Wet Stuff : The Art of Painting a Business

Teaching Art with J.L. Johnson

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Transcription

Neeley, “This is KD Neeley. I’m here today with JL Johnson. She is a local artist and also a beloved CNM Art teacher. Thanks Lynn for coming onto the podcast.”

Johnson, "Thanks for having me.”

Neeley, “It’s a pleasure to have you. So Lynn, tell me about teaching art.”

Johnson, “Oh God, that’s a really broad subject. You can teach art to anyone, there’s not a single person that doesn’t have some form of creativity, but you don’t necessarily have to go to a teacher to be an artist. A lot of people who teach the arts specifically are there for different reasons. I personally, always wanted to teach at a community college so that I could give a Harvard experience of teaching art to people who are on low incomes. That’s where I went with it. Ask me something about teaching art more specific than just that broad subject.”

Neeley, “How long have you been a teacher?”

Johnson, “About forty some odd years.”

Neeley, “What got you started teaching? How did you go from being an artist to teaching art?”

Johnson, “I never wasn’t teaching art that I can remember. Well, I can remember being six and not teaching art, but I pretended to teach art when I was six. When I was a little girl there’s a photograph of me somewhere teaching my mom and dad’s two friend’s sons how to do art. There’s like me sitting in the teacher role, and they’re down below there doing doodles and stuff when I was six. So I wanted to teach when I was a little kid. I always wanted to be a basketball coach and an art teacher.”

Neeley, “So you’ve always been a teaching artist.”

Johnson, “I’ve always have been a teaching artist. I’ve always wanted to. I taught courses at the museum at thirteen. I did a lot of after-school kind of things and things like that. I just, anybody that was near me I would show them how to do things. I remember drawing in the sand with people, teaching them how to draw in the sand. In this sandbox in kindergarten. I guess, I don’t know I never fell into it it’s something I always wanted to do so it never was a thing that you fall into. It was just something I always had done, and so it was just a natural fit to then just continue that as I went through school. So, in Bowling Green, I went to Bowling Green for my Masters. But even in undergrad I would be the what is it called where you are the studio person that you take care of the studio, and then you show people how to do all the stuff in the studio when you’re not a work-study but you-“

Neeley, “An apprentice?”

Johnson, “It wasn’t an apprentice, but anyway I did that job.”

Neeley, “Intern.”

Johnson, “And then in grad school in Bowling Green, I ended up teaching my first college-level courses that were real college-level courses that were just mine. And there they kept giving me more and more classes because I liked teaching and I was good at what I did. I got really good results from people because I always expected good results from people. So, maybe that’s it.”

Neeley, “Have you seen any changes over the course of your career as a teacher? Changes in what it’s like to be a teacher?”

Johnson, “Oh my God yeah. No child left behind left no children behind. It’s just really sad what that particular bill did. I know I was teaching here when that came about, and in just the ten year period we saw students who could no longer critically think or write or compare and contrast two things. If I said, ‘Here compare and contrast this key with Katie’s what are these?”

Neeley, “I call it a vapermajigger, it’s also called a mod.”

Johnson, “Vapor thing. Students could not do that. They couldn’t say well this one has black and this one has black, this one has silver and this one has silver. They couldn’t do that simple task. They would ask us, 'Well what do you want me to say?' They’d want an answer to something instead of being able to think for themselves. It’s a very different period. When I first started teaching I taught a lot in El Paso at the El Paso Community College, and we had a lot of students that came from Mexico that were taking college courses with us there, and it was a community college as well. And the difference from when I first started teaching, and the difference between students in Mexico compared to the United States was pretty day and night. There’s a lot of entitlement that I think came with being an American in some ways compared to being someone from another country trying to fit into that school. So there’s a wanting to do well, so they do their homework, they’d do all of that kind of stuff. And when I started teaching in other community colleges and at UNM and places like that just coming from Texas to here was a huge difference in what the students know and what they’re expected. A lot of the students that I got when I moved to New Mexico were students who had never had art really in their background because it’s cut from the school funding constantly. It seems like there’s less and less and less arts and respect for the arts. But a lot of that comes from, I think, artists. We are so giving. Artists are so giving. If somebody came up to you tomorrow and said you know I want to use this for a T-shirt design but I don’t have any money now, you’d figure out a way to give them your image to use without taking any money. So I think in a way artists have, in some ways, we have caused a lot of what has happened in the respect of art. Art used to be a craft like any other. You work hard as an artist you have to work your butt off. You have to put a lot of time into something to get skilled at something and skills are not being taught anymore. Look at the difference between UNM’s curriculum and CNM’s curriculum recently where we used to have 2-dimensional design and 3-dimensional design. The 2-dimensional design had a lot of skills, and so did 3D. They taught how to do things and then UNM went more conceptually based and so they made art practices 1 and art practices 2. In 2D design, you’d talk about the elements of art, the principles of design, color theory, blah blah blah. And then Art Practices 1 which has replaced 2D design we talk about light, frame, and mark. What does that mean? Well, it can mean anything you want it to mean basically. So there’s this idea, this push for creating thought and concept without having any skills to back that up and it’s, I think that’s a real problem in art education today. Not that you shouldn’t be expecting both of those things in each of those courses. But I think that it’s, for me, given credence to people to have a disrespect for art, in a way because it’s more about the thought than-”

