Sunday, December 31, 2017

Basics on Writing an Artist's Statement
An artist statement is a necessary tool for reflection and explanation of an artist’s work. It is a constantly evolving piece of literature. It is modified as your focus evolves and when you change the focus in your work. It is a tool to help others understand your work more and a tool that helps your work to evolve. Putting together and reflecting upon your own thoughts and goals with your work would is a great reason for working on your artist statement as a piece of writing that is always growing and changing.
An artist's statement is also a good marketing tool. People who like your work want to know more about why you make it. Offering your audience more ways to connect with you increases their understanding in what you do. An artist's statement builds a compelling bridge between you and your audience. For the buying public, the artist's statement provides a better understanding of the work and more reasons to take your work home.
Working on an artist's statement can be difficult when the artist doesn’t really know why they are making art or what they want to communicate with their work. It is very difficult when you are starting out in art. For intermediate and advanced students it is very important to start finding a direction of their own. Often when someone starts thinking about their first artist statement, they will say because I like to make things, I like to paint, I love clay and how it feels, because its fun and pretty much other very superficial reasons. These reason really get down to yes it is enjoyable to create something. But it is very important to get your thoughts down about what you want to accomplish with your work and why you chose a particular subject matter or direction with your work.
The idea of a subject matter or focus in your work is a real starting point. Why did you chose to make work that was of a political nature, what are your concerns, what have you researched in that particular direction, or what do you know about the natural world and how does this illuminate your expression of nature in your work. It basically does get down to why do you chose to do what you do. The content of your work can be extremely weak and hard to really write about. Many students start out with ideas that are not so mature or are somewhat sophomoric in a way. Sometimes these ideas need left behind for something of a more personal nature or a subject they can really reflect their feelings in, leaves them room for growth, and has many avenues of research.
When you start to write a statement, every thought you ever had about your work needs to be systematically scribbled down. Free writing is helpful, try and write in a way your don’t really care about spelling or grammar, you just let your mind go free and write thoughts about the subject you are interested in. Do not fake it or you will end up with insubstantial or flowery words that are not true to why you make your work or what your work is about.

Edit the writing and then do more research on some of those thoughts. Research your subject matter past the superficial layer and understand it from many other angles then you may presently understand it. It is important to use your own words. But at the same time it is wise to look at artist’s statements from others working in a similar vein as you. Other statements from a historian, scientist, philosopher or any other discipline that may relate to the content in your work, can add meat to the content of your own statement. Of course if you do site another professional within or outside the field of art you need to site your source and quote them properly. Maybe there are parallel ideas that are a part of your thoughts on the why of what you do in your work.
The Outcome of this Venture
Your ability to write an artist's statement will improve with practice. There will generally be no remnants of your first artist statement a year after you write it. Just as your work grows and changes, so will your artist's statement. Your ideas will grow and new ideas will be added to your thoughts and new subject matter for your writing and your art will also add to your enjoyments and excitement about the creation of your work.

An artist's statement is not a resume, or a historical summary of your work, a critique or a list of accomplishments. Nor is it how the work is made, however technical considerations and material choice may be part of your statement. But the main meat of the statement should be reflective of what your work is about. An artist's statement is a reflection on your work, a personal revelation about your work, a psychological bridge between you and your audience and helps to illuminate some of your concerns that may not be right on the surface layer of your work. It is somewhat of a back door to the work that allows you and your audience to look at it from a more informed perspective. Introspection is the main tool you will use to start your statement and also even more of an important tool for you to have your ideologies to continue to evolve, which in turn makes your work evolve.
So the main outcome may be not really be an outcome at all, but as I said a continuing process of growth for you and your work.

