Visual Arts Professor Reflects on Summer Artist-in-Residence Experience

Sept. 29, 2021--This summer, Lindsey Guile, assistant professor of visual arts and director of the Mildred I. Washington Art Gallery, applied for and was accepted to fill one of only 12 visual artist slots available through the highly selective Blue Mountain Center’s artist-in-residence program. 

During the summer and early fall, the center, located in the heart of the Adirondacks, offers month-long residency sessions that are open to creative and non-fiction writers, activists, and artists of all disciplines — including composers, filmmakers and visual artists. Applications are reviewed by a panel of authors and artists who are particularly interested in artists who are able to reflect social and ecological concerns through their work. 

Guile sat down with Margaret Craig, program chair of visual arts and associate professor of art history, to share her experience and how she will apply what she learned at the center to her DCC teaching and her own work. 

For a gallery of Guile's work and images of her Blue Mountain Center experience, visit the DCC Facebook post. 

Q. Is this your first residency?  

A. No. I did a residency at Sparkbox Studios in Canada in 2013, but that was only a week-long session whereas the residency at Blue Mountain Center (BMC) was for a month. During my residency at Sparkbox Studios, I created 11 medium scale (30” x 40”) charcoal drawings of torsos—from collarbone to thigh. This was the early explorations into body image and crowdsourcing for images. 

Q: How do you research which residency will best match your specific art making needs?  

A. BMC came highly recommended by a friend so that was a big draw for applying there. I also did a lot of my own research into the place - not only about previous residents, studio space size and privacy, but also about location. If I was going to spend a month somewhere, I wanted to make sure that I liked the area and felt I could feel at peace and inspired there. Two big draws for BMC were that it was a place that encourages you to disconnect from the virtual world and it is specifically geared toward creators - visual artists, writers, musicians, dancers, activists, etc.- whose work explores social issues. 

Q: What type of social issues do you address in your work? 

A. My work explores body and self-image, and the events in our life that craft how we see ourselves. With each model I render, we have a conversation on events in their lives and how it has shaped their self-image both physically and psychologically. 

Q: How did working with/around other artists influence your work - or does being around other artists - encourage to focus even more on your own work? 

A: Working around other creatives always influences my work. In fact, several of my fellow residents modeled for future drawings. Because the work that I create is so dependent on the individuals I work with, each and every person I work with opens up my work to new lived experiences and stories. It is also quite inspiring to be around other people focusing on their craft. Especially after a year of COVID-related social distancing, communicating via video chat, and adjusting to our new world, it was particularly poignant to get to spend a month living with other folks.

Q: How do you/have you applied your residency experiences in your teaching? 

A: I tell my students that I teach how I make. Every day I’m in the studio is an opportunity to learn a new strategy, technique or concept that I can share with my students. I also want students to see me as a working artist, to know that they can start at a community college, work hard, and that if this is the life they want – a professor or working artist – that it’s possible. I was fortunate in my education that I had professors share their experiences and were honest in the description of them. It wasn’t this romanticized idea of being an artist that is ever so prevalent, or even the “starving artist” stereotype. What was laid out in front of me was the raw and honest depiction of the life I wanted and it helped me make deliberate steps toward success. My goal is to pay that forward to my students so they can do the same. In classes this happens regardless of whether it’s a studio class or our professional practices class—Visual Arts Portfolio. I also give a similar talk yearly to the MFA students at SUNY New Paltz in their Artist Survival Skills class.

Q: Why do you think it's important for you to have these kinds of residency experiences - and how do they make you a better teacher? 

A: One of the main reasons I think that experiences like this make me a better educator is that I am taking time to keep updated and familiar with the contemporary art world. If I am going to help guide them as developing artists, I feel like I need to know what is happening now. I think it is also important for them to see that while I am their professor, that it is not the only hat I wear. My career as a practicing artist is also a priority. I often let students know about exhibitions I am in and encourage them to come to openings and get involved with their local arts community outside of the college. It all wraps back to what I mentioned earlier—I want to inspire and encourage by example. 

Q: Would you encourage your students to seek out residencies and why? 

A: When they are ready to do so, absolutely. Not only do you connect with residents from across the world in some cases, but you get time to dedicate solely to your artistic practice, whether it’s visual arts, writing, music, choreography or more. It’s important to try and find a work/life balance and to prioritize creativity if possible. It was difficult for me to do this until recently because financially I needed to work in the summers. Now that I don’t need to do that, I can start to put the energy into expanding my artistic career. 

Q: How do you process rejection if your application for a residency is denied?  

A. A big part of the art world is rejection—learning to deal with it and accepting that it happens. You almost never know who is on a deciding panel or what they might be looking for beyond what is in the call for artists. You have to know that the work you create isn’t for everyone and that it’s OK. It is definitely disappointing when you’re not chosen but you keep moving forward. 

Q: How much studio time do you incorporate into your weekly schedule during a typical semester?   

A. During the semester it’s quite difficult but I try to set aside a day each week to be creating. This could be working in my own studio or at the clay studio. Working in clay has proven to be a great stress reliever for me! Many evenings I try to draw for at least an hour, and those usually are small scale pencil drawings I can do while sitting on the couch catching up on my favorite TV shows. 

Q: What is your biggest take away from your time at the BMC residency that you will implement into the art you make?  

A. I have always dealt with confidence issues regarding my work—almost like I wasn’t “good enough” to get a big residency like this, or that my work wasn’t serious enough. While I have been working on being more confident in my practice over the past five years or so, this really helped me to feel stronger. Additionally, this was the first time I’ve been able to quiet the world around me and solely focus on my work, and I hope to be able to use that motivation to bring a better work/life balance to my life, especially in regard to studio time. 

Q: What are you working on this semester and do you have any upcoming exhibits or engagements?

A. I am always working in my studio and am continuing to work in my large format drawings as well as in printmaking, painting and ceramics. Currently, I have work in the Awagami Small Works Exhibition in Tokyo, Japan, and I’m applying and hoping to get my work accepted for other exhibitions. I am currently planning a yet-to-be-titled solo exhibition for fall 2022 in Massachusetts. And in October, I plan on speaking with SUNY New Paltz MFA students in the “Artist Survival Skills” class about my experiences in academia and being a professional working artist.

Although calls are not out yet, I will be applying for residencies for next summer. COVID put a lot of things on hold and as the art world—and the world—opens up, those opportunities will hopefully be more plentiful.