.

14907629_10107947068902079_2162397385667730310_nWith grads Guigen, Zach, Amy, Simon, and Nikos at lunch during an art event, 2016. Photo by Waitress.

_MG_3368Working with Emily during a summer drawing session, 2011. Photo by M. Kannan.

I am incredibly thankful for the opportunities I’ve been afforded. My biggest motivation is to be effective as a person, educator, and artist. To make an impact and reveal the world to myself and others through the act of teaching and making artworks. As the years go by, it is the response of my students that gives me such deep encouragement.

The lives of my students are glorious confrontations in the best of ways. They are the world brought to my classroom. Black, white, South Korean, Chinese, Brazilian, Caymanian, Russian, Japanese, gay, straight, trans, Muslim, Christian, Wiccan, conservative, liberal, questioning, broken, certain, self-actualized, brilliant, wondrous, and strange. They come in skittish and green, and they leave full of the power they’ve always had. It’s beautiful to see their transitions, and it never gets old.

With former grad and then colleague David Spear. At Marcus Mier’s wedding.

img_6603A portrait of me with Darth Vader by Jane Jun, 2013. Acrylic on canvas, 7 by 5 inches.

img_6602Portrait of me as The Dude from The Big Lebowski by Jake Johnson, 2009. Acrylic on wood panel, 7 by 5 inches.

This post hasn’t even really scratched the surface of what that last ten years have meant to me and what I’ve experienced. I haven’t even mentioned my passion for the Cast Collection or Rocking The First Day with Deborah. I haven’t spoken about how much I love Wakonse. I haven’t talked about the strange projects we’ve had to do, the cobbling together of nominal spaces for our students. I haven’t mentioned the glory of Dr. Melvin Platt’s parliamentary prowess or Ferrie and Brenda holding down all the details like heroes. There have been dozens more faculty and students who have made these years amazing.

I’m so thankful, and every semester I try to be worthy of what I’ve received. Here’s to another decade!

11022556_10105427628949939_1438644933721545290_oA group of my Color Drawing students at work, 2015.

*I’m quoting Professor Corly Blahnik, Emeritus at ISU.
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Inspiration – Jacob Maurice Crook, the Mezzotint Master

Jacob Maurice Crook is a former student and current colleague of mine at the University of Missouri. He’s amazing. After completing his MFA at Syracuse a few years ago, he took a job with Mizzou and will leave us this fall for a fresh gig. Here’s to many years creating and supporting students in his new position!

Jake has been a great friend over the years and was the first undergraduate with whom I had a strong rapport. His technical skills in drawing, painting, and printmaking are second to none, but his passion to make art and leave a mark on students is just as impressive. It has been a joy over the last couple years to walk past the printmaking room and hear the glory going on inside while he was teaching.

Nearly a decade ago Jake and I learned the mezzotint technique from Chris Daniggelis and, while I enjoy the medium and return to it often, Jake has become a master. Last night I was able to hang out with him as he listened to some sweet doom rock and pulled a fresh proof of his newest mezzotint. See the images below.

Inking and wiping down the plate…

Placing the inked plate on a great old Charles Brand press – with a flourish!

The plate ready for paper and pressure.

Applying the paper – carefully.

After the pass, assessing the situation. Jake is noting a place where the blankets slipped slightly.

The reveal…

Slowly seeing how well the image transferred…

After inspection, Jake zeroes in on the parts that printed best and evaluates what the next steps are to make the image better.

I can’t wait to see how the final piece turns out. It’s inspiring to see a master at work. So glad I’ve gotten to know and work with Jake over the last decade, and I’m looking forward to the next 10 years! RAWK! TOTALITY! AUTHORITY!

Inspiration – Simon Tatum

Screen Shot 2017-06-18 at 1.52.41 PM

One of my best students ever was Simon Tatum, a fantastic young man who recently graduated from Mizzou as an undergraduate. He is currently working for the National Gallery of the Cayman Islands on an internship, and his work is on display there now. Simon has really demonstrated his quality as an artist and as a person over the years I’ve known him, and I am confident that he will be a leader in Caribbean art for many years.

Before he left, Simon gifted this incredible study to me – below. It is a work of ink on Mylar (24 by 16 inches) that had been enamored with for a long time, and one that I consistently returned to gaze at as it hung on his studio wall for more than a year.