Neeley, “I wonder if the more conceptual approach is to give a pathway for students to use new mediums to develop art.”

Johnson, “I think some of it is that. It’d be dumb to say that it’s not. It is. It definitely is in the curriculum for anyone to be able to use anything digital but you could still do that by still teaching basic concepts of skills development and some basic thought to how do you organize the picture plane? And how do you break that? And you know it’s okay to have things breaking that, but certain things are tried and true. Most people in the world have an affinity for people who are symmetrically balanced.”

Neeley, “So there are aspects of aesthetic theory-“

Johnson, “Aesthetic theory that is not being taught anymore really in any of the schools or even being questioned. You know you have to teach things to be able to question those things and to be able to take them apart. For me, at least I always have felt that to know the rules, it’s easy to break the rules. But not to have the rules you’re not doing anything. When you break them, if you don’t know them, you’re not breaking any you’re just making stuff. Which I’m a firm believer in making stuff I love making stuff but I also like to make stuff that can be aesthetically pleasing, or that can have visual content and physical ability be as strong as each other rather than having one be stronger than the other. I feel like you should know how to do all things and if you know how to do all things, then you have things to choose from. Art should be made from choice, and it shouldn’t be made out of not knowing how to do something and so if you never learned how to do things you don’t have the ability.”

Neeley, “I was criticized once-”

Johnson, “Did I do it?”

Neeley, “No, it wasn’t you. No, this is actually before I went to art school. I was told, ‘You’re using creativity to make up for your weaknesses.’”

Johnson, “How interesting, yeah.”

Neeley, “It was based on a background. When I first started oil painting, I did this bowl of fruit, and I made it electrified. I was so excited by the colors of the oil paint, I went crazy with the colors. I used colors that weren’t there and colors that were just exciting to me, and I made this-- I made it look like the fruit was exploding with this energy sort of like little lightning strikes and little things like that coming out of it. It was still a traditionally painted bowl of fruit, but the background seeped into it and had this electrifying environmental effect and the tablecloth I changed the colors on the tablecloth and just went crazy with the colors and the techniques that I could use, and I was just having fun. And there was the opinion that using that expression, using the paint to express myself from the inside was making up for my weakness in my ability to reproduce the exact image I was looking at.”

Johnson, “But you had reproduced already the exact image you were looking at in the fruit bowl.”

Neeley, “Yeah.”

Johnson, “That sounds more like the academic approach of this needs to look exactly like that, and you went over that you went past that.”

Neeley, “That’s where I hate being taught art. When somebody thinks-- Because I believe that art can’t be taught, I think only techniques can be taught.”

Johnson, “I don’t think that’s true. I think you can ask-- You had Danielle Rae Miller on not too long ago, and I had the great fortune of actually sitting in on one of her classes recently. Very recently, like last week and I watched her lead people into a conversation about art and into thinking about their work in such a way that I realized that yes you could. You could teach-- You may want to have her back for a podcast and ask her those questions because she is extremely gifted. Amazingly gifted at that, amazingly gifted. So yes I do believe that you can teach those things. I do believe that you can teach skills and I do believe that you can teach thought and concept and I do believe that you can pull creativity out of people. I don’t know that you can teach it because there’s always a unique voice behind every artist that there is. It’s not really about teaching them their voice. You can’t do that. They have to develop that themselves I mean I think it’s hilarious that you made a lightning strike bowl of fruit when you are still using that color combination today. I look at the gallery floor I look at your work you know I always call you the rainbow artist, right? It’s like you’re the rainbow artist so you were just expressing who you were at that point and time and a lot of people aren’t as skilled, to begin with as you are I mean you’ve always been skilled since I first met you. So I think that that’s part of that too you know, but I do understand what you’re saying can you teach how to be the artist that you’re gonna be, no. You can pull that out from people. You can ask the right questions. I just watched Danielle Rae Miller do that. She just asked all the right questions until people were like, ‘Oh I see what you’re saying.’ But what I didn’t see much of is self, and this isn’t in Danielle’s class I’m just talking about in general in students today, what I’m not seeing are self-reflection and self-analyzation and self-critique. Man, I am my worst critique and my best critiquer. I think most artists who get to a certain point are. That level of reflection I think is something that we have to start requiring from our students more and not just in self-reflection. In the content of the work, the why you’re doing it, the why you’re making it, but more in-- That is one part of it, yes, but also when the skill itself- Like did you just put something up that is crap? I’m seeing students who can’t tell that they didn’t do the work required for a three-week piece. That they didn’t put enough effort into something that they just shlocked something up real quick and they thought that it was good because the idea was good. And the idea was good, but the actual manufacturing of the objects was slap-dashed together they would never stand up in a gallery or in a real-world experience I think we need more of that. I think we need to expect that level of craftsmanship that level of skill that level of ability in everything that you do. If you’re not going to put something out that’s worth putting out, don’t just put thoughts out there everybody has great thoughts let’s see those thoughts turned into great art that has both. “

