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Education to be Radical, Relentless, & Radiant

To view the original post by Mitchell Sipus, Art Academy alumnus, click here.

I was deeply honored to give the commencement speech to the graduating class of 2017 at the Art Academy of Cincinnati. These last few days, I am now continually reflecting upon the unique and powerful proposition this school makes to the world. There is no other school like it.

The only other college to which I can compare it is the mythical Black Mountain College of the 1960s that produced revolutionary minds such as John Cage. To plagiarize someone else’s story, the Art Academy (AAC) doesn’t merely graduate artists or designers, it graduates the critical but hard to find team member of every successful business:

“there are three kinds of people you want to launch a business: the person with the idea, the person with the financial sense, and the person who makes you say ‘what the fuck?’ The last is the person who can rip ideas apart, remix them, and flip everything upside down to generate breakthroughs that no one else can see.” 

The last kind of person is particularly hard to find. Many schools can teach people to become accountants or to be entrepreneurs but no school teaches students to be intellectually rebellious and operationally radical. Except for the Art Academy of Cincinnati. No joke. It is even in their mission statement.

Everyday books about Innovation, Design, and Economic Disruption churn through billions of dollars in annual publishing sales. Parallel to the publishing industry, countless institutions argue they offer an education that will transform students into innovators who will change our world. But do these industries actually generate the change-makers we seek?

In the last ten years, I’ve been fortunate to spend time at the world’s best universities as a speaker, student, or instructor including Oxford University, MIT, Harvard, Cornell, and Carnegie Mellon University – and these are indeed great schools. Their students are brilliant and the faculty are more than competent. The programs are well funded and the students are nearly guaranteed the security of a well-paying job upon graduation. These schools also attract people who already have a history of success – when Elon Musk attended Stanford, he had already earned degrees in Physics and Economics. Yet I have never encountered another school that transforms unknown students into true innovators. In fact, when I recently taught Design Thinking at an East Coast top-tier MBA program, my students complained the entire time about the lack of clear directions and the constantly shifting parameters within the course requirements. I have since learned that this complaint is exceedingly common within MBA Design degrees. These programs are forcing square people through intellectual circles and many graduates come out very little changed.

Do all art schools impact students to think so differently? I’m not sure… there are many art schools in the world. My sister is a student at SCAD. I have friends as RISD. When I was a teenager, I lusted for the attention of the San Francisco Institute of Art (SFAI) and the School of the Chicago Institute of Art (SCIA). Unfortunately, in 1999, I had so little money for college, I did not even have the 50 dollars to apply to any of those programs let alone all of them. With little hope to attend any college, I drove my broken-down ‘91 Geo Prism to the Art Academy of Cincinnati for a Portfolio Review Day in mid-October, to present my high school artwork to various colleges. San Francisco was there, as was Chicago, and at least a dozen others. Chicago offered a partial scholarship on the spot, which was incredible… yet, as I did not have the money to apply, let alone to live in Chicago, it held more symbolic meaning than opportunity. I was nonetheless motivated at that moment to find a way to go to art school.

Weeks later I happened to cross paths with some artists, Aaron Butler and Christopher Daniel. Aaron worked at the Art Academy of Cincinnati and pioneered the experimental music group, Dark Audio Project, while Chris was a metal sculptor who went on to found the extraordinary and thriving Blue Hell Studio. They both held Art Academy ties, and with their encouragement, I decided to do everything possible to earn a scholarship. I applied only minutes before the deadline, in person, submitting my application in a massive wooden box crafted from an old PA system pulled from a dumpster in Kentucky (at Aaron’s suggestion that I make the physical application somehow stand out). As a mediocre student in high school, I had only applied to one other school at the time – the globally exceptional design school of the University of Cincinnati, DAAP – and I was not accepted. The Art Academy took a chance on me, offered a scholarship to cover more than half of tuition, and I will be forever grateful. Notably, after later graduating from the Art Academy, I received a full scholarship to DAAP for graduate school.

Visiting AAC this (in May) was not only nostalgic – it was inspirational. The Art Academy is a weird place. It consistently takes chances on people like me. It is a community of outsiders. It pushes them to build expertise on the ability to make something new – which is not typical, considering most degree programs demand students acquire knowledge on a longstanding subject or methodology. It pushes students to invent new models of production, new identities as artists, and to take life to the frontier of possibility. Graduates of the Art Academy of Cincinnati do not need books on creative problem solving, they need wicked problems where all others have failed. If the Art Academy has a flaw, it is a simple fact that they do little marketing or high-profile partnering, and consequently, the world knows little about this school amid an insatiable demand. The Art Academy of Cincinnati is not a diamond in the rough – it is a silent A-bomb in the exosphere.