File Jun 18, 1 20 06 PM

In some ways this work is a study, an early experimentation in the ink-on-Mylar technique that Simon explored for a good part of his undergraduate career. In other ways it presaged his current fascinations with Caymanian cemetery houses, the geometry of memorials, and the catalysts of memory that many human beings experience. I really love the piece and am planning to mount it in a light box so that it is back-lit… glorious.

Examples of some recent work (graphite screen printed on newsprint, dimensions variable. Photos by Simon Tatum):

Discover and Rediscover-install image 7.1

VAD-install image 2

Simon’s work has inspired me, but he has also given me a deeper connection to one of the most important stories I’ve encountered: Donald Crowhurst and his Teignmouth Electron. The tale of Crowhurst and his voyage, as recounted in the fantastic documentary Deep Water, are items that come up frequently in my classes. A wonderful book about this strange episode is Peter Nichols’s A Voyage For Madmen. Seriously, go read it.

The final resting place of the Teignmouth Electron is Cayman Brac, near where Simon grew up. It turned out that he knew how to find the boat, and so he visited it for me and others here at Mizzou who are interested. Just a couple weeks ago Simon, along with fellow Caribbean artist Blue Curry, visited the boat again to document its ongoing disintegration. Their photos have been posted here.

File Jun 18, 1 22 55 PM

A fragment of the Teignmouth Electron, washed away from the decaying wreck after Hurricane Paloma in 2007.

Teignmouth-Electron-1

The current state of the Teignmouth Electron, June 2017. Photo by Simon Tatum.

Thank you, Simon! I can’t wait to see what you do in the future!

 

Some Excellent Student Work, 2016-2017

My work as an educator is central to just about everything in my life. I’m constantly thinking about my students, working with them, trying to make my classes better, refining various projects, and generally just trying to be present in the process of their learning. I try to hold back on over-explaining myself to them – one of my biggest problems is giving the “answer” while still explaining the premise.

In any case, it’s always good for me to look back over the academic year and see what students have made. Of course, as a Teaching professor, keeping a record of my students’ work is also key to my career. Mostly, though, I find that looking through the “best” of what they make tells me a lot about what I’m presenting to them. Sure, art is subjective in a number of ways. But it is also one of the oldest and most explored arenas in all of human history. As such it is a realm of much wisdom and meaning. How my students interpret and remix the ideas I give to them – whether those concepts are philosophical or technical – is an indicator of not only how well I have explained myself, but also how much has passed through me from those who came before.

Here are some of the works my students have made over the last year. I’ll post them roughly in the order they would appear in class… basic projects, moving into more refinement and invention.

(Note: I’m including the major of the student in question, so that you can see that most of my best students are, in fact, not Art Majors. They come from all over the academic spectrum. Art has something important to give to anyone in any course of study, and that’s a reality that used to be promoted in the academy…)

IMG_7418Michael Flinchpaugh (Architecture). Perspective and Accumulation Study. Graphite on paper, 18 by 18 inches. 2016.

IMG_2378Brittany Burnett (Architecture). Interior Space Project 1 (Art Building). Graphite on paper, 18 by 18 inches. 2017.

IMG_2376Shannon Henderson (Journalism). Interior Space Project 1 (Art Building). Graphite on paper, 18 by 18 inches. 2017.

IMG_9731Kearra Johnson (Art), Interior Space Project 2 (Jesse Hall). Graphite on paper, 24 by 18 inches. 2016.

IMG_2800Shannon Henderson (Journalism). Interior Space Project 2 (Jesse Hall). Graphite on paper, 24 by 18 inches. 2017.

IMG_2801Megan Feezer (Health Science). Interior Space Project 2 (Jesse Hall). Graphite on paper, 18 by 24 inches. 2017.

IMG_2802Xinyi Hu (Religious Studies). Interior Space Project 2 (Jesse Hall). Graphite on paper, 24 by 18 inches. 2017.

IMG_9730Michael Flinchpaugh (Architecture). Interior Space Project 2 (Jesse Hall). Graphite on paper, 24 by 18 inches. 2016.

IMG_0253Shannon Kling (Art). Detail of Apollo, Gallery of Greek and Roman Casts – Museum of Art and Archaeology, University of Missouri. 18 by 18 inches, 2016. Now on display at the Museum.