Artist Statement
Stephen Robison
For over fifteen years one concept that has dominated my work incorporates vessels with bulbous forms and surfaces related to openings or holes combined with visual references to diatoms and viruses. I want the viewer to also be the user of this work, so these pieces retain their function as containers, pouring vessels, drinking vessels and for serving food. Tactile considerations remain important elements in my work but form, surface and negative space are the primary focus. The forms and surfaces of some viruses and diatoms have been a great source for abstraction. What they can do for us or do to our world is fascinating and frightening to me. Genetic virology is not always going to be understood by the observer, but I don’t find that to be crucial for the work to be appreciated. Much of this body of work has been collaborative in nature with my partner, Guss.  We have been working together occasionally for 25 years and we also continue to make our own bodies of work as well. I also have had notable opportunities to collaborate with many other artists in the field. One highly regarded artist that I worked with multiple times was an alum from RISD, Kirk Mangus.  He carved some fascinating surfaces on my pieces once when he and Eva Kwong invited me to give a lecture and teach a workshop at Kent State. I have been fortunate to be able to work with so many amazing artists in the field. I feel like we are all a part of the same team and I truly relish in working with others. NCECA gives me that sense of everyone working toward the common goal of moving the field of ceramics forward. I think that teaching with my colleagues is also a constructive form of collaboration. When my colleagues and I work as a team at Central Washington University, the result is a focused commitment to our students that has paid off repeatedly. Our MFA program would not be the same without this commitment to collaboration. Another way I engage in collaboration is around the loading and firing of electric, gas and wood kilns. The dynamics of everyone working as a team is most remarkable around the firing of wood kilns. This is perhaps the primary team-building exercise in the field of ceramics. In some instances, this discourse becomes a part of my decision-making and relates to the final outcome of my work. Teaching is included in my artist statement because I consider my pedagogy to be an integral element that informs my own work. As I expose students to contemporary and historic work, I often bolster my own sense of understanding.
Historical and contemporary use of visual language and utilitarian objects are two main sources for my research. Vessel, landscape, architectural, and figurative formats all serve as platforms for my conceptual and spatial investigations. This allows me to communicate more than purely the use of the object. Working outside of sculptural considerations, I have the ability to focus on utility and create an intimate connection between the audience and the piece. Some of this work include pieces that people can hold in their hands, put their lips to and drink from, and serve food on. I feel that this is something special and inherent in the work of a potter. 
Objects of use that have a domestic nature do have a deep-rooted common language that a large and diverse audience can appreciate. This appreciation can be the initial allurement to my work but the appreciation of the concepts and esthetics may seep into the observer after further investigation. The sense of humanity that a well thought out handmade object can obtain is generally not found in objects that can be purchased at Wall Mart or produced by the machines of industry. Thoughts about the user are often negated for practical reasons such as cost and durability. This results in objects that fit very well into our disposable society. Furthermore, content in objects of use has turned into nothing more than trite or kitsch reflections of hallmark holidays or tributes to watered down sentiments about one’s mom, their kitty cat or sports logos.  I have a firm belief in the connection of the mind to the hand and the hand to the media. Like the lips to a reed, technology cannot replace or even come close to the sensitivity that the artist has made with their material. A major intent of mine is to create tactile qualities in these objects that offer an intimate relationship with the user. I also want to provide the objects with an inherent value that gives them a life of their own; a life that is connected to their utility but not reliant upon it. I cannot do this without touch playing a part in the creation of the object. Generating a pleasurable and reflective experience while being used and viewed creates new challenges with each object made. Visual balance by using proportional perspectives, physical balance within the weight and pivot points of the piece and tactile qualities are all issues I address to achieve these goals in my utilitarian pieces. Ultimately, I want the vessels, especially the more strictly utilitarian objects I make, to be used.
The functional work I make is firmly based in utility. It employs brushwork with slips and glazes along with multiple firing and glazing techniques. This body of work is comprised of primarily everyday use pots such as coffee cups, platters, plates or bowls. With this more strictly utilitarian work, the esthetic still prevails. With formal constructs in combination with either surface design or imbedded conceptual concerns, I am able to achieve this. It is almost more difficult to work within the restraints of a utilitarian piece, but I prefer to look at these restraints as parameters because it sounds more like guideline than rule setting. 
When I work on sculpture, I still set parameters but they are slightly more flexible. I set those rules based not on an already prescribed vocabulary in the vernacular of utilitarian ceramics, but more in the forms I see in the visual world along with what I’ve seen under the microscope in my study of viruses and diatoms. Other influences in the art world such as Ernst Haeckel, or contemporary artists like Lee Bontecou, have held my interest for some time. Many of my other major influences revolve around contemporary and historic objects that I have been exposed to. Through books, web research and most importantly, museum research, I search out information in the visual sense and add it all to the conceptual relationship I have with my work. 

