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Artist Skype Chat: Yihan Wang & Celina Gao

Yihan Wang & Celina Gao
High School Students

USA

Clara Lieu, RISD Adjunct Professor

Clara Lieu
Art Prof & Partner

Partial Video Transcript

Prof Lieu: Okay! So nice to chat with you Yihan and Celina! You guys have 30 minutes to pick my brain about anything art related, what questions do you have?

Celina: My first question is, what are the things that u think r missing in many young artists to create a fully realized artwork in this time and age?

Yihan: So nice to chat with you too Clara!

Prof Lieu: I think the biggest issue I see is that many young artists stop far too early with an artwork. I get why, they’re often worried they will ruin it!I rarely tell students that they overdid it with their pieces. I rarely tell students that they overdid it with their pieces. I think in fact it’s good to “kill” an artwork, then you know what is too much. way easier to scale back rather than always being ALMOST finished.

Celina: I see.

Yihan: So it is really important that people keep pushing themselves all the time?

Prof Lieu: I understand the desire to not risk messing up what you life so far, but you have to take those risks.

Celina: How do you think we can improve on that?

Prof Lieu: I think what helps is to be really productive, make a LOT of pieces. Because if you make a ton of work, you feel much less precious about each piece, and then you’re much more willing to move on if you mess a piece up. I see a lot of students slaving over 1 drawing for a whole month!

Celina: I agree with that.

Prof Lieu: It’s too much pressure, you don’t want to feel like you’re walking on eggshells with your artwork. I had a student tell me the other day that they don’t draw from life because they’re worried they won’t be proud of what they create. You’re shooting yourself in the foot because you’ve choked your process before you’ve even started!

Celina: Yeah, I think a lot of young artist r pressured from that.

Prof Lieu: A blank sheet of paper can be so intimidating, but you have to take the plunge. Social media doesn’t make it better; people don’t show the mess-ups and it’s a disservice to young artists.

Celina: That’s very true.

Prof Lieu: It gives the impression that artists just wake up and every piece they make is perfect. Do you guys feel that way? When really, only about 20% of what I do is what I considered to be polished work I am proud of.

Celina: Well, how can we start to like our works although it ’failed?’ What kind of mindset should we take?

Yihan: Yes I actually think I have the problem myself, of spending too much time on one artwork.

Prof Lieu: I get why people don’t want to show their failed pieces, but it gives off the wrong impression. you have to forget temporarily about the product, and focus on the pure joy of making the artwork. I had a prof who said that “if you’re not having fun making the artwork, you’re doing it wrong.” And it’s true, the artwork I’m most proud of is the artwork that I loved making. It’s like the work almost makes itself.

Yihian: So following you heart will be important.

Prof Lieu: helps to have a distraction while you are working. I waaaaay overthink my process if I’m not distracted while I work!

Celina: I think so too.

Prof Lieu: Your mind can work against you in that way, yes, it’s corny, but your heart is where it is! Like I listen to podcasts while I work. I can focus on that, and not overthink or pick at what I am making.

Do you guys think you can easily get wrapped up in the product? Worrying that the art won’t fulfill your expectations? Or I listen to stand up comedy, that’s fun! or NPR, because I love Ari Shapiro.

Yihan: Then how do you keep passionate on one artwork?

Prof Lieu: I think you have to let yourself get lost in the work, and you have to practice so much that drawing feels like breathing.

Celina: Yes it happens quite a lot…

Prof Lieu: I think people freak out because they think drawing has to be this really formal thing. I carry a sketchbook around and draw these funny scenes. Last time I was sitting at my daughter’s orchestra rehearsal and I drew all the bored parents. They were hysterical, glued to their phones and coffee and they barely moved, perfect for drawing!

I had a student who used to always sketch her friends during lunch. She did it so much that after a while people didn’t think it was such a novelty.

Celina: Wow

Prof Lieu: Or I like to draw my kids when they are playing video games, people DO NOT move when they play video games!!!! It’s perfect for drawing! altho I do like the challenge of drawing something that is moving. my friend had this bulldog that was like this monstrous beast who wouldn’t stop moving.  He had so much personality, I didn’t care that he wouldn’t sit still. So it’s good to have both experiences.

In fact sometimes I don’t like drawing models who are posing in class because it’s so staged and artificial. Like I feel uncomfortable when someone is sitting still for so long!  I also do much better when I draw people who I have a personal connection to.

Yihan: hahahah that’s so ture, I actually used to try to draw people on classes, the only time they don’t move is when they are looking at phones.

Prof Lieu: In class it’s not as fun because usually you don’t know the model. Hahaha yeah!! I was at a hotel eating breakfast and drew this guy who seriously did not look up once.

Yihan: A problem I often have is how to draw them secretly….

Prof Lieu: Yeah, you have to be discreet, you don’t want people to think you’re a creep!  I definitely have had a few moments where people saw me drawing them, they are always really puzzled. Like I never draw people on the subway, too physically close to keep it a secret. Also, I like people watching while I draw, you notice things you wouldn’t normally notice.  Nice to slow down, everyone is in such a hurry nowadays! I sound like an old fart.

Yihan: Yeah! my classmates have been used to me, but when i wanted to draw some other people, like in restaurants, it becomes very hard…

Prof Lieu: Actually the beach is good to draw people, like they are practically nude, usually sun bathing and don’t move at all! Hahahaha we do the weirdest things as artists!!!

Celina: I think another thing I personally am a bit concerned about is after returning from a summer pre-college program, I think students in normal high schools cares about academics so much that ‘art students’ are just treated differently, and that sometimes hinders me from wanting to pull out my sketch book.

Prof Lieu: Yes, you really stick out like a sore thumb in high school if you’re into art, I was definitely totally alone in that sense when I was in high school.

Yihan: Yeah I have the same worries.

Prof Lieu: No one takes art seriously, and they always saw annoying stuff like ‘you’re so lucky you’re talented,’ as if I didn’t work for this!! Like no one would say to a neurosurgeon that they are ‘so talented,’ they assume a neurosurgeon worked incredibly hard and had to do a lot to get there.

Celina: Like they would almost look down on art students.

Prof Lieu: Yes, you guys have encountered that?

Celina: Yes I have.

Prof Lieu: Or do you keep your interest in art more to yourself? Do people say things to you that are insulting towards being an artist?

Celina: Now I just keep the interest more to myself.

Prof Lieu: That’s so frustrating that it has to be that way, I think it’s a problem in the culture that people don’t respect artists for what we do.

Yihan: Omg so true! i am the only student who will apply for art school, so it is like people will label me as art students, and imagine lots of things.

Prof Lieu: My artist colleagues work just as hard, if not harder than my friends who are doctors!!

Celina: Yeah… in high schools you’re only smart if you good at the academics.

Prof Lieu: Yes, people make all these assumptions about artists, I’ve had people say to me ‘do you get high to make your art?’ As if that’s how I get inspired as an artist! Makes me mad, that some areas are so highly valued and put on a pedestal in high school. Why is football so important???

Celina: How do you get inspirations for your artworks?

Yihan: Also another very sad thing is many people always say you have to do art to understand art.

Prof Lieu: It really varies, sometimes I will have projects that naturally segue into the next and it’s obvious what I want to do. But other times I’m at a total loss. So when that happens I take a break, it’s okay to take a break from your art! I focus on other things. I had this one stretch where I didn’t make any studio art for a YEAR!

Celina: Wow!

Prof Lieu: I focused on Art Prof, and decided that I wouldn’t go back to my studio practice until I truly felt invested in something. Sometimes it’s a book I read.

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