IMG_0252Emmalee Wilkins (English). Detail of Apollo, Gallery of Greek and Roman Casts – Museum of Art and Archaeology, University of Missouri. 24 by 18 inches, 2016. Now on display at the Museum.

IMG_0777Kearra Johnson (Art), Self Portrait at Mizzou. Graphite on paper, 18 by 24 inches. 2016.

IMG_0780Alex Knudsen (Communications). Self Portrait With Aliens. Graphite on paper, 18 by 18 inches. 2016.

IMG_0255Mia Scaturro (Art) working on a self portrait in black and white colored pencils on gray paper, 2016.

IMG_1991A chunk of “unicorn turd (oil pastel scrapings molded together)” collected by Color Drawing (Beginning, Intermediate, and Advanced) student Sterling Labarbera (Art), 2016-2017.

IMG_1753Blessing Ikoro (Psychology). Grid Study 1. Chalk pastel on paper, 18 by 22 inches, 2017.

IMG_2825Madalynn Olmsted (Art). Grid Study 2. Colored pencil on paper, 16 by 16 inches, 2017.

IMG_2831Alexandra Sapaugh (Art). Complex Colored Pencil Study. Colored pencil on paper, 18 by 24 inches, 2017.

IMG_2823Alexandra Rowles (Health Sciences). Complex Oil Pastel Study. Oil pastel on paper, 16 by 20 inches, 2017.

IMG_2824Alexandra Sapaugh (Art). Complex Oil Pastel Study. Oil pastel on paper, 17 by 17 inches, 2017.

IMG_9836Bridget McFerren (Art, Art History, Multicultural Studies). Lunch (Wings). Oil pastel on paper, 24 by 18 inches. 2016.

IMG_2828Noor Khreis (Art). Reflection Self Portrait (In a sheet of bent metal). Chalk pastel on paper, 18 by 24 inches. 2017.

IMG_2826Blessing Ikoro (Psychology). Reflection Self Portrait (In an ice bucket). Chalk pastel on paper, 24 by 18 inches, 2017.

IMG_2827Madalynn Olmsted (Art). Reflection Self Portrait (In a pair of tongs). Oil pastel on paper, 15 by 24 inches, 2017.

IMG_9736Bridget McFerren (Art, Art History, Multicultural Studies). Reflection Self Portrait (In a chrome sphere). Oi pastel on paper, 15 by 15 inches, 2016.

IMG_2829Madalynn Olmsted (Art). Complex Lighting Arrangement 1. Chalk pastel and collage on paper, 18 by 24 inches, 2017.

IMG_2830Alexandra Sapaugh (Art). Lighting Arrangement 1. Chalk pastel on paper, 18 by 18 inches, 2017.

IMG_2725Alexandra Rowles (Health Sciences). Lighting Arrangement 1. Oil pastel on paper, 18 by 24 inches, 2017.

Amazing work – I can’t wait to see what they do next!

LEGO Sculptures on display

Thirty-four of my LEGO sculptures, created 2010-2017, are on display at the George Caleb Bingham Gallery at the University of Missouri right now. These include five bronze pieces as well.

Since I was a child, LEGOs have been a staple in my creative habits. Often, when I am met with some creative block, when I am disillusioned, or when I simply need a change, LEGOs are my go-to outlet. They offer a kind of open-ended opportunity to make things without any conceits or justifications. Usually, at least for me, this kind of building amounts to a formal exercise within certain boundaries. After all, LEGOs are a finite tool. They have limited application and range. In spite of this, however, they allow for many hours of engagement and a diversity of resolution. LEGOs really are a creative partner in my life.

 

Over the last 10 years or so I’ve been interested in a number of practitioners of contemporary sculpture and their work has influenced how I have played with my LEGOs. First and foremost is Vincent Fecteau, who crafts strange, small sculptures that exhibit a wonderful sense of hidden interior space. Additionally, Barry Le Va’s dark and geometric wall and floor installations (and the awesome drawings for those installations) are also important to me. Didier Vermeiren’s solemn, dense sculptural works manifest a kind of austerity and clarity that challenges me. These artists (among many others) inspire me to play with associations of form and color, as well as with the implications of scale. Fecteau in particular has strongly influenced all of my work over the last 6 or 8 years. 