In a recent sabbatical to Ireland, Germany and Denmark, the museums and architecture I was exposed to all had a profound impact on the future trajectory of some of the work I plan to accomplish. I see my work as a conglomeration of appropriation with a mixture of interpretations that are my own.  I see the set of parameters in utilitarian grounded work and sculpture to be road maps on how to get there, wherever there is. In a recent installation, I planned one of the parameters as the physical site. It is a ceramic swing-bridge that relates to growth and stretches over a clay lined stream bed on the Olympic Peninsula. This piece has pockets in forms where soil and seed can either naturally gather or be placed by the observer and allowed to grow. It is a metaphorical bridge also pertaining to growth in knowledge, as some intelligence is gathered and some is placed. Another example is of the two main parameters I set for coffee cups and pouring vessel: they must evoke a pleasurable tactile experience and the handle placement must be physically balanced. For my work, parameters are spring boards to jump from and can be looked at as starting points. 
I allow intuition and evolution to occur outside of any preconceived parameters. This occurs in the making and the firing of the piece and includes additive form, color and surface after the first firing. Some of my work has been fired multiple times, using the voice of wood and wood-soda firings along with mid-range and low fire techniques.  This seems to be only technical consideration but I do use technical and materiality choices for specific reasons in each piece. Presently I am working with mid-range black bodies, high-fire porcelain and stoneware clay bodies. I am using a variety of techniques using slips, underglazes, cone 6 terra sigillata, glazes and atmospheric effects to achieve my surfaces. I am primarily working with high fire temperatures and using some mid-range and low temperature techniques over these high fire surfaces. Gas and wood-soda firing and wood-firing are sometimes a primary focus and are still used to add subtleties to the surface of the forms but I am beginning to branch out from there. Building techniques are on and off the wheel. I use throwing, altering of thrown forms, slump molding and other molds along with additive and subtractive techniques.

Teaching Philosophy
Stephen Robison

My aim is to direct students toward problem solving through technical challenges, creative research and critical discourse. Since there is rarely only one solution, I do not adhere to any single standard of style or content in my teaching. Rather, I strive to provide a wide base of information to encourage students to become free thinkers and find their own way of expressing ideas within the media. In my slide show lectures, I focus on a diverse use of content and expression.  I encourage ceramics majors to delve into other disciplines that may assist them in their own visual voice. Disciplines inside and outside the art and design world are important to begin this path. Students are also encouraged to do research by visiting artists' studios, museums, exhibitions, libraries attend visiting artist lectures and workshops, conferences and other organized field trips.  For instance, I find an unmeasurable value in taking a group of students to an NCECA conference or to show them a local patron’s collection or take them on a field trip to a gallery or museum to discuss a particular artist’s or culture’s use of the media.