Neeley, “When I would be working on a piece, I would always hear it, I wouldn’t ever hear it from my teachers, but I would always hear it from other artists who were criticizing what I was doing. Other artists would tell me, 'Oh stop there! Stop! Don’t overwork it!' The whole idea of overworking something. And I was thinking. I don’t care if I overwork it I’m not satisfied yet, so it’s not done yet.”

Johnson, “No you’ve got to be the choice, you’ve got to choose when it’s going to stop. I was just talking to somebody about that, how do you know when something is finished? When do you know that that is the end result and it is complete how you want it to be? That’s a real hard question. That’s again, I don’t think that can be taught. You can talk about what’s working and what’s not. I can look at any piece in the world and go this is working this isn’t and here’s why based on whether or not visually or conceptually-- Danielle can do the concept part better than anyone I know, better than I can. She can go well I see what you’re saying there but can you do this? What about this what does this mean? I think there are a lot of people that when you say where do I stop on something that’s really a personal aesthetic. I do think that personal aesthetic doesn’t necessarily have to be an aesthetic that is beautiful to all other people or correct in composition or any of those kinds of things because there is going to be an aesthetic appeal that you have that no one else has. And that’s what makes you the artist of that work, to some extent, your aesthete.”

Neeley, “What’s the difference for you between teaching art and making art for yourself?”

Johnson, “Wow, what is the difference for me? In teaching, it’s a totally different thing. I’m trying to get people to a certain-- I’m teaching at a community college, so there’s a curriculum you have to get through. And so you start at point A, and you have to drive people like a herd of horses, you know herding cats, all the way through the gates of the next curriculum. In a way I feel like a university and college, community college and university level curriculum in art is at a disservice to taking art at like the Harwood or someplace like that where you have plenty of time to do one thing because you don't have to get through the curriculum in a fast-paced method. So when I’m teaching, the difference for me there is that I’m not doing my work at all I’m just showing other people how to do what they may want to do in the future. Again, I believe choices are really important in art, and for you to be able to select what you want to do and how you want to do it is really self-affirming. I feel like it’s very powerful and I think that that’s where the best art is made from is from people who know how to paint realistically, know how to draw realistically, know how to sculpt realistically and choose not to do that and go in a way that deals with form or color or formalism or whatever.”

Neeley, “some visual concept that they find exciting.”

