SOAD-N 110 Introduction to Studio Art for Nonmajors: Shaping Change - A Practice of Art and Community is Kristy Hughes’s “dream class,” where she uses artists and writers who influenced her as the starting points for exploration in the class. She hopes that the students learn and contribute to what art can do in a community and society as well as birth new ideas through simple interactions with each other.
An interview with Kristy Hughes, a visiting assistant professor in the Eskenazi School of Art, Architecture + Design, is below.
Why is it important for students to take this course?
Hughes: This class is studio art for nonmajors class, so we're going to be learning art techniques and skill building, but what I'm most excited about this class is the ideas behind it. I wrote this class as an intentional pushback to the idea of resilience that has been this common myth of pull yourself up by your bootstraps, just get on, just keep going through everything. I think that is a detrimental way of continuing, especially after the last couple years that we've had.
This class is looking at resilience in terms of art making and community building, which I think is a sustainable way of being resilient. I'm really excited because we're going to be in person, so we're going to be working together collaboratively and building this community around art techniques, art skill making, and ideas that are exciting.
What knowledge or skills do you hope students gain?
Hughes: At the base level, this class is going to be presenting technical skills: material skills, the vernacular around art making processes, visual literacy, and how to communicate, but also ideas behind what it means to be part of the community.
How do we research and use research to shape change? How do we be intentional with what we make, and what we say and how we interact with each other? Those ideas of intentionality, of community building, of facilitating a space to use our voices and to listen. A lot of it is going to be listening to each other, talking, and using our ideas through art to say something, to shape change, and to hopefully build a better future.
We’ll be thinking about how individual people with beautiful ideas, beautiful voices, and beautiful thoughts can put them into art, and how we can actually do something with that. It's not just like making art to put up on your wall because it's pretty or something, or just get through an assignment. It’s going to be exploring what does it mean to shape change through our making and through the lens of community to build a better future.
What, to you, is the most interesting aspect of this course?
Hughes: I love that I was able to bring in all of my favorite authors. The projects are based around different authors and their works that I've turned to for the last 10 years or so: Octavia Butler, a science-fiction writer, Adrian Marie Brown, activist and facilitator, Susan Sontag, bell hooks, Robin Wall Kimmerer’s Braiding Sweetgrass. They’re the people that I've continually gone to individually—for my own research as a human, as a teacher, and as an artist. These people feed me, and I love that there's not just one vehicle for art. It can come in all these different ways, and of course, literature is like a parallel to art making, and we're going to really be intentional about those parallel lines.
Art is never just one thing. You don't paint in a bubble. For artists, our whole lives are in the work, so what you feed yourself matters so much—what do you feed yourself intellectually, who you surround yourself with, the way that you live your life is who you are as an artist, so it makes it makes perfect sense to include other things, other art forms than just visual individual art class because they're all interconnected.
I'm super excited about taking these beautiful aspects of literature that are so fundamentally important for considering how to facilitate community, how to shape change, how to use imagination, and how to facilitate voice. All these important ideas from a writing perspective are the impetus for the projects. So, I'm most excited about the marriage of ideas and technique coming together, and then all the individual students using their own voices to say things through art, considering all these different perspectives, and weigh into the making and process of it all.
What do you learn from teaching it?
Hughes: Every semester, I learn something new, and that’s just an obvious thing when you're a teacher. I'm excited to see how the individual students come together and create this new sense of community within the classroom. Every time different voices come together, something new and exciting can happen. That happens every semester, so it depends on who's in the class and what we're learning. Outcomes are going to be different every time, so I'm really excited about facilitating the space where community and art making is the intention of the class and talking about resilience—not as how you individually are responsible for your own resilience, how dare you be tired right now or burnt out. Instead, it’s looking at resilience in a different way and thinking about how we can build up each other, like how we can as individuals but then also as individuals standing together to create something better, together.
It's the same ideas as emergence, one of the themes that we're covering this class, where complex systems come together by relatively simple interactions. That's what a classroom is. We have all these individual people, we come together, the conversations that are had are only going to be had in that class because of the specific people. I'm really excited about that aspect and just seeing the conversations that are had, how people interact with each other, and how people respond to the readings and assignments. That's why I love teaching art because there is no formula. Yes, we have elements and principles of design and the way composition works, but because we're all individual humans with different brains, we change it every single time.
Are there any assignments that you're particularly excited about?
Hughes: One of the assignments is going to be this protest poster remix assignment. We're going to be looking at protest posters that are currently relevant or from history, doing research on them, and then using that as the impetus to reflect on what is happening in our own communities and what we want to see changing.
It’s based off Octavia Butler and Parable of the Sower. The first lines of that book are “All that you touch you change. All that you change changes you. The only lasting truth is change. God is change.” It’s this idea that change is constant, but we have the capacity to shape change, so what can we do to shape change? That's the question that is leading this project.
We’re looking at the past of people coming together and using their words and imagery to say something and demand something. That's how movements are built. It's not just this thing that happens overnight. It's a long process of intentionality. We're going to be looking at historical posters and current posters, making our own poster designs, and using extensively methods to do that. Then we're going to be making scenes that go along with that and steps on how to enact this change in their communities.
I was talking to my friend Jackie Flemming, a Visual Literacy and Resources Librarian here at IU Bloomington, and she told me that they have this amazing zine collection in the library, so I think we're going to try to incorporate the amazing resources that the library has, see all the things that people make and have, and then make our own.
What type of students would you encourage to take this course?
Hughes: This class is a studio for nonmajor class, and I love teaching this class because I get students from all across different schools, different majors. The students I hope sign up for this class are ones that are really interested in how to communicate through art.
You don’t have to have any technical skills or any history in art, just come with curiosity—a curiosity of how you communicate through art or the curiosity of how to approach art making itself—and a willingness to be able to collaborate, to be vulnerable, to participate, and to bring your full self to the class.
A lot of times you can't make good art if you're not honest—you have to put yourself in it fully. I try to lay that groundwork at the beginning of all semesters like I will show up as myself, I will be vulnerable, too, so please come as yourself. Be curious, be willing to share, willing to collaborate, to fail, and to know that there’s no such thing as perfection.
Failure is part of learning. I’ve tried to set up like my rubrics to encourage pushing yourself and not just looking at the point value.
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