An Apology to My Art Degree

Sixteen years ago, I graduated from art school with a degree in photography. From 1998 to 2002, I was steeped in making, creating, and having my work observed under a fine tooth comb by my peers. Life was all about making art and hanging out with other artists and musicians. In fact, I met my husband (and co-author in life) at a Good/Bad Art Collective event.

Aaron was a member of the Good/Bad Art Collective which was all about weird one night events. They had art shows/happenings from 1993–2001 mostly in the North Texas area.

One of my all time favorite art shows was “We’re On Our Way to Dinner, But We Have to Pick Up Something First (1999)” For this exhibit, they actually built an entire apartment on the second floor of an art museum, and you had to wait on the first floor for your name to be called. You’d go up to pick up “ your apartment key” and then you would unlock the door and walk into a room full of people who threw confetti and balloons at you and started singing “Happy Birthday.” They put your name above the door, and I think they actually had my name on a cake? It was so fast, it’s hard to remember because they rushed you through the room and out the other side. It was so amazing and so quick and it’s one of my fav memories of all time. All that is left now are all the Polaroids of people as they entered and the parking tag stickers they gave out as a kind of keepsake of the event.

Pena Heights Flyer
Pena Heights Parking Permit
My Pena Heights Polaroid

Fast forward to 2013 and the Good/Bad Curtains exhibit for the Nasher Sculpture Center. Aaron made this creepy static box below with projection mapping. The whole exhibit was super weird and would take a long time to explain. But it had like three very different parts to it that happened on different dates. They need to document it all somewhere, because right now you can only watch the super creepy informercial that makes late night viewers ponder the meaning of life.

The Nasher advertised this reunion show as “part one-night event, part exhibition and part television broadcast exploring notions of viewership and interaction.” Below is the static box Aaron made with Jonah Lange.

Image from Nasher

My own personal art work in the late 90s and early 2000s focused on taking as many weird self portraits as I could as I was obsessed with Cindy Sherman. I have portraits where I look stunningly beautiful, to works where I look completely disgusting, to dark art that even made me feel like I might have actually jinxed my whole family. I made these tiny coffins to emulate a dollhouse funeral, and used a family photo from the 80s for the tiny picture frames. My parents arrived late to the show and it made me a little more than worried. As creepy as my work is, my parents have always been very supportive. In fact, Aaron’s family has been very supportive as well. His dad actually helped me make the tiny wooden coffins in his large wood working shop.

Tiny Handmade Coffins & Easels

I graduated with an art degree in 2002 and made a TON OF WORK and had a ton of art shows. However it will be hard to track down a lot of it since that was when we stored stuff on zip disks and burned images on CDs. I’ll have to dig into our storage closet to find my disgusting Oreo portraits where I have Oreos smushed in my teeth and my hair resembles Joey Ramone…. they are hilarious and gross at the same time. Most of my art combined an obsession with weird history and attempting to make people uncomfortable. It’s getting harder and harder to find images of my art, as I gave most of it away (my most favorite pieces live with friends.)

Photo Litho on Fabric based on Medical images from the 1900s
Hand Drawn Images cut and inserted in Photoshop to resemble 1940s crime scene photography

However, the pinnacle of my art career peaked in 2004 when I was asked to make a solo show for Grey Matters Gallery and then exhibit a full body of work at Fotofest in Houston. It felt like a big deal and I actually had to go and deliver an artist talk. I was so scary which is kind of silly considering how much public speaking I do now.

Haunted Spaces — Manipulated Color Print (Not Digital)
Haunted Spaces — Another manually manipulated image

Electronics and installations started creeping into my work near the end of my art production. Now that I’m steeped in maker education, I often think back to this work where I hired my friend Marshall Garth Thompson to make a pressure sensor that would only light up the photo once a viewer stepped onto the stair. (This project is called Height and is supposed to make normal sized person understand what it is like to be short like me. To have to stand on stools and things to reach or see things.)

Height Close up — Image in Light Box

I taught myself to knit and sew around the same time and I was starting to merge these two concepts into my artwork. I was invited to make art on a handkerchief for an exhibit called El Pano. I made an embroidered “selfie” of an old photograph of myself. I didn’t really know any techniques and I just kind of guessed how to make it.

I remember being a tad obsessed with the back of it. I couldn’t decide which looked better, the intended clean lines? Or the unintended mess on the back? I believe I decided to hang this during the exhibit in an embroidery hoop, so both sides would be visible. It is still one of my favorite pieces of art.

My art degree taught me that I love to make stuff, share it with others, and remake stuff. I also absolutely getting steeped in the process of making things and creating.

In fact, in 2015 when Mcgraw Hill asked Aaron and I to write a book on makerspace projects, I said yes. Making and creating projects for that book was a great creative regeneration for me, for us both actually. I found that I love creating and sharing things I make once again. Creating projects for other to attempt and hack, makes my inner creative soul very happy.

For a long time though, after graduating in 2002, I realized that I couldn’t be employed as a full time artist, and I might have cussed my art degree a few times. Okay, so maybe I said a lot of mean things about you art degree.

But I shouldn’t have. Because my art degree is an important part of my personal history, both as a maker and as a human.

My art degree is why making a book with 50 projects and then making another a book of Makey Makey projects is not only something I loved spending my free time on, but reminded me that making and sharing stuff full time is dream job for me.

So I’m sorry I spoke ill of you, art degree, I was wrong. Thank you for pushing me to learn new things and use negative feedback as fuel to make my work even better.

I apologize for saying those things about you. You were an integral part of my life.

I am a maker.

I am an artist.

Thank you for making me who I am.