The sculptures collected here, both those made of standard LEGOs and those crafted in bronze, are meant to function like poems of form: slight, strange, awkward, yet solid in a sense. In them I have gone through an iterative process of placement and association. In my mind, it’s all shape dynamics and formal play. These miniatures have stimulated my paintings, drawings, and prints for a long time. At this point I see them as part of my overall work, though definitely a part that’s still in development.

WHENEVER/WHEN

I’ve got a new show up at Imago Gallery and Cultural Center in Columbia, MO right now. The show, titled WHENEVERWHEN, is a group of abstract pieces I’ve been working on over the last year, including after my heart attack.

I’m posting some details and a few full images below. Please come see the show at Imago; my talk will be at 6pm on June 10th. Imago is located on the corner of Broadway and Hitt in downtown Columbia, MO.

Sballou-illicitIllicit. Oil, oil stick, spray paint, oil pastel and colored pencil on panel, 26 by 26 inches, 2016.

Sballou-theunfolddetailThe Unfold (Detail). Oil, oil stick, and colored pencil on panel, 26 by 26  inches, 2015.

Sballou-osmoticOsmotic. Oil, oil stick, spray paint, oil pastel and colored pencil on panel, 26 by 26 inches, 2016.

Sballou-sigilSigil. Oil, oil stick, spray paint, oil pastel, colored pencil and bas relief on panel, 16 by 16 inches, 2015-2016.

Sballou-sigildetailSigil (Detail). Oil, oil stick, spray paint, oil pastel, colored pencil and bas relief on panel, 16 by 16 inches, 2015-2016.

Sballou-benticondetailBent Icon (Detail). Oil, oil stick, and colored pencil on panel, 26 by 26  inches, 2015.

Click here for more info about these pieces and a few other images of them in process.

NORBZ

Eric Norby is awesome. He was such a strange contrast to Marcus, and we made a quirky trinity of awkward jokes, weird beer, and enigmatic glances together. Norby came to Mizzou at a time when I didn’t think I’d be able to forge good friendships with new grads. I’m not sure why I thought this, but I guess I figured I was getting old and more distant from the newer grads coming into the program.

thumb_IMG_1385_1024“Goddammit, Greta!” Digital Drawing, 2014.

Thankfully, Norby proved me wrong and became a good friend.

Sometimes irascible, almost never empathetic, always intelligent, Norbz has a very particular personality that stood out from the other grads in our program. He had a strong work ethic, clear sense of the value of his time and work, and a love for the experience of music and beer that made for some of the best times I’ve had in recent memory.

IMG_1191“Janus Head Norbz (Two Faced Portrait of Eric Norby),” Instagram Photo, 2013

We began making beer together – those were some amazing nights. Sometimes they resulted in shenanigans like this:

Oh Jesus from matthewballou on Vimeo.

Norby would have thrived in any graduate program. His ability to adapt and his smarts would have made him stand out anywhere. But I’m glad he spent some time watching The Big Lebowski with me, discoursing on the qualities of Ween and Radiohead, singing some Lee Hazlewood, and exploring the meaning of the western vista.

Thanks a lot, Norbz.

thumb_IMG_5373_1024“It’s a Graying Out. (Portrait of Norbz),” Graphite on tracing paper, 8.5 by 3 inches, 2013.

“The Dude abides. I don’t know about you but I take comfort in that. It’s good knowin’ he’s out there. The Dude. Takin’ ‘er easy for all us sinners.” – The Stranger.

Maintaining Momentum For Change At Mizzou

One of the big issues that has come up in the days following the protests is what can be done to keep the momentum going. The protests and interventions that took place this semester are intertwined with a huge number of categories, among which are:

  • Race and gender.
  • The rights of all students and the proper remuneration for graduate students in particular.
  • The failures of a business mindset in a university setting.
  • The responsibilities of administrators to deal with racial and gender-based discrimination.
  • The necessity of recruiting, mentoring, and retaining students and faculty of color.
  • The proactive development of the University of Missouri as a place where students and faculty of every kind can feel safe, heard, and valued.