Teaching ceramics requires structure and a strong curriculum with clarity for goals and objectives, with assignments that include technical and conceptual challenges and personal writing activities. Detailed assignment sheets and grading rubrics have been helpful to give my students a full understanding of the possibilities for each assignment. My beginning through intermediate assignments sometimes seem ridged but I open up quite a bit of freedom for interpretation so that the final outcome of most assignments is widely varied. I have found students will welcome that freedom and also many times rise to the challenge.  I use frequent detailed demonstrations in class and I create videos for the reiteration of the demonstrations. I also use power point lectures that have images from the historic and contemporary record of specific objects for each assignment. In addition, I include kiln building and glaze calculation projects, health and safety lectures on equipment and materials and reading assignments on philosophy and esthetics. I often use pieces from my own collection to reinforce the object-ness of many directions in the field. Holding an object is especially helpful when it comes to tactile experience and the understanding of physical balance in utilitarian ceramics. I demonstrate every technique within hand building, mold making and throwing and relate these techniques to both contemporary and historical clay work. This opens up avenues to work with abstraction, anatomical, architectural, natural form and utilitarian concepts. It also allows students the individual freedom to fully express themselves in both the sculptural and utilitarian aspects of ceramics. My students are taught the technical skills and given the information necessary to form a foundation from which to make decisions about concept and technique. In an article titled “Teaching After the End,” in the Fall 2005 issue of Art Journal, Daniel Joseph Martinez had been talking with David Levi Strauss about the continuing relevance of Joseph Beuys. He said that Beuys did not say, “‘learn how to cut a piece of wood first.’ He said, ‘have an idea first.’ Once you’ve got an idea, the rest is simple.” I feel with all the skill in the world you certainly can become excellent at the crafting of an object; but without a strong concept you cannot craft an excellent piece of art. Good craft is not always a part of good art. The idea of the piece, however, is not always the starting point. And some very important parts of teaching that really are not simple are the techniques, technical skill often becomes a major part of most good art. Through the execution of certain skills or techniques, a student can also develop an idea or concept. Therefore, I believe that teaching students technical skills can be a springboard for them to develop their ideas. When they learn how to manipulate a material, they can then understand what can be done with that material. Within this philosophy, a work ethic can also be instilled and a student can learn that nothing is more beneficial to the growth of their work than the actual act of working with clay.

I expose my students to what has been done with clay throughout history along with the vast numbers of contemporary artists in the field.  Newer artists on the scene like Roberto Lugo and more established artists like Theaster Gates both make great work that speaks about social justice issues and issues of race. The work of artists like Marilyn Levine, Richard Shaw, Sylvia Hyman and other trompe l’oeil artists expand students’ minds to the possibilities and understanding of the media’s responsive nature. Ceramic work that expresses important topics on LGBT issues as seen in Gerda Wegener’s (a Danish artist work from the 1920’s,) and contemporary ceramic artists’ work like that of LĂ©opold L. Foulem and Mark Burns, or emerging talent like Wesley Harvey or strong feminist work like Judy Chicago’s Dinner Party instillation, all open doorways to ideas for undergraduate and graduate students.

The astounding gamut of utilitarian ceramics around the world along with what has been accomplished and is being done presently with site specific work and installation work, figurative work and design work are all components of my teaching.  Bauhaus designers like Walter Gropius and Danish designers like Mette Duedahl, Eva Zeisel, and Ettore Sottsass all compel students, who find interest in that direction, to embrace strong design elements. When students are exposed to the full scope of ceramics, they can develop ideas in any direction because they realize there is unlimited potential with the media from scale to surface to color to content. These are directions I coax my students toward to find ideas. I stress the most important questions they need to ask themselves when making a piece: Why am I creating it? What is the proposed final outcome of the piece? As they gain more understanding of the history and zeitgeist in the field, a major fire is often lit and students become engrossed in the field and hunger for more. This exposure to the incredible work in the field, along with my dedication to diversity in issues revolving around content, helps me generate an engaging and welcoming atmosphere in the studio.

Regular sessions encouraging critical dialog about art, craft, content, philosophy, history and current issues help students to create their own conceptual basis. Students must learn how to write an artist statement and resume in addition to learning how to document their work. Advanced and graduate students must write and give presentations on contemporary artists that help them to contextualize their work and express their aesthetic and conceptual concerns in the written and spoken word. They are also expected to have goals set for entering shows, applying for grants and getting exposure to their work outside of academia.

