Creative catalysts : a narrative investigation of pivotal learning experience through conversation with six contemporary artists



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This thesis is a narrative study that examines significant life experiences of six living artists that were pivotal in their decision to pursue careers in the arts. Although the examples found in these conversations are not exhaustive—many factors play into the individuals sense of identity and agency—they serve to give voice to the multiplicity of the learning experience, underscoring that creative education occurs in the home, the community, and among social groups as frequently as it does in the classroom. Through direct, open-ended conversations with artists, research explores the setting of upbringing and education, the pivotal experiences—catalysts—that propelled these individuals into art careers, and impact of their experience on both creative practice and notions of art learning.

Interviews encompass artists whose work is located in public spaces, natural landscapes, and urban environments as often as it appears in the traditional exhibition settings, whose work is both collaborative and socially constructed. They comprise Rick Lowe, artist and founder of Project Row Houses in Houston, Texas whose community-centered social sculpture expands on our cultural assumptions about the artist and Anne Wallace, a public artist whose early work as a human right activist and bi-cultural experiences translate into videos about the complexities of the United States/Mexico border. It includes Vincent Valdez, a self-described “hyper-realist” who depicts his home city and composite life experiences of his family through allegorical paintings and drawings; Marie Lorenz, an artist explorer whose interest in urban waterways brings her work into the waters of forgotten canals and rivers; of Robert Pruitt, who critiques ever