We’ve got a long way to go. The national media certainly pigeonholed the protests and reduced the reality of what is, and has been, happening at Mizzou down to overly simplified binaries. They wanted to pitch free speech against racial tension. They wanted to make it seem as if the grievances that were being aired amounted only to vapid temper tantrums of spoiled millennials. They cast the reality of racially-based aggression as fantasy. They collapsed over two years of issues into a couple scattered spats about imagined racism. All of that was wrong.

So in the wake of all of this, how are we to be clear about the problems we face, the progress we’ve already made, and stay the course on the work yet to be done? These were the sorts of questions Dr. Maya Gibson had in mind a couple days ago when she posted on her Facebook wall. I met Maya at the Wakonse Conference in May of 2015, and that was one of the most compelling aspects of the event. Getting to hear from her then, and having the pleasure of a few interactions with her since then, made me want to add my voice to the others who were posting their answers on Dr. Gibson’s Facebook wall. I decided to post the questions Maya asked and my answers here to get a chance to express these thoughts out beyond Facebook.

Maya Gibson: Dear white MU friends and allies: what do you think MU could do to make it a more welcoming place for black people (students, faculty, and the COMO community)?

Matt Ballou: One of the main things I have been doing is curating the canon of art history and art-making techniques. Rather than defaulting to 12 or 15 dead white males, I strive to show the work of artists in ways that empower my students. That means showing artists of color, artists of underrepresented genders and gender-expressions, and artists of different abilities and disabilities. That means talking about these examples as Artists and Thinkers, not as some label or hyphenation that could be used to disqualify their contribution. Students need to see themselves in the classroom, in the examples that are presented in the classroom. They need to know the possibilities for THEM.

I don’t view this as fulfilling some quota – I see it as part of the central aims of my work as an educator: to provide and advocate for ACCESS. Most of my students are female; they deserve to see the true breadth of approach to art-making that’s out there and know the significant contributions of women throughout time.

I could keep going… I think this is what I’m trying to do in the classroom to keep the movement going. When they see the institution respecting people they relate to and who look like them, they can believe that the institution – or at least ME – is on their side.

MG: Thanks, Matt. If you can keep your list going, I would encourage you to do so. I am learning and I hope others are too. What are specific things you do to make Mizzou a welcoming and safe place for black students, faculty, and the greater-MU community? I love that you are proactive in the ways in which you shape and recreate the canon for your students. You’re actively resisting the model of euro- and ethnocentrism that comprises so much (western) art pedagogy. We have that problem in music, too. I also have to say that I greatly appreciate the way in which you’ve advanced a notion of diversity writ large. Do you encounter resistance, and if so, how do you handle it?

MB: In terms of specific things, here is one big thing:

I always try to engage with others in such a way that they – and anyone observing the interaction – believe I think they are real. One of the biggest issues I have with most discussions in the public sphere and in the media is that they can so easily dilute the REAL lives, REAL experiences, and REAL perspectives of REAL people. So whether it’s informal – walking past an acquaintance on the sidewalk – or more formal – in a critique session in class – I want to concretely show that I believe in the truth of others’ existence. This means, for example, thoughtfully building on the comments of my colleagues of color during a graduate review. That may seem small, but it shows my white students that I affirm the things my colleague is saying and it demonstrates for my black/minority/female students that I listen when an African American woman speaks. They can see clearly that I hear that voice. It may seem little, but this sort of courtesy does, I think, make a difference.

Obviously it’s complex, but I think the idea I shared above about curating the canon and then following that up with visible positive engagement with my colleagues and students helps create an environment where welcoming other voices and actually hearing them can build a safe space and a more legitimate learning space.

In general I don’t personally get resistance. I think that’s a reflection of my privilege. I’m a pudgy white dude who looks semi-homeless half the time; no one questions the legitimacy of what I say or how I look. But I have heard about a number of situations where the appearance and ability to communicate of my female and minority colleagues have come under question. And that’s bullshit right there. When I talk about black artists, no one questions. But I have known of situations where black colleagues of mine have been accused of being shrill or having an ax to grind when they bring up the exact same artists in the exact same sort of situation. That’s bullshit. So my job is to recognize that difference between my experience and their experience and state my support for them. They didn’t do anything wrong, yet students felt it appropriate for them to give these educators a hard time. That’s bullshit. So, yes, there is resistance… We need to be vigilant.

