Dr. Jack Stenner
UF School of Art and Art History
2012-2013 UF Doctoral Mentoring Award Winner
I am truly grateful to be nominated for the UF Doctoral Dissertation Mentoring/Advising Award. It is especially humbling given the nature of working in a field where so much of the evaluation is subjective and students regularly risk their egos, baring their souls. I stress to my students that: (1) I care for their health and well-being. (2) I want them to be successful in whatever terms they define success. (3) I want to share with them my experience, intending that they might avoid problems I faced and/or build upon what I have learned. (4) My primary goal is to help them develop a lifelong creative practice that is personally fulfilling, socially engaged, and self-determined.
Our Art + Technology graduate students are under intense pressure to assimilate a vast store of both conceptual and technical knowledge and ultimately produce a coherent body of work as they pursue their MFA. It is important that they recognize I appreciate the scale of the task before them and expect them to be highly accomplished, but ultimately, they must find a balance between ambition and personal satisfaction. Too many artists have been lost and too much creativity has been stifled by people failing to contextualize their wants and desires within a larger world-view and a realistic set of expectations.
Success in the field of art is challenging to define. We have all heard the story of the angst-ridden artist discovered only after death. I do not presume to impose my values regarding success on students, but work actively to engage them in a process of determining that for themselves. Often young artists attach success to exhibiting at a prestigious New York gallery, sales prices for their work, reviews from a prominent critic or a teaching position at a particular school. I ask them to consider that those might be fortuitous outcomes rather than goals; that something internal to the work might result in the external signs of “success.” Success might just as easily consist of the joy of exploration, realizing a new concept, or contributing to one’s community.
Through life experience one of the most important things I have learned and try to impart to students is the value of maintaining an “open mind”; to always be willing to accept that there are often multiple answers to the same question. An “open mind” allows the student to gain knowledge that can be applied in ways not limited to their current understanding. We construct a mental picture of what we want to do with our lives, often accepting paradigms that have been handed down to us, and rigidly set about realizing goals necessary to fulfill that mental image. Many times, the most rewarding paths are merely tangent to our initial expectations. I encourage my students to challenge preconceived notions and pursue a practice of speculative creativity. My own history working as an architect, alternative art-space owner/operator, landlord, independent artist and computer visualization researcher has taught me that a commitment to creativity and a desire to challenge my own intellectual and practical limits is professionally and personally satisfying.
When a student graduates from the Art + Technology program I feel we have succeeded if the student has developed a research methodology and a passion for exploration that portends a lifelong creative practice. Some faculty steer students toward their own research interests. I feel that is a disservice to the student. Certainly their work is informed by the expertise of the mentor, but sustainable, individual creative vision best emerges from the unique experiences and perspective of the artist. Effective teaching occurs when the student and educator explore knowledge together. Questions presented within a historical context guide the student to resolve issues for themselves, creating knowledge that is personally significant. Especially in a field that combines art with emerging technologies that are constantly evolving, it is important for students to realize there is no singular answer; exploration is a goal unto itself. An awareness of the cultural context that surrounds us is critical art practice. The mentor has a responsibility to maintain an engagement with conceptual and technical issues in the field, and to communicate to students the context within which work is produced.
Artists tend to work alone, and indeed, the faculty/student relationship in most schools of art is rarely characterized by the types of authorship and collaboration one sees in other disciplines, such as the sciences. Rarely do faculty co-author works with students. Because of the nature and complexity of electronic media, I believe there are artistic and academic advantages to structuring collaborations with graduates such that I work with promising students more closely. Similar to scholarship in other disciplines, I have created original work that provides equal credit/authorship to graduate collaborators. They treat this work as their own and have successfully presented papers at prestigious conferences and exhibited work at national and international venues. I believe this kind of first-hand involvement in collaborative artistic practice is invaluable in preparing students for professional practice subsequent to their time here at the university.
I am proud to have worked with our graduate students. They stimulate my creativity as much as I hope to stimulate theirs. We have been extremely successful in placing recent graduates. One decided to continue his studies and pursue a PhD, joining one of the most competitive national programs, and working closely with the top theorists and academics in the field. Several others have accepted tenure-track teaching positions across the country. Attaining a tenure-track teaching position in the arts has always been a difficult, and with decreased funding for education and in particular the arts, our track record is exemplary. It has been an honor to work with these exceptional people, and I thank the University of Florida for providing the opportunity to do so.