The daily life of a college student can often be full of stress and clouded thoughts. When the weight of the world comes crashing down, it can help to just walk around and observe the halls. A walk through the Art Department often means stumbling into some curated art pieces on the wall. Behind every piece of art in the halls of TJC, there is a human mind that created it. In this instance, two TJC art professors offered a comprehensive explanation of the work displayed in the halls and their creative process.
“Ultimately, it’s an optimistic piece in my mind; it’s about tackling some of the challenges that are thrown at you throughout your life and almost taking a humorous approach to them, because sometimes things will be so challenging that all you can do is laugh,” said Derrick White, a TJC art professor and Art Department chair, about his piece “The Things I Don’t Understand, Far Outnumber The Things I Do.”
White said he does not want to give the viewer of his art too specific an idea of its meaning because he believes it is better to leave it vague and allow the viewer to apply their own life experiences and interpretations. However, he does say his own interpretation of the piece is about the difficulties of navigating through life and the importance of persevering.
“I think a small sign of true intelligence is realizing that you don’t know how much there is you don’t know. And I’ve never been a person that’s had the arrogance to walk around thinking I know, at all, because I absolutely don’t. So, you know, I think it’s just a true statement for me that there’s so much that I don’t understand that far outnumbers things that I think I even have a grasp on,” White said.
The title of the piece holds significance to the rest of White’s work. He said art opens more doors than it solidifies because he has more questions now about art than he did when he first started. White isn’t troubled by this though, saying he believes it to be one of the beautiful things about continuously making art, because the exploration of the questions he has can be seen through his work with the art.
“I’d say with the majority of my work, I don’t have a preconceived notion of what it’s going to look like when it’s finished. This particular piece, I knew I wanted to use that striped kind of cone party hat imagery in it, but I didn’t even know it was going to have a Mickey Mouse type figure in there. When I first started, it just kind of came out of reacting to some lines that ‘Hey, that kind of resembles a Mickey Mouse hand,’ and then I developed that a little bit more,” White said.
There is a process to White’s work, but there is no plan. White puts down new imagery on the canvas one step at a time and reacts to it from there. If he likes the imagery, he will repeat the step for something new, if there’s parts of it he doesn’t like, he’ll keep what he likes and use the parts he doesn’t to start again. White said that the lack of a plan makes the art flow a lot better by letting his creativity run wild.
“You would think that my most productive art creating months of the year would be during the summer because I’m off during the summer, I’m working from home, teaching online classes, so I’ve got all this time to be out in the studio and make work. But I actually was looking at my inventory not too long ago, and my most productive months are February and September. And that’s right after the semester starts and I start working with the students again,” White said.
The energy of young artists and the questions they make White ask himself are big motivations for him. Despite having a studio at home, he is most creative when he is around students due to the dynamic he has with them. The students get to learn the fundamental elements of art and their youth helps White push the fundamentals of his own work.
“I believe that art is very therapeutic for working through problems in everyday life because a lot of times, and maybe it’s even on a subconscious level, you render these images or these marks or even text or words out on the surface of a canvas or a piece of paper or print or something like that, and take a look at it, and realize that you’re actually processing some different things that you might be going through,” White said.
Art has helped White manage the physical toll that comes with living. He said he hates to imagine how his anxiety and stress would have impacted him had he not had the visceral experience of being able to express his thoughts through art. The release he achieves from getting pent up emotions out of his system has helped him manage most mental health related issues.
“When people look at my work, I want them to be visually engaged. I want them to find it interesting enough to look at and spend some time with and if there’s any meaning that they would get from any of my pieces, I just want them to look at it see the sincerity in which I constructed it or created it and also be able to interpret the fun or the humor involved in it and know that they’re not alone. So whatever feelings they may have, or may project or interpret in the piece, they hopefully would get a sense that I’ve had those feelings too,” White said.
White is often inspired in the moment; however, not all artists go about their art without a concrete vision. In fact, one of White’s colleagues within the Art Department at TJC, has a different way of creating her art.
“When I started this piece, I was thinking I love when you look up through the leaves, and you see that like, spotty light, that dappled light. And I just remember when I was a kid, looking up through the leaves, like that, and just loving it, you know. It just felt like you’re in like a fairy forest or something,” said Paula McDermott, a TJC art professor, about her piece “Parallel Galaxy.”
McDermott has a clear and concise idea of what she wants her art to be when she begins it. She takes a nostalgic memory or an idea and turns it into something that can be held, looked at or displayed. This all relates back to a common idea of nature and McDermott’s love for it, she displays pieces all over her office which relate to an aspect of the environment, humanity or animals.
“I really love that it feels really organic and feels natural to me. And it gives you the feeling that it’s organic, but it’s this most inorganic material ever. This Tyvek is a vapor barrier that they wrap around houses. And it’s totally, you know, not natural at all. In fact, that’s why this works so well with it,” McDermott said.
The work is meant to be a juxtaposition between the natural elements that inspire it and the synthetic elements that it consists of, displaying the beauty of the natural world, but also highlighting the effects humans have on the natural world, according to McDermott.
“I talked about that kind of ethereal feeling of that dappled sky and just, I hope people feel that with this piece specifically. That’s definitely what that piece is about that feeling, that contentment, excitement. Just that like pure happiness, you know, like you have when you’re a child,” McDermott said.
The goal of “Parallel Galaxy” is to inspire the same feeling that McDermott gets. The sentiment is rooted in both McDermott’s desire to see people remember a time when everything fell into place instead of having to put the pieces together yourself and the idea that art can mean more than just what appears on the surface.
“Everything to me is influenced from nature in one way or another and I love these process pieces that the process is meditative, it really is, you just get in a zone you know, and it helps you just kind of get out of your head sometimes,” McDermott said.
McDermott’s zone is one of relaxation. There is a certain bliss achieved from working on art that she describes as a comfort for both her mental state and her physical state, because she feels limber and loose in her movement while also having an airy stream of consciousness while she works.
“Art is like our life cycle for sure and I think that’s so important for us to think about as humans, you know, we’re all in that life cycle somewhere or another and that connects us all, we all have that connection of being human,” McDermott said.
McDermott believes art can have a constantly changing life cycle just like humans can. As time goes on and her art gets moved to different places with different lighting in a new position, the art changes meaning with its appearance just like humans change how they look and who they are as time goes on. McDermott feels her art is alive, but in a much more ironic way than humans, because her art can live forever because it has the ultimate advantage of being inanimate.
“The way we live our lives is like art, it’s like performance art, you know, and if you think about it like that, you’re gonna want to do things, you’re gonna want to do something to make the most of every day,” McDermott said.