I also address professional options. Students are challenged to set goals during discussions about what they want to do with their degree. These topics start to enter my lectures around the beginning of the students’ second year. I help them determine what they need to be prepared for graduate school applications or other options such as residencies, apprenticeships, gallery management and non-profit employment opportunities that can further aid in the evolution of their work. I also help them put together a clean, well-read job application. I work with mock interviews so they get a sense of the questions that might be asked of them. It may be inadvisable for students to leave graduate school and immediately enter the realm of teaching, but I still mentor pedagogical skills with my graduate students. I think the experience of being an artist at a residency program might be more valuable to the advancement of their work. They also may be able to gain that average of two years of teaching outside of graduate school that most applications require as a minimum qualification. This kind of mentoring along with my dedication to each student’s development as an artist, demonstrates my genuine concern for the future of each individual. I do not, however, have any sort of idealist notion that each individual student is driven enough to make it as a practitioner of the arts within the field of education or in the professional art world.

The example of an almost feverish work ethic that I invest in my own research is at times contagious. I talk about the need to have a strong work ethic in anything students wish to achieve. It is my responsibility to keep up on my own research as it pertains to my obsession with ceramics and this research can also be a possible avenue that helps me direct students down their own road. The research and production of my own work and a constant show record, along with setting an example with my work ethic, are also definitely major teaching tools. Students need to know that a strong work ethic is essential to being seriously dedicated to their studio practice. If I get several students out of each class that discover the internal drive and dedication that it takes to excel in ceramics, then I consider that class to be a success.  Additionally, if I can make a slight difference in the way each individual student sees the world and views or understands art, I also deem the course to be successful. One major objective in my teaching is to aid in the development of critical thinking abilities with each and every student. This is a lofty goal but I strive for it.

Another of my goals as an educator is to be a conduit of information for students to tap. I welcome students to use me for their professional aspirations long after they graduate.  In this I have been able to create many long-lasting friendships and add to my peer group in the field. Some successful former students in the field I had the great opportunity to teach include:

Adam Welch, lecturer at Princeton and the director of Greenwich House Pottery in NYC, was a graduate student whom I worked with at VCU.

Jessica Knapp, editor at Ceramics Monthly, was a special student I worked with at VCU.

Matthew Armbrust, an active artist, musician and member of the Spartan Art Project was and MFA student at CWU.

Chase Grover was an outstanding graduate student at CWU. His art was focused
in the catalog and on the poster for the Makers, Mentors & Milestones at the NCECA exhibition at the Nelson Atkins Museum in Kansas City.

Seth Charles was another fantastic graduate student at CWU. He is presently teaching at State College of Florida and is a Resident Artist at the Morean Center for the Arts in Saint Petersburg, Florida.

Two exceptional undergraduate students from CWU whom I mentored to go to graduate school in ceramics are Daniel Donovan, a full-time art teacher at Idyllwild Arts in CA  and Lisa Soranaka, who adjuncts in Ceramics at Yakima Valley Community College.

There are so many more former students that went on to graduate school and are professionals in the field that I am honored to have been a part of their education. I show examples of their past and present work on my website.

Presently I have three emerging talents as MFA students at CWU. Drew Liedtke and John Giesin are two graduate students getting ready for their thesis exhibitions this spring. Aveline Layne will be finishing her MFA in spring ‘19. All three have made great strides in their professional development.

Professional development is a key aspect of in my goals as a graduate faculty member and was a major focus of mine as the Graduate Coordinator at CWU.  Teaching graduate students is richly rewarding because the students also become future colleagues. They become peers, both in the field and as they gain insight in pedagogical practice and they also become peers in teaching. Of course, as their professor, I keep a healthy distinction between the two, but I really feel like we are mentoring new colleagues. Mentorship for all my students is rewarding, but MFA and BFA students who wish to go on to receive their terminal degree are the two most rewarding aspects of teaching to me. That is not to say that BA and BFA students who are not as energized to are not as important to me as a professor. They are equally important and I work just as hard helping them with their individual goals. I do, however, push all of my students to take their coursework seriously. Teaching in general is about never giving up on the worst student in class as well as challenging the very best in class. Oftentimes I have seen the worst student, with a few metaphorical kicks in the butt, become one of the best students. Something I learned from one of my teaching mentors was that you need to give them enough rope to pull themselves out of the mud they are stuck in.