Johnson, “Some whatever it is, Yeah that they find exciting. Because they can do whatever they choose to do and make it work and make it work well. That’s powerful. That’s real power. And so the conceptual side, I think, is really important as well. You do have to develop that but we’re in a community college, we’re in a two-year institution. How many concepts am I going to be able to get you to in a two year period when I see you only once a semester? It’s not like you're taking my classes all the way through and I’m teaching something consecutive every time. You’re going from one class to the next, to the next, to the next. One of the things that worked well from the Academies is that they had a standard and that standard had to be met. And why was great art then made out of that, and the next group would fight the Academy and the rules they established and then they’d become the Academy. So a lot of incredible artwork came out of this idea of fighting a staged structure. When we look at this two-year period-- I can’t teach people as much as I need to in those two years. To get them to where they can have the concept and the skills. I can do a mediocre job at both or I can do a great job at one or the other, and that’s where you have to make a decision. I think for me, I feel like you should be able to do as many things as possible and choose from that. In my work, nobody tells me what to do. I go to my studio. I have a fun time. I see what happens and I have the ability, because I can teach and draw and paint very realistically, so I come from a photorealistic background, and now I’m not doing that at all as you know. I can choose to use a lot of those kinds of skills and techniques that I want to in whatever it is that I’m doing. I love the magic of finding, so that’s what my work is mostly about is the ability to be the person who sees Jesus in a tortilla. I am the queen of that. I love that stuff. So the wood grain things that I’m working on right now with the wood saw, that series is all about just using pieces of wood and seeing what I see in them. And if it’s a Cyclops young child with a giant schlong in a rabbit suit then that’s what comes out, I try not to censor it. I try just to let it be, and whatever develops-- So it’s very different for me in the teaching aspect and the doing aspect. But it’s also very hard. I work a lot of hours at the school that I’m at. I work a seventeen hour day pretty regularly and just trying to keep up with the administrative aspects and the schoolwork and grading and the teaching and the problem of not having great facilities and things like that. There are a lot of things that are caused by not being funded. I wish so much that we were in Colorado and had the smart gumption to legalize pot because we would be able to have real facilities real funded schools that have programs that can do what they need to do in a real facility that’s made for what they do. The facility I work in at Main at CNM is pretty deplorable. Because it’s pretty deplorable, and it’s not made for what it's being used for, we don’t have great ventilation. We don’t have-- The look of those rooms, it wears on students. What can they expect to do if this is the kind of respect that this degree will get them? Is the facility that they're in now. That’s how they see it, they perceive it, it gives them a perception of -“

Neeley, “Self-depreciation.”

Johnson, “Yeah to some extent. Anyway, she said I’m sorry I got on a soapbox of complaining but-”

Neeley, “That’s okay this is interesting.”

Johnson, “It’s hard. You know the arts should be rewarded and they should be funded and artists should be given what their work is worth the time that they put into things the time that they learn to do what they do and think as they think.”

Neeley, “What are your thoughts on teaching art and the artist being able to be a career artist?”

Johnson, “Like I said I spend a lot of time there so it’s really hard for me to get into the studio and I mostly do smaller things that I can just transport to Thane’s house, my honey’s.”

Neeley, “But as a teaching artist, you are a career artist.”

Johnson, “Yeah that is a career you can go into in the fine arts, but I think you’re talking about being an artist making a living off of your work. That’s a lot harder. You have to be a good businessperson to do that. You really, it is about the business part. Most people don’t buy art necessarily because they like it they buy it as an investment they buy it as a way to remember somebody that they enjoyed meeting and sometimes they also like the art as well but a lot of it is, do I like the artist that made it? Is the artist intriguing? Are they interesting do they fascinate me?”

Neeley, “And that’s hard to be when you spend so much time in isolation making your work.”

Johnson, “That’s true. You have to get out. You have to promote yourself. You have to-- I mean we have a class called the career concerns class that we wrote back eons ago. Because in the two years we’re trying to make a program that if you decided to, you could leave in two years and you could have at least the start of knowing how to be an artist and what it’s going to take. And in that class, they teach you a bunch of stuff like how to be an artist, how to write a--how do your resume, how to get your stuff out, how to research things, galleries you might want to be putting your work in, things like that. But can that be enough? I mean two years is a very short period to get people to be able to be an artist. I mean you’re running this gallery, you’re funding this by yourself. You're just paying this out of your own money. It’s not that you’re making money off of the artwork that’s here to be able to run this space.”

Neeley, “Not yet.”

Johnson, “Right. Not yet, let’s put that in there. Because you will someday. But it is coming out of your pocket currently this is not something that could happen by itself you had a different situation that allowed you to be able to do this. And you’re pretty good at promoting, and you’re pretty good at promoting artists, and you’re doing podcasts you're doing an online presence you have stuff that people can purchase here.”

Neeley, “Even with all that I’m able to do right now, I wouldn’t be able to do half of that without the VA stepping in to help me.”

Johnson, “Correct, exactly.”

Neeley, “So I got lucky there.”

Johnson, “Or unlucky in a lucky way. There’s a little bit of both of that in there. I guess I keep going off the subject matter and coming back to it but the question of can you be an artist walking out of school? I think that was the question. Or maybe I heard it differently, or what was it I don’t remember?”

Neeley, “It was about how to prepare students for being career artists.”

Johnson, “The biggest thing that you could do for your student is make them work like a dog.”

Neeley, “Yeah. That was the thing that benefited me most from taking your classes when it was like boot camp for artists. Was I learned how much I was capable of accomplishing, and how hard I was capable of working, and how far I could push myself when it came to making the art. Putting the brush in the paint and laying it on the canvas. There’s a lot of stigmas that there’s this mysterious place where the painting exists, and you can already see the painting finished but it’s almost impossible to get there. That’s bullshit. That’s what your class taught me. Your class taught me that, 'Oh you see it in your head?' Well, get it out. Get it out.”