Another thing I’ve tried to do is speak to my students – the majority of which are female and many of which are minorities of various sorts – as if they know what they are doing. They are used to professors talking down to them. I don’t do that. Some times they really don’t know what they are doing but they need someone to look at them with respect and ask them questions and make observations like they ARE already accomplished. And THAT will go a long way toward them actually becoming accomplished. This is exactly what happened to me. My main professors treated me like an artist and thinker long before I was actually there. And that’s why I have had some success. So I pay attention to my students in such a way that they hear the message that their lives are important and they can do this thing I’ve set before them.

MG: Thank you for seeing, acknowledging, and recognizing me, which is what I want more than anything. I have grown weary of being negated, silenced, and rejected by the majority, some of whom are so-called, supposed-to-be colleagues. Thank you for modeling for students how to treat people. Thank you for slapping the mess out of my hand when I raise it (at least it’s grounding). In short, thank you for being you.

~

I realize that this is just one conversation among all of the ones that have happened in and around Mizzou over the last semester. I hope that in some small way my clarification of my own attempts to be an educator who advocates for his students can help. God knows we don’t need more white dudes mansplaining, but I wanted to honor what I saw as Dr. Gibson’s serious and heartfelt request to her white colleagues. The primary thing I have learned throughout all of this is that LISTENING is one of the primary ways I can be an ally. Over and over I’ve seen Maya and other African American friends say “LISTEN” when the cacophony of viewpoints swirled up, when weird racist stuff crowded in and fostered disunity. Listen. Hear.

Listen. For me, part of listening well and preparing myself to hear well is having a strategy. What I wrote in response to Maya’s questions above amounts to my strategy as an educator to create a space for listening to my students and hearing their perspectives. LISTEN.

Let’s start now, and listen to Nina Simone…

 

The Protests at The University of Missouri

As many around the country and around the world are aware, this past week at Mizzou has been harrowing. It was a week that culminated in the ouster of both the MU System President and the Chancellor. On Monday, before the strange, terrifying days that followed, many classes were let out in solidarity with #ConcernedStudent1950 and Jonathan Butler. I told my students that I’d be down on Mel Carnahan Quadrangle to witness the events. I decided that I would undertake a drawing to commemorate the day.

Screen Shot 2015-11-13 at 6.06.51 PM Screen Shot 2015-11-13 at 6.06.46 PMAbove are two shots of me at work, the first by my colleague and former student Jacob Maurice Crook (Adjunct Professor at Mizzou), the second by one of my graduate students, Jeff Markworth (MFA Candidate, 2016). I was also photographed by local media, and one of those shots can be seen here.

I’ll leave the commentary to other voices. My purpose in all of this is to remain an ally for my students while representing Mizzou well and encouraging the change it needs to see.

Here’s the drawing I made. It’s not as refined as I’d like, nor is it my normal thing to do subject matter like this. But it was a good exercise, and a good day to be present and aware.

November92015“An Historic Day on Carnahan Quad: November 9, 2015.” Pastel on paper, 28 by 44 inches. Click for enlargement.

EVOKE at Imago Gallery and Cultural Center

I’ve had the great pleasure to curate a little exhibition currently on view at Imago Gallery and Cultural Center, a space that I’ve been consulting for and have really enjoyed working with over the last year and a half or so. On Tuesday, September 1st, the gallery will host a reception for the show.

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I hope you can join us for this event. The works I’ve selected were created by a few young artists that really highlight the diversity of perspective that is present in our community. All three of these individuals were or are students at the University of Missouri where I have taught since 2007.

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Detail of a work by Sumire Taniai.

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Detail of a painting by Kelsey Westhoff.

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Detail of a drawing by Simon Tatum.

I chose these artists not only for the ways their work stirs up interesting moods and thoughts, but also because they represent the different places, directions, and sources that artists use. Taniai is Japanese-American, a strong woman who uses her paintings and drawing to delve into the complex relationships between fathers and daughters. Tatum uses his Cayman Island heritage to explore how colonialism and sublimated history may be brought to the surface in singular, distinctive ways. Westhoff’s paintings deploy the aesthetics of apps and filters familiar to anyone who uses a smartphone, and in them she treads the line between affectation and sincerity. All in all these young artists show the vigor of painting and drawing in the 21st century, providing viewers with avenues that illuminate history, identity, relationships, and meaning.