In a simplistic sense, this is how Jerry Smith, a Collin College painting and art appreciation professor, describes his artwork on display for college faculty, staff and students, along with the community, to see until Dec. 15 at THE ARTS gallery at Collin College’s Spring Creek Campus.
An award-wining artist whose work has been exhibited nationwide, Professor Smith details in this Q&A everything from his love for art to why he enjoys teaching at Collin College, along with everything in between.
Professor Smith’s artwork is on display during THE ARTS gallery hours from 9 a.m.-8 p.m. on Monday through Thursday, 9 a.m.-4 p.m. on Friday and 10 a.m.-2 p.m. on Saturday.
What do you love most about being an artist?
Good question. What I do is not always a choice, but almost a necessity. I make art almost because of a drive or desire that defies rational explanation. I love not being “normal.” That sounds odd, especially in that I’ve always held a 40-hour week job. My life was always in “anticipation of the unknown.” What would be the next new art idea? Where was the next art show? Would I win prize money? When will the discovery moment come? I always have a hope, a future, something to sustain me. I love that part of being an artist the best.
People ask me which artwork is my favorite or best, and I always answer: “the one I’m doing now or going to do next.” If I ever look back and say my best stuff is behind me, then it means I’ve lost that passion for discovery.
How can you best describe your work?
I’ll say that many artists have multiple career styles, and it’s only over time that one can see the thread of unity weaving among the diversity. My work is eclectic, mixing multiple styles and medias. Overall, I’d say there is a collage-ish manner. I consciously often add an element of realism somewhere within the work to show craftsmanship, and the art stresses compositional design as equal to content. I’m probably a little more cognitive of seeking line and shape and balance in my work, where as most people do that intuitively.
In this particular show, I’m stressing the free association of objects, and the duality of how the work evolves over time into the object, as well as a heavy Judeo/Christian examination theme. Most of the pieces have taken time – even years – of adding and changing, to become what they are.
Physically, you can describe the work as assemblage. Assembled, from components into a whole. Even when I make a pure drawing, it looks like it’s a blueprint for a construction, or the drawing looks as if it’s been constructed from many different items. I decided that the unity for this show would be the diversity of media … there is no one “style” duplicated. There is theme and variation. You can see the progression from an acrylic painting, to a drawing assemblage, to the 3-D construct, based on the same theme of a man with a beam on his shoulder.
What can students learn from your exhibit?
I hope they realize that art takes time and it’s not instantaneous. The basket form took me 600 hours. I started it in May, and worked outdoors in my driveway, from sun up to sun down, a minimum of 40 hours a week. Plus, I’ve worked on it 20 hours a week this Fall, while teaching 21 contact hours. It’s not readily apparent, but in trying to hold to a high quality standard, I often had to take things apart, and redo wooden struts, to make the art stronger, better and more visually perfect. It was made from 50, 12-foot boards that I had to cut into narrow strips, totaling 2,400 linear feet, plus 300 yardsticks, and probably a couple dozen boxes of screws.
The work entitled “Weather Vain” has evolved over 28 years, and I’m sure it has a minimum of 200 hours of construction and painting. Art takes time, and great art doesn’t settle for “pretty good or just ok.”
I really was happy to have a visual concept, to come up with this “vision” of how the works I had, and the latest piece of the basket could come together, exactly as I envisioned, for this show. That’s not something one can readily teach, how to “envision” or to have a “vision.”
It’s nice that the work promotes introspection and growth. My art is literally saying something beyond media and technique. I’d like to think that it’s about presenting ideas, a point of view, to educate or teach life, philosophy/religion as well as art, composition and design. My students hear me too often talking about how clothing performs multiple simultaneous tasks of style, design, communication, social status and preferences. I expect the same out of my art.
As a Collin College professor since 2005, what do you love most about teaching Painting and Art Appreciation?
All teachers will say that being in an environment of teaching can provide the opportunity for synergy, to draw upon the creative energy of other creative people. I think it would be difficult to live an isolated life, without some peer group to be around. I suppose that pure studio artists find a way to balance gallery viewing and a personal network of friends with the lone life of making art. The best times teaching are when a student brings in a work that causes me to think, “Wow, I never would have thought of that, or done it quite like that!” I think all artists at core are “life-long learners.”
More than most studio artists, I like the history end of art – and the right-brain thinking that comes with styles and time period development, the chain of events and consequences or sequences. I find it rewarding to be an ambassador for the college’s art department, to help students find a place for art in their lives, and possibly the courage to take a class or two. I don’t expect most of my students to be art majors, but I do wish for them to all become lifelong learners, and to seek something in life with which to develop skill and passion.