Johnson, “Great! Oh, my God, I succeeded with a person. It is true that the only thing that you really will get out of going to school other than some skills and some learning and stuff like that is the drive and the work ethic that is necessary. Because it’s really about your work ethic. As an artist, you’re going to have to hold two or three jobs. You're going to maybe have to do that and still do your work and still then have a presence as an artist which means getting it out to people to see which is a huge amount of work. It is a lot of work to just enter our work into a show, and if it is accepted then you also have to get it there and get it back to you, and you have to do it some point as well. It is a lot of work. It is so disrespected in our community in the United States. It’s so frustrating because it is an area you know we see art all the time, but we don’t respect it.”

Neeley, “Yeah, I recently published a very, very strict requirement for fundraisers that I will promote and the requirement is that the artists get paid. So I will not, I decided I will not represent any charity that takes advantage of artists. I am all for charities, I want to do fundraisers, I want to make a difference in the community, but I am tired of charities using the excuse of taking advantage of artists.”

Johnson, “Well they don’t use it as an excuse, they use it as any way that they can make money. And if they can make more money from an artist and not have to pay that artist they’ll make more money for their charity, their organization.”

Neeley, “That practice sets a standard that artwork should be given away.”

Johnson, “It does. It does. And you think about it. The artist is not able to write that off on their taxes. The artist is not able to write off the making of that work on their taxes. It’s crazy! Our tax laws need to be changed for artists to be able to make a living. That’s one of the things that’s harboring a lot of people being able to do art and make a living. If I were able to take away the time, give myself a salary, for example, If I were to be able to say okay it took me seven hours to do that one little painting that I just donated to that charity. If I could give myself a living wage for that, say twenty dollars an hour or fifteen dollars an hour or even just fucking minimum wage, pardon my French. But, minimum wage, if I could just give myself minimum wage for that, if I could just write that off on my taxes the time that I spent and the money that it took me to do it, that would at least be something I could write off on my taxes. But you can’t.”

Neeley, “The argument I’ve heard against that is it’s like rewarding-- If artists were paid by the hour for the work that they do it would be rewarding those who are not as skilled because it takes them longer to accomplish what a more skilled artist could accomplish in less time.”

Johnson, “I get that. But also, the skilled artist’s work will go for more money, usually.”

Neeley, “Yeah, you’d hope so.”

Johnson, “You would hope so. That would be ideal. But then also if it’s just somebody whose not very skilled and doesn’t know how to do what they’re doing and it takes them fifteen hours to do an incredible painting you’re like well why don’t you just get better at your skill and do it faster? I mean there is always going to be a certain amount of time to do something that it’s going to take whatever amount of time it’s going to take whatever time it takes. But if a person comes in and they say I still want to buy that artists work fine; give them that tax write-off. So it did take them fifteen hours to do something that would have taken a more skilled artist three hours to do. So what? If somebody likes that piece and that’s how long it took and they’re willing to pay that money, give them that on their tax write-off. That would be fair. That’s what it took.”

Neeley, “It does take more than materials.”

Johnson, “It does, and sometimes the learning of your skills and your ability and your content and your concepts takes a lot of trial and error to get there, and that trial and error are paid for by someone usually the artists themselves. Certainly not paid for by the government, usually. That’s not a norm. So yeah I don’t know I feel like I just feel like there’s a lot of things that need to change to be able to make artists be able to make a living doing what they do.”

Neeley, “And tax laws are one of them.”

Johnson, “Tax laws are hard. They don’t make it easy for you to donate work either it doesn’t make you want to give to the community you know you get screwed every time you give a piece to the community. So, that doesn’t help anything. It doesn’t help at all.”

Neeley, “It also makes the standard giving away the work that you feel like you can’t sell, so you give away what’s worth less to you, which again, reinvigorates a lower standard for artwork.”

Johnson, “Yes. Exactly. That’s very, very true. The lower standard. And you don’t want that either because that makes people think that all art is not so great.”

Neeley, “You would also think that what you see in the public art program is the most merited work.”