My life has changed much since I attended the Art Academy. I am writing this blog entry while on a flight to San Francisco. Tomorrow morning, I will run a series of design strategy workshops for a Venture Capital firm in Silicon Valley to explore new investment models for Artificial Intelligence. Since attending the Art Academy, I have lived in multiple countries, built companies, and am fortunate that my abilities to tackle entrenched problems in new ways are continually in demand. When I think of the year I started college, 2000, my life is now very different from the future that was most likely ahead. Though I have my fair share of life challenges, I have a wonderfully creative and satisfying life. It has been a hard journey, but I credit the faculty and students of the Art Academy of Cincinnati. While most colleges chart a path for your future, the Art Academy provided a compass to guide me through the deep woods of the unknown.

Mitchell Sipus
Class of 2004

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A Community to Draw On

Capturing the human form can be daunting.

The model is on the stand, a pencil or brush is poised and the paper is prepared. But connecting what our eyes see with how our hands move is where many feel a bit lost, like starting a trip without a map.

Irrespective of professional or personal experience, “making art” requires being open. Open to learning, to trying to getting lost and finding ourselves again. Being open requires courage. Surrounding ourselves with other like-minded adventurers makes the journey less intimidating and exponentially more enjoyable.

The Art Academy of Cincinnati’s Open Studio “session” is an opportunity for the experienced (and less so) to try their hand at figure drawing. This long-standing Community Education offering, moderated by longtime and local artist Larry Griggs, creates a special kind of community where “Open” really means open. Though there is no official or formal instruction, learning abounds. Folks from different disciplines and various backgrounds gather to both focus in and branch out. There is no unsolicited critique or forced fellowship yet those who want input can get it. Various styles, different media, and divergent techniques offer opportunities to orient everyone toward their individual and collective destinations.

Griggs has participated with the Open Studio for twenty years and moderated for the last fifteen.

“If you sit at home and work on your own thing continually, you can just go down one road. You need to have some broader experience and exposure to what other people are doing to prod you and make you look at yourself in comparison,” Griggs offered. “For one thing you can do whatever you want. And we can also make mistakes and try new things because we’re all very forgiving.”

Fran Watson, another veteran of the art world – both in creating and critiquing – found herself drawn to the Open Studio again and again. As an abstract painter and insightful writer for over three decades, Watson contributed to The Art Academy News back in the 80’s. She also graced the pages of City Beat and AEQAI where art advisor and curator Dan Brown wrote a touching tribute. Not only was she a lifelong learner of art, Watson taught abstract art courses at The Barn, Woman’s Art Club Cultural Center,Mariemont, Ohio, and was an active member of the Cincinnati Book Arts Society.

The AAC’s Community Education Open Studio allowed Watson to stay connected to other artists in a very elemental way, as well as to that part of the soul that longs to continually learn and create. To find our own way forward while leaving breadcrumbs behind for others to follow. Watson’s idea to showcase some work from Open Studio developed during the summer of 2016 with the support of Grigg’s, the AAC, and the Woman’s Art Club, Watson began to put together the upcoming exhibit, “Figures” to be on display at The Barn, Mariemont. The show will display a sampling of works to highlight both the diversity and the process of figure drawing itself – including unfinished pieces. Inspired by her hope, fellow participants embraced her vision as their own, and carried the torch to see the exhibit come to fruition after Watson’s passing in October of 2016 at the age of 84.

Figures is a nod to how, like Watson, we are all a work in progress and how the process can be as fulfilling as the “finished” work. Watson embodied the spirit of the Open Studio till the end. Drawing and living require patience and perseverance, a willingness to keep showing up, keep the pencil moving. And always staying open to the next opportunity.

Figures at The Barn (www.artatthebarn.org)

IF YOU GO

Where: The Barn, Woman’s Art Club Cultural Center, 6980 Cambridge Avenue Mariemont, OH 45227
What: Exhibition, “Figures”
When: 
Thursday, August 31, 6-9 p.m. – Opening Reception
Friday, September 1 from 10 a.m – 2 p.m.
Saturday, September 2 from 1 p.m. – 4 p.m.
Sunday, September 3 from 1 p.m. – 4 p.m.

Continue your own journey with classes at AAC Community Education.

