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.

Marcus Miers: Halation at Imago Gallery and Cultural Center

My friend and former student Marcus Miers is returning to Columbia, Missouri to have a solo exhibition at Imago Gallery and Cultural Center.

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Marcus, installing Come To Nothing (The Minimalists Ascension) at Imago.

This exhibition is, in some ways, a second iteration of Marcus’s MFA thesis show that took place this past April at the University of Wisconsin – Madison. In addition to several of his thesis works, Marcus will be creating site-specific pieces that play off the unique interior quirks of the Imago gallery space. Also on display are two drawings from Marcus’s undergraduate time at Mizzou. These drawings show the beginning of his interest in the phenomenology of color and the relationship between color, space, and anxious or awkward forms.

imageOne of Miers’s recent works (left) alongside an older drawing.

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Another one of Marcus’s undergraduate works.

The two undergraduate drawings will be for sale to support The Eric Sweet Memorial Scholarship. If you want to know more about these two pieces, visit Imago or shoot me an email.

imageAn evocative basket-like sculpture entitled A Soft Tongue Breaks the Bone.

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Marcus Miers – Halation, a catalog of recent work, is also displayed in the gallery.

imageKeep Them Close on view at Imago.

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Marcus beginning to install a site-specific woven piece in the strange brick niche at Imago.

I hope you’ll come see this exhibition if you’re in the area. Marcus will give a talk on June 2nd at 7pm. I’ll have the privilege to introduce him before he speaks. Always strange, sometimes awkward, and often mystifying, experiencing Marcus’s work is just like meeting him for the first time. Ultimately, both are rich and rewarding, so be there and start the journey.

The Teacher (Ms Sharyn Hyatt-Wade)

Photo Mar 18, 8 11 39 AMThe Teacher (Ms Sharyn Hyatt-Wade), Pastel on Black Paper, 30 by 22 inches, 2014.

Sharyn Hyatt-Wade is synonymous with engaged, passionate teaching here in Mid Missouri. If you ask any of her former students, you’ll hear no end of what this woman has brought to her classrooms over the years. Though she recently retired from teaching high school art after many years, she’s currently a part of the faculty at the University of Missouri. Now she’s working with our Art Ed graduate students to help shape them into the sorts of educators who make real impacts on kids’ lives. Too often public education is about the bottom line: teaching to the test to obtain granular data for the administrative types who allocate funds. Teachers like Sharyn live far beyond that simple concept; they aim to change lives, validate individual experiences, and advocate for student-based successes.

Sharyn’s power and exuberance are kinetic and contagious. She has an uncanny ability to get other people around her on board with her almost instantaneously. She’s a true leader and lover of people. I’m so thankful she’s in our community and is still giving of herself to bring better educational opportunities to everyone. What an amazing career she’s had. What a huge impact. Thanks, Sharyn.

~

If you’re a former student of Sharyn – at any level, in any capacity – I’d love to hear your thoughts. Share them in the comments below if you want to!

Becoming The Student, #1: Shalonda Farrow

Starting this month I will be periodically posting a new series of portraits, beginning with the one below. The title of this series, Becoming the Student, is based on my desire to be quieter and learn from others rather than be entirely bound up in my identity as an educator. In Becoming the Student, I hope to present thoughtful, dignified portraits and use the time while creating the works as an opportunity to learn from the people who sit for me. With each post I will include some observation, quote, or other tidbit of glory that the subject shared with me.

The one below was created in 3 hours or so at a portrait workshop I conducted at The Columbia Art League yesterday. Pictured is my friend (and fellow CAL instructor) Shalonda Farrow. I was struck by how often she used the word “love” (as in: “Thank you, love” or “Do you need any of this, love?”) during the session. In speaking to her friends, she’s always intentional about communicating care and awareness. Shalonda seemed like a perfect initial entry into the Becoming the Student series. Here’s to many more. And thanks to Shalonda and the ladies at CAL!

20131208-155201.jpgShalonda, 13 by 11 inches, pastel on paper. 2013.

Current Shows and News

It’s been a full summer so far… plenty to be excited about in spite of the 107 degree heat!

I’ve currently got work up at PS Gallery in Columbia, MO. It’s a solo show – titled Adding – in their secondary gallery space, the Hallery. It’ll be up through July 28th. The Reception for the exhibition takes place July 14th at 6:00pm and we’ll be around for that. Also, stop by on Artrageous Friday, July 20th. Artageous Fridays are always epic cultural events in Columbia. Below are a few images from the installation.

Already making sales!

I have a piece of work at First Street Gallery in NYC until July 14th. First Street is a quality stop if you’re out there!

I am in a show (exhibiting a collaboration with Marcus Miers) at the 930 Art Center that runs through August 12th, called Phoneography. Check it out if you’re in Louisville!

I’ve got a work – already sold! – up at the Columbia Art League Annual Member’s Summer Open Exhibition. It garnered a 2nd place ribbon even…

I was the juror for Figure It Out! at the Craft Studio Gallery on the campus of the University of Missouri which was up from June 14 through June 28. I was delighted to select some amazing work and have a piece of my own there as well. See some shots below.

A detail of Catherine Armbrust’s amazing “The Titillator”

Ryan Johnson’s Crisis (on the pedestal) and Morgan Hobbs’ Self Portrait – which won an Honorable Mention.

Detail of John Schneider’s Do These Stripes Make Me Look Fat? – Oil on panel.

Detail of Jane Jun’s Journey.