Johnson, “Not always. But I would say that that is probably often true. I guess in the teaching of those things, again, when you talk about trying to teach skills and trying to get people to develop who they are as an artist you know that still is something that only they can do. Teaching is dumb, in a way. All you can do is dangle an apple in front of somebody-- And you have this apple, and it’s juicy and crisp. And you can describe it to them, and you can tell them how you can bite into it, and it has a certain texture and it gets a little mealy as you chew it up in your mouth and the flavors and tart and sour and all sweet and delicious and all this stuff, but until a student picks that apple and bites it themselves, they’ll never know. So really all that school does is to facilitate you going through the process of learning more quickly. I have a friend David Nakabayashi who I think you might have done a podcast with also.”

Neeley, “Yes, we talked.”

Johnson, “David never really went to school for art. He never really needed to he was skilled from day one I think he came out of the womb with a paintbrush. And he is amazingly talented. I mean he could see you one day and probably still have a visual memory of you enough to paint a good portrait of you that’s believable. I mean just amazing. He’s just amazing. But he’s not the norm. You know he didn’t need to go to school, so he didn’t, and he does artwork better than almost anybody I know of in the world.”

Neeley, “When we’re fledgling artists or up and coming artists we feel like, 'Oh I need all of this on my CV and my Resume to prove to the galley that I’m worth something.' So if I don’t have a Masters, that doesn’t look good, if I don’t have a Bachelors that doesn’t look good. If I don’t have at least a Bachelors that doesn’t look good.”

Johnson, “Well and he’s had trouble with that. Truthfully. I mean he’s had trouble not being able to be shown because he doesn’t have all that Curriculum Vitae that he needs but he’s also still managed by the merit of his ability and his tenaciousness, and you met him you know he is, and he is a great self-promoter. He is.”

Neeley, “And he respects his work.”

Johnson, “And he respects his work. He doesn’t give it away. He doesn’t put it into-- he doesn't give it to fundraisers, things like that, very often- “

Neeley, “Not without a percentage. I think he demands a percentage when he does that which is what I’m demanding charities uphold now.”

Johnson, “Right, in your facility. But my point of that was you don’t have to go to school. You just have to bite the apple and then run with it yourself and develop it yourself. You could just do that, but going to school or going to an institution or taking a course allows you to get there quicker and allows you to try different things, and allows you to ask the questions you need to ask but it also develops your skills as well.”

Neeley, “But it’s also dependent on the teachers that you get.”

Johnson, “That’s true. That is very true, and sometimes you get people that are stellar and sometimes you don’t.”

Neeley, “Sometimes you get a class that’s just a joke.”

Johnson, “Yes, that is so true. I had probably, out of all of the instructors that I had there were only five that were worth me taking their class, and they were awesome. Michelle Feevis in El Paso, I went to UTEP for my first degree, Taco on the border, you know Taco Tech, you know Harvard on the Border. Michelle, who taught jewelry I had her my last semester there was the best instructor I had ever had in my life, and about fifteen years later my friend Fernando and Aguillo and Danny Morrison and Dana and Maria and Ed a bunch of us were over in Austin together at the same time. And we were talking about, and this is after we all had our Masters I had already been teaching for fifteen years at this time. And I remember talking to them and we all were sitting around saying who was the most influential person in your art? And every single one of us in that room said her name. And I model a lot of my teaching, I think, somewhat after her which was the thing that she brought to the table was she treated any idea with respect but she also called crap crap when she saw it. You know, it’s like she would call a spade a spade so to speak she would say you had a great idea and you did this with that great idea? You know here’s what’s wrong with this, here’s what you need to do to make this great idea better. She’d never let me get away with anything. She’d never let me not put my best effort in.”

Neeley, “But it sounds like she had a reason for her distaste she had solutions in mind.”

Johnson, “Yes, she did. She’d say you haven’t you know your soldering is all poor here. She was a jewelry instructor; metalsmithing. I would probably have gone into metals if I didn’t have her my senior year my last semester. Because she was just so good. She made me think about things differently, but it was whatever my idea was was good, it was how it was put together. If I didn’t fulfill it in its craftsmanship, in its ability, its skills, if I didn’t get my idea as polished, as quote 'show-ready,' as gallery ready, she’d say what needed to happen to it to make it that way. She’d say this is what you didn’t do if I tried to pull some of the crap I’ve seen in my teaching career.”

Neeley, “I think it’s important though to recognize the difference between instructive criticism which is constructive criticism and destructive criticism which is the more common kind of criticism we see in art schools where you have a narcissistic teacher who just couldn’t make it as an artist they’re bitter about their life, they wish they weren’t teaching, and they just want to show students how much better than the students they are.”

Johnson, “Ahw. Katie, did you have a bunch of those? Because I did. Ouch, I hope I wasn’t one of them.”

Neeley, “No, you’re not one of them.”

