by Cynthia Hollis
“I am for an art that embroils itself with the everyday crap & still comes out on top”
from I Am for an Art, by Claes Oldenburg, 1961
I met this group of MFA students during their first week of Grad school, on my very first night of teaching Issues in Contemporary Art in the MFA program. All of them had arrived in Tallahassee only days or weeks before to attend FSU, and they were still settling in to their new lives with varying degrees of comfort.
As we worked our way through the history of the past sixty years, and as I visited with them in their studios, I came to appreciate the very impressive variety of experiences, interests and skills each of these students brought to their work and to the MFA program. I also came to recognize several of the important things they have in common, including a healthy but driven sense of competitiveness, a generosity of spirit, and great intellectual curiosity.
This late night class involved a lot of reading and writing on their part, and I joked with them that they were my ‘guinea pigs,’ feeling many times that I was just one step ahead of them in my teaching. They all thrive on discussion, argumentation and laughter, and this made for a highly enjoyable, intellectually stimulating semester. As the semester moved on, they frequently offered the invitation to carry on the discussion at Bird’s after class, which I finally accepted as the semester came to a close, and then regretted that I had not accepted much earlier. Ultimately I realized that they taught me more than I was teaching them.
As I got to know each of these students and their artistic projects better, I was inspired to provide a venue for the more alternative aspects of their work. My experience with this group was the impulse behind my beginning the alternative and experimental space, SMALLS, that continues to this day. The focus of SMALLS is to feature performance and installation works of mostly FSU Grad students, expanding the exhibition possibilities for them in these areas. Many of this group have taken advantage of this venue, some more than once, with either solo or group exhibitions, and I’m very pleased that this venue has contributed in some way to their artistic projects and possibilities.
The process of education, of teaching and learning, is a serious, giddy, and sometimes terrifying business. The very difficult work involved in each of these students achieving MFA status over the past three years has been tremendous to witness. From their impressive individual and group artistic projects, their voluntary expansion of the Working Method Contemporary Gallery, their generous willingness to assist one another and the community, and their wild success at Basel/Miami, each person in this group has progressed artistically beyond the high expectations that I had for them, and I’m extremely fond and proud of them all.
I believe the most important thing that has happened to these individuals is their increasing capability to take risks, not only in the production of their own work, but in their work as a group, in their work for the community and on into the world at large. As a very smart man once wrote, “In order to have any say at all, then, one must take risks and do so persuasively, and continue to do so… The greater your risk, the less you pay and the more you receive. This is or should be an incentive to participate, to take extravagant chances, to execute daring acts of faith on behalf of your beliefs and in advocacy of your particular marriage of desire and esteem… Or forget all that and remember that art is cheap but priceless…”*