My own monotype print titled Extend on the back wall, and a front view of Armbrust’s The Titillator.

Detail of David Mazure‘s Habakkuk, a luminous ink and marker on translucent paper that won Best in Show.

Wow… quite a bit going on since the spring semester ended. I’m trying to get my studio really set up and am enjoying time with my wife and daughter. I’m teaching a summer session of painting at Mizzou, which is quite a lot of fun, and working on a few odds and ends here and there in our new place. I made some hanging polyhedral sculptures for the front porch, a first for me. But perhaps the most effervescent developments of the last few days are my first brews – both IPAs – a Chinook and a Double. I’m using Northern Brewer equipment.

Beer Room…

ACTIVE FERMENTATION!

 

 

 

Vacation = Work

This Thanksgiving Break my wife and I decided to stay at our home here in Columbia, MO rather than going to visit family for the holiday. There’s a lot going on for us, and for my work in particular. There’s no time to take a break.

I’ve got three significant shows coming up. The first is a wonderful show at the University of Mary Washington Ridderhof Martin Gallery in Fredericksburg, VA. The exhibition is titled SHADES OF GRAY: Drawings in Graphite and will run from January 21 – February 25, 2011. I’m particularly excited about this exhibition as Joann Moser, Senior Graphics Curator from the Smithsonian Museum of American Art, will be presenting a lecture and placing the work on view in context. Below is one of the four works of mine that will be included in the show.

Anthropology (Conceits of Knowledge #3), graphite on paper, 38 by 42 inches, 2008.

The next show I’m involved in is a solo show at the Barrington Center for the Arts at Gordon College just outside of Boston, MA. The show is titled Redeeming Tensions and will feature approximately 40 paintings, mezzotint prints, and drawings. It’s the largest show I’ve ever attempted. It will run from February 5 through March 19, 2011. Below are two of mezzotint plates I’ve been working this week. The finished works will be printed and appear in the show.

Lamentations Chapter 3 Verse 8, copper mezzotint plate, 2010.

Lamentations Chapter 3 Verse 14, copper mezzotint plate, 2010.

The final major show I’m involved in will be a two-person exhibition at the 930 Art Center in Louisville, KY with Tim Lowly, one of the most amazing representational painters working today. It is an extreme honor to be asked to show with him, and I am super excited about our show of tondos. I’ve got some work for this show underway but since it’s a while until the show opens I want to keep that under wraps – the run should be June 17 – July 31, 2011.

So, as you can see, I don’t have time to take vacations from the things I love, the things I’m passionate about… and I wouldn’t want to. Faith, family, art making, community, teaching; I life for and in and through these things. They may all seem like cliches to some people, but I’ve got a full life and a full plate. I love it and I am thankful for it.

Color Drawing, Spring 2010

A year ago I started teaching all levels of Color Drawing (Beginning, Intermediate, and Advanced) at the University of Missouri. While I really enjoy all of my classes, the Color Drawing sections have been particularly special to me.

So here’s just a review of some of the great work from this semester…

Danielle Moser, Beginning Color Drawing: Reflection Project Drawing, Oil Pastel, 24 by 18 inches.

Jillian Blanck, Beginning Color Drawing: Master Copy Drawing (after Dali’s The Hallucinogenic Toreador), Chalk Pastel, 30 by 22 inches.

Scott Fisher, Beginning Color Drawing: Master Copy Drawing (after Michelangelo’s Libyan Sibyl from the Sistine Chapel), Chalk Pastel, 30 by 22 inches.

Holly Meador, Intermediate Color Drawing: Head Planes Model Drawing, Chalk Pastel, 44 by 30 inches.

Holly Meador, Intermediate Color Drawing: Self Portrait as Flaming June (after Lord Frederic Leighton’s Flaming June), Chalk Pastel, 30 by 36 inches. (Unfortunately, this drawing was stolen from my flat files at the University – I’m actually pretty pissed off about it. How can we expect our students to be willing to put forth their best efforts when their peers don’t respect that work? Really unbelievable.)

Roxanne Kueser, Advanced Color Drawing: Courtney, Chalk Pastel, 24  by 18 inches.

Brittany Carney, Advanced Color Drawing: Neil (The Proper Posture), Chalk Pastel, 24  by 18 inches.

Marcus Miers, Advanced Color Drawing: Untitled Composition, Chalk Pastel, 60  by 45 inches.

I want to thank all of my Color Drawing students for making the class so enjoyable. I could have easily had 100 drawings to show from the production of my 24 students; I don’t mean any disrespect to those I’ve not displayed here. These works do show the overall quality and worth ethic I’ve seen throughout all of the students this semester. I’m so glad I got to work with them. Here’s to setting the bar high for next semester!

Beginning Painters, Spring 2010

I have a pretty good crew of beginning painters this semester at the University of Missouri. I’ve been teaching the course a little differently this year, jumping into making stretchers and stretching canvases, working directly with color from the start, and assigning many, many more preparatory works than I usually do. I’ve been showing them Diebenkorn, Tim Kennedy, Sangram Majumdar, Catherine Murphy, and Uglow. The students seem to be responding.

We’ve been talking a lot about the color and direction of light, focusing intensely on how value shifts over forms and through spaces. I’m enjoying a lot of what they’ve done. Here are a few of the current project (all are oil on canvas, each approximately 14 by 14 inches):

Sarah Burch

Arin Hennessey

Dannah Moore

Jesus Roman

Katie Westhusing

Alyssandra Wilkey