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Triumphs and woes: Art education in context

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The Lamar Dodd School of Art was founded in 1937 with 50 art students. Today, it boasts over 1,000. However, as the art world changes, the realities of becoming a successful artist also change.

While in the safety net of school, camaraderie runs high and competition for gallery space and publicity isn’t necessarily on the mind of an undergraduate art student. However, Lamar Dodd faculty members feel the school of art offers an entryway into the art world that is well worth the time and money.

“I think we get a lot more because our liberal arts education is so much better,” Marni Shindelman, a photography instructor in Lamar Dodd said. “We have amazing facilities, great faculty and the students have a basis on which to make art.”

Shindelman said the art students have greater freedom in choosing classes than at other art institutions that have a core curriculum.

“Sometimes you have an American studies person teaching your history and your English. We have such specialties in the humanities and sciences that you can draw on to make your work. And it’s much cheaper. You’re not leaving with over $100,000 in debt, which is horrible,” Shindelman said.

Shindelman is working on a video piece with Nate Larson, who teaches at Maryland Institute College of Art. Their collaborative work is based on natural disaster responders. Shindelman spoke about responders suffering from PTSD triggered by cell-phones, hundreds of which can lie abandoned at a site.

The balance between maintaining a professional practice and personal work can be daunting to artists.

“I create work professionally. I don’t hobby-make work. I’m trying to develop hobbies. My friend and I might take ceramics, but my photo practice is so far away from that. It’s a balance between work and life. I take weekends, Friday and Saturday, and then I work Sunday,” Shindelman said.

Shindelman said making work versus getting your work out in galleries are two separate things.

“One is being your own manager and promoter. Some people say for every 40 shows you apply for, you might get into one. My ratio is better now; for every 15-20 I get into one. Once you do get notoriety, you’re terrified it’s going to go,” Shindelman said.

To be successful, you have to want it with a passion — always. Shindelman said there is a feeling of guilt, that you should be working every second, but she reiterated the importance of finding balance.

“Figuring out how to live and your process for making work is what it’s about,” Shindelman said.

Shindelman broadcasts Facebook status update with flags as part of her piece with Nate Larson, "He Said, She Said." (Courtesy Marni Shindelman)

A recent graduate of Lamar Dodd, John Murphy chose UGA for its broad spectrum of educational ventures. He was unsure if he wanted to pursue a career as an artist in addition to having varied academic interests, so he decided against attending an art school.

Murphy majored in political science and photography. He, like Shindelman, pointed out UGA’s breadth of resources and quality education not found at a specialized art school.

“I’m very glad I chose UGA. I lucked out. We have all the perks of a fine arts school education and UGA has pumped a ton of money into the art program in recent years," Murphy said. "Especially in the photography program; it’s a film-based program, which is going out of style in the rest of the nation."

Murphy said throughout college, he made sure he kept his path toward art.

He said that often after college, artists take non-artistic jobs to pay the bills and before they know it, they’re applying to dental hygienist school.

“The big trap of art school education is that we’re shown these amazing things, experience and grow so much, are put out into the world with amazing ideas, but are now reliant on media we can longer afford and put into a workforce that no longer provides opportunities for working artists,” Murphy said.

Upon graduation in 2013, Murphy moved to New York and worked as an assistant to a well-known photographer. He said the demands of New York take a toll after a while, and that you spend a lot time trying to survive and less time on your art.

However, Murphy feels his time there has taught him to prioritize and work as hard as he can.

Murphy said a huge challenge for him was transitioning from college to professional life. The availability of equipment he needs for his photography became a huge issue.

“To be able to make art at the quality I was making it, at a university with a huge budget, [has been an adjustment],” Murphy said.

New York did not claim Murphy for long. He moved back to Atlanta this past summer and works as the collection manager and art preparator for the Sir Elton John Photography Collection.

Murphy defined attaining success as in the art world when he can comfortably live off his creative practice alone. His work is displayed on his website.

“Success is always in the eye of the beholder. I think for me, monetary and professional success is hand in hand with your creative success. As an artist, what makes the difference between a passion, hobby and career is being able to live off it,” Murphy said.

Shindelman and Michael Ross, a master's of fine arts candidate in painting at Lamar Dodd, shared Murphy’s sentiment. Ross spent three semesters at MICA before he left, feeling the need to explore and learn about the world and his place in it.

He earned his undergraduate degree in anthropology and after a decade, picked up where he left off in his art training.

“Just studying art is not enough. You need to have something to paint about, to fill the well,” Ross said.

It has been 12 years since Ross has been in school. In that time, Ross worked as a carpenter and art teacher to support himself while he continued his art practice. Those 12 years allotted Ross time to travel the world, filling his painter’s palette for his return to the canvas.

“I always knew I would return to painting,” Ross said, “I think we live in a competitive and noisy world in general, and that artists feel they have to be loud to be heard, but you need time in solitude to connect with your work.”

Ross poses next to his painting "Magnolia Grove." (Photo/Molly Golderman)

A painter at heart, Ross had no intention of continuing a career as a carpenter. He choose instead to return to school to hone his skills as an artist. His work can be viewed at the Branded Butcher in downtown.

Ross is in the midst of co-curating an installation in the Lamar Dodd bridge gallery. There will be an opening reception on Jan. 18.

“Grad school is a time away from the pressures of the real world. I don’t have to worry about making a living for two or three years,” Ross said, “Outside of grad school, you don’t have as many voices out of the studio. Sometimes, you unconsciously adopt the role of salesman, because people who come to your studio might buy your work.”

Ross said there is a community in the art school that has been highly valuable for his art process.

“I haven’t talked about my work so much in the last 10 years as I have in the last two,” Ross said.