Merle

Memories of Merle

By Olivia Suffern

Merle Rosen was my teacher and mentor. She taught me how to draw, helped me prepare my portfolio for college, and was a great friend and role model to me during a time in my life when I was awkward and lacked confidence.

I’m sure my memories of Merle, though incredibly special to me, are similar to many other stories of those lucky enough to have known her. However I feel that if I share them with some of her close friends, even if we’ve never met, that I will feel a little more at peace with her sudden loss.

I met Merle at her “Drawing from the Very Beginning” course at the Art Academy of Cincinnati. The class was technically intended for adults. I was only in high school, so I was hyper nervous on the first day. Merle sensed my anxiety quickly, and joked that the grown-ups in the room probably felt much farther out of their comfort zones that I did. This type of calming, down-to-earth energy was so typical of Merle.

I enjoyed her class and improved so rapidly under her instruction that I began taking weekly lessons each Thursday evening from Merle in her Dane Ave. studio. I delighted in selecting old animal bones, sock puppets and natural specimens from her ever growing collection of treasurers to use as props for still life compositions. She always offered advice, warmth, and a cup of tea to each of her students.

Arriving at Merle’s studio felt like entering a sacred dimension. She was my liaison to the art world, and her influence on my life is irreplaceable

I am overwhelmed with emotion and have cried a lot, but I would not categorize my feelings as grief; rather intense gratitude that I had the privilege of knowing and learning from Merle. I will miss her magical presence.

 

Merle Rosen May 6, 1949 – June 19, 2017

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Looking Through

“Whether we are looking out at the world or looking inward at ourselves, we are always looking through the void within us, through the world, and through both light and darkness. This is a moment of uncertainty and possibility where we find ourselves alone, even if in reality everyone is still very close.”

For her solo exhibition Looking Through, Katelyn Wolary offered these words as a companion to her collection of portraits – both striking and bewitching. Capturing classmates with oil and wood panels, she offers us a glimpse of that moment. Her subjects are staring off at nothing, everything, present but only partially, alone yet connected to everyone else searching through the void.

Katelyn’s self-portrait for the exhibition? She’s looking through you. Not in a judgmental or apathetic way. It’s as if she knows something and is waiting for the right time to share. Perhaps she’s expecting you to have the answer. Either way, there is an air of gentle confidence, a sense that she’s comfortable in the moment if not content.

Already a painter and poet, Katelyn recently earned another telling title – Class of 2017 Valedictorian. Listening to her recount her time at the Art Academy, it is clear this honor celebrates more than her G.P.A.

Growing up in the comparatively small town of Wilmington, Ohio, Katelyn developed a disciplined focus and work ethic via her participation in athletics. But when one of her art teachers in high school saw her potential and encouraged her to connect with another artistically inclined student, Katelyn began directing that same attitude toward her artistic endeavors. Though her parents initially expressed the common concern about how she’d earn a living, they helped her dive into her new passion with vigor.

When her work in high school was recognized with an Ohio Youth Governor’s Art selection, she remembers Joe Fisher – then with AAC admissions – attending the ceremony. This kind of personal touch made a good first impression and continued to impress her once she’d decided to accept the AAC’s very generous scholarship.

“Paige Williams and Mark Thomas were my “Studio Art 1: CORE” instructors, which was the first studio experience I had as a freshman at AAC. Their instruction, support, and criticisms supported my desire to learn and work hard, and was one of my favorite classes throughout the last four years. I have so many good things to say about so many of my professors, it’s hard to know where to begin.”

Another one of those professors was Matt Hart. Katelyn credits his Aesthetics class for helping her consider and develop her own views and values. She also enjoyed letting both the athlete and artist run free in Matt and Paige’s Creative Running course.

Throughout her time at the Academy, Katelyn’s dedication and desire to stretch herself with opportunities within and beyond the AAC has translated into both a richer personal experience and public recognition such as the Helms Trust Scholarship.

“The personal connections and support within the AAC community, which extend far beyond the walls of the Art Academy building, have been one of the most rewarding experiences of attending AAC. For example, last spring, 21C Museum Manager and AAC alum, Michael Hurst, came around to the student studios to check out the work. Fortunately, he saved my business card and contacted me later in the fall for the opportunity to loan my work to 21C for their Elevated Art exhibit, which has been hanging for the last six months and features other local artists.”

Standing on the cusp of graduation, sharing yet another moment of uncertainty and possibility with her fellow graduates, Katelyn is very grateful for both her biological and AAC families. The support of both has played a big part in empowering a profoundly gifted, hardworking and humble artist.

An artist who is certain to make the most of her possibilities.