Johnson, “Yes, that’s I had a lot of that it’s true. But I do think that that’s one of the things at CNM I have to say that’s one of the things we have a lot of we have a lot of people who wanted to who are really good teachers who do give constructive criticism who are gifted I think of getting information out. That’s not to say that we don’t have some that might be a little bitter or unhappy I don’t know we might I try not to know them, I don’t know them. I’ve been pretty fortunate with the people that I teach with they are they're on the same length as me”

Neeley, “I don’t think it’s as common in community college but it’s certainly something I’ve seen in High School, and it’s certainly something I’ve seen in higher institutes.”

Johnson, “Really?”

Neeley, “Oh yeah.”

Johnson, “Huh. I don’t know. I did have a lot of it when I was going to school if I admit the truth I had a lot of it in school, but Michelle was not one of them. She inspired me to I always tell this story in the painting class of when I was in painting two I think we had a six-foot painting. And we had to copy a collage that we had made of our own as accurately as possible on this-- It went from a four-inch by four-inch collage to a six-foot by six-foot painting. We were making this painting. I got to the end of it, and I ran out of this one color that I had mixed that was the very last thing that I needed to put in, was this one color that was a very flat color, in this one area that was surrounded by all these other colors. And no one had ever taught me the law of simultaneous contrast. Which states that colors and values affect one another when they’re placed next to one another on how you see or determine that color. No one had taught me that in 2D or 3D or any of those other classes because I had some people who didn’t care about teaching those classes or I would say know the information on one because he was great at everything else. Anyway, I remember having this instructor and never teaching me that John Hogen walked in my instructor was the six-foot painting faculty John Hogen walked in and said I thought you’d be done with that by now My God it’s taken you a week you were so far ahead of everybody else. And I was like I can’t match this color, and he goes well you know the law of simultaneous contrast I had spent tubes and tubes of colors trying to rematch that thing and every time I’d put it on the canvas it looked different. And he said well Johnson you know the law of simultaneous contrast, don’t you? And I was like No and when would I have learned that so he tells me that and I’m able to match the color in two seconds and then he I said well where should I have learned that at? And he says well in two d. And so I went downstairs to my instructor Dan Lomex down who was the sculptor teaching the two-dimensional design, so it wasn’t his fault I think he got stuck with that class anyway when I went down there I brought my paints I had a mason jar filled with the wrong color. And anyway I went down there with my mason jar and said you owe me this much money for these tubes of paint which I expect for you to replace. And this is what I should have learned from you in your two-dimensional design class, and I taught him the law of simultaneous contrast, and he understood it and taught it to the rest of his classes the rest of the time he was there. But and to his credit, he said yeah I’ll give you some paint, so he gave me three tubes of paint, but it was hilarious because he didn’t know certain things to teach me, but he did after he had me.”

Neeley, “Yeah, I had a disappointing printmaking class at CNM I’m not going to say who my teacher was she was nice but she did not know what she was doing she should not have been teaching that class and I hate printmaking still. It’s not her fault I hate it. I need to retake the class from Lynn Pierre I know that. Because then I’ll love it, from what I hear from everybody.“

Johnson, “If you don’t like to clean up and registration you’re never going to love printmaking. But if anybody could make you love it it would be Lynn Pierre because she’s really good. Isn’t that sad? Yeah, you do need to take it again. Printmaking is one of those few courses that’s beneficial it has for artists it has a way of making an original an original three hundred two hundred fifty ten times you know it’s one of those ways you can make an original piece of art several times.”

Neeley, “I still didn’t have an appreciation for printmaking until I went to this show they had at the Matrix. I don’t remember the name of the show, but it was all these prints from printmakers from all over the place, and they were beautiful there were so many different techniques they had used. I went, and I saw the show with Richard, Richard Kelly, and he was explaining all the techniques he could just look at any single one of them and understand the techniques that were utilized to create the image and listening to him talk about the process was fascinating.”

Johnson, “yeah, the process of printmaking is awesome. I love the process of printmaking. I love making the plates I love doing all of the different things that you can do the aquatints the sugar lifts the lithograph I love it all I love all the process of making the plates I hate the cleanup, and I hate the printing. I hate registration. It’s just so much work you know I’m a lazy artist I’m into self-gratification immediate self-gratification so if I can’t like just directly go to something if it takes several different steps to get there the only exception to that is casting. I love casting because it’s so magical you replace the material that this is a new material I love it, I love it I love it I love it. I can make this out of sugar. I can make this out of bronze. I love the ability because that’s so magical I’m willing to spend the irritating steps to get there. I’m pretty immediate self-gratification it’s even the same with clay I love clay I love everything about it, but I don’t like going through the process of nurturing it in the kiln getting it out of the kiln and glazing it and putting it back in the kiln. It’s too many steps it’s like I love the first part of doing it. I’ve done it.”

Neeley, “I’m almost afraid to ask you this next question.”

Johnson, “Uh oh.”

Neeley, “But, what do you see for the future of art in America?”

Johnson, “Well I think, and here you have a gallery but I’m going to say it, I think galleries are going to have a hard go in the future because so much will be just online people will be just purchasing the artwork they want just from the artist and I think that’s good and bad. I do think that the art market is going to change pretty dramatically in the future but I think there will always be the hold on to what it is now so there will still be galleries in the future they’re just not going to be as many I don’t think it will be as important for young artists to have as many exhibitions in the future. I think, but I do think that that’s how you will get your work seen still is by having more group shows. And getting your work seen. I think there’s going to be more scenes, like a scene. In the olden days, there would be like a group of artists that were like-minded making their manifesto like of the Russian futurists and stuff like that they were making a scene out of the people who were making art. And I think we’re seeing that in California a lot, especially with a lot of the graffiti movement that’s happened there with Nike. I think there is going to be more companies that are going to pay artists to do work in the future. I love that Juxtapose broke out the mold. That was a magazine that pretty much broke the mold of all other art magazines, and of all other acceptances of art. Now there is a huge variety of the type of art that can be out in the world and be accepted as real costs-- Money trading hands you see more diversity of the type of art that’s out there. You’re seeing I think that in the future I think that there’s going to be I think a lot of artists are selling well in China right now, American artists are selling well in China. If you were on that bandwagon I think we’re going to see a lot more outside sales of stuff I think your market is not necessarily going to be America anymore in the future I think your market is going to be international I think it’s going to be more global in its initiative. I do feel that the global market still to some extent is going to the global market pays artists more than the American market does currently they’re more willing to pay the artists for their vision. I hope that that continues I don’t know that America will I mean with our current regime I’m not seeing a lot of hope in the next four years let’s put it that way I think that the arts will continue to be defunded.”

Neeley, “Well, artists aren’t going to stop making art.”

Johnson, “Oh no. Well, look at the German Expressionists. They were in their basement painting without any thinners or anything to clean their brushes with. Why? Because they were trying not have the smell be wafting out so that people knew they were making paintings. All their colors were dark and brooding. It wasn’t just the climate although that was probably a part of it. It was the fact that I’m hiding the fact that I’m painting from other people. Artists will always make art. Somehow it may not be as object-oriented and that s’ one of the other things that I’m seeing a lot more of is we’re seeing a lot more art that is not object based. More installations, more we're seeing a lot more time-based art, things like that and one of the things UNM did when they made the practices courses is put in for the art practices two class a time based medium requirement because that’s become important for our generation that’s coming up.”

Neeley, “What is a time-based medium requirement?”

Johnson, “Well it can be an image that’s done on computer or a work that’s done on a computer or on film or a performance of some sort or a spectacle of some sort.”

Neeley, “Something that moves.”

Johnson, “Yes, basically something that involves the idea of time. A physical you have to sit and see it from a physical point in space to another physical pint in space. So time-based art can be digital it can be computer driven it can film it can be”

Neeley, “It’s like all the flow painting videos that we’re seeing now because flow painting is so cool and now we can record it.”

Johnson, “Yeah and you’re seeing a lot of people doing a lot of different things in that there’s one woman who’s using a mallet to whack her flow paintings. I don’t know if you saw that or not, but there are so many different things that are happening because of the computer access to the internet. So many ways in which artists are now able to involve an entire community of artists. I look at Ai Weiwei for example with his sunflower seed piece that he did with an entire village of ceramicists who were no longer being able to make a living as porcelain artists. He commissioned them to make all of these tiny sunflower seeds, a hundred thousand, I don’t even remember how many there were truthfully, but a lot of them. And each one handcrafted. It’s pretty amazing when you think about it, and it paid for a community to exist and their plight to be noticed. So the political affiliation that artists have now I think is going to continue to grow. I think we’re going to see a lot more of that kind of work in the future. I do feel that we need that kind of work too, so I do feel that that’s important in the future, so that’s where I see it going since you asked.”

Neeley, “Is there anything else you’d like to share?”

Johnson, “No nothing I can think of right off the top of my head i”m like terrified to be on the radio or on podcast.”

Neeley, “Okay thank you so much for your time today this was a fantastic conversation I look forward to sharing it.”

Johnson, “Okay well, I hope we didn’t do anything that we shouldn’t have.”

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