Artists as Scholars
In Grenada, it isn’t often that “artist” and “scholar” are mentioned in the same sentence unless, of course, we are talking about legendary Calypso artist, Scholar. This isn’t about Scholar though; this is about artists who not only practice a technical skill such as drawing, painting, or sculpture but who also use concepts that take years of study to be able to work with. My personal journey being educated as an artist has taken 10 years… after graduating from secondary school. This summer I will complete a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Practice, at Transart Institute accredited through Plymouth University. It is a popular myth that people who do art are people that are otherwise not as intelligent or are not able to do anything else. This couldn’t be further from the truth and it is good to remind our selves of how much work really goes into being an artist. Art is a process.
When I started my undergraduate degree at Calvin College in Michigan, I was ultimately interested in performative culture or how cultures present themselves through music, theatre, dance etc. I started studying studio art and theatre and realized before very long that it wasn’t quite what I needed. I ultimately ended up studying intercultural studies, which involved communications, sociology and religion. As part of my degree I spent a semester studying in Ghana studying African music, culture and philosophy. Coming from Grenada and not having a Caribbean studies program at the college I was particularly interested in West Africa and how Caribbean culture had been affected by it.
When I graduated I had planned to continue my education in art but I was told that I would not be able to apply for a Master of Fine Arts with a Bachelor of Arts, I was told I would need a Bachelor of Fine Arts. So I enrolled in a community college known for its art program, Brookhaven College, so that I could supplment my undergraduate degree with enough art credits to be able to apply to an MFA program. I spent two years taking studio classes, drawing, painting, sculpture, design etc. as well as art history and theory. Not only did this time represent a leap in my own development as an artist but I also got to interact with a model of how art is taught at that level.
I had applied to an MFA program after the time at Brookhaven and was not accepted and so I switched gears and applied for a master’s program involving one of my other interests. I have an interest in entrepreneurship and economic development and enrolled in a Master of Science program for entrepreneurship and innovation at the University of Texas at Dallas. After a year in the program I had learned that it had a very internal, corporate focus and I transferred over to the economics department. I studied International Political Economy with a certificate in non-profit management. While my thoughts and intentions were based in the Caribbean, this program had a particular bias towards funneling students into the US Foreign Service and jobs at organizations like the IMF and World Bank. With no interest in being a part of these organizations I left the program.
Finally I applied to Transart Institute, accredited by Plymouth Univsersity, UK, for my Master of Fine Arts, having all the while been keeping up an art practice, this time with success. It is a low-residency program that allows me to work on my art and research in Grenada and then travel to Berlin for a month in the summer and then New York for 10 days in the winter. The program was heavily concept based and had to become well versed in philosophy from the German thinkers to the French theorists and occasionally the Greek philosphers. The exposure to a variety of other artists as well as rigorous requirements for research and practice was like a refining fire for my art career. It was not easy and one of the themes of my educational journey was that I was always searching for what I needed and felt free to leave programs that were not suited to me. I finished my MFA and now look ahead to continue sythesizing ideas in my practice.
Ultimately, to participate in the contemporary international art scene, with the concepts I’m dealing with, I need each and every year that I took to get to this stage. Earlier this year I spent a month in Bolivia and drew heavily on the 2 years of Spanish I took in college. I reference my studies in economics as I talk about subverting the effect of capitalism. I reference philosophers, scientists, theologians, anthropologists as well as other artists when creating work. I believe that the purpose of art is to make us more complete humans, aware of our potential and limitations and ready to experience the fullness of life as we were intended. Art is not the passive picture making of idle hands or weak minds. Art is the passionate, intentional pursuit of a life well lived.