Looking at WNY’s visual art, theater, music, and dance scenes.
Jul 26, 2012
10:42 AMTalk about Arts
The Chautauqua student experience
“The man etched on that mug—is he anyone in particular?”
“No, he’s just a generic bearded man … sort of like myself.”
This is an example of a possible conversation one might have with artist, teacher, and student Matt Smith while casually strolling by his table on a warm summer afternoon at the Chautauqua Institution. Well, at least it was with me. And though it’s true he sports some pretty nice facial hair, Smith is anything but generic.
Smith is a student of ceramics at the Chautauqua Institution’s School of Art this summer. The program, which celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2009, presents young artists of varying ages with the opportunity to deepen their own creative experience through meaningful interaction and dialogue with other serious artists, as well as with seasoned faculty. It is crafted particularly for students who are self-motivated and possess a high level of commitment to their craft.
Students from all across the country are attracted to the intensive, community-based program. Not only does it offer the chance for contact with other artists of different viewpoints and approaches, each student receives their own partitioned studio space with twenty-four-hour access, as well as access to communal studios in painting, drawing, printmaking, ceramics and sculpture. This is how Smith described his “a day in the life” at the Chautauqua School of Art:
“I start my day around nine, eat a quick breakfast, and get to my studio. I’ll start throwing pots in the morning. After lunch, I’ll come back to trim them up and finish them in their wet state. In the afternoon I may also be doing some glazing of other pieces, or drawing new pots. It’s not uncommon to be doing all the steps of ceramics in one day. Once we get late into the evening, I may be hanging out with other artists—which is another powerful tool in the creation process.”
Another compelling draw for Smith, and for the Chautauqua School of Art, is the lake life of Western New York and Chautauqua specifically. “This area resonates a leisurely pace that sucks one into the creative act of art making,” he says. “The freedoms needed in making art—freedom of time, place, etc.—are plentiful here. I come from North Carolina, which has a great clay culture, but there is something about the larger culture of Western New York that adds something to the mix.”
Ask any teacher and they’ll tell you this: you never stop being a student. Smith is living proof. Though he is a student this summer, he is also an elementary art teacher back home in North Carolina. Furthermore, he has hopes of one day earning his master’s of fine arts. Elements of his work with K-through-5 kids are prevalent in much of his work. There’s almost a “childish whimsy” surrounding his ceramics. “I am an artist and a teacher interested in making things that make people smile,” he says. “Without a doubt, I am a clown. In interacting with people, I can’t help but try to make them laugh. My hope is this same interaction happens with my cups and bowls.”
There are a few more opportunities to see Smith’s ceramics in person, as well as the man himself, this summer, before he heads back to North Carolina. The Chautauqua School of Art Annual Student Exhibition, featuring four of his pieces and works of all the other School of Art summer students across various disciplines, is happening now and will continue through August 2 at the Fowler-Kellogg Art Center on the first and second floor. Also, the final Art in the Park will be held on Sunday, August 5 from noon to 4:30 p.m. in Miller Park. Smith and his ceramics will be among the sixty exhibitions present that day.
And for information on Visual Arts at Chautauqua Institution, including the School of Art, visit ciweb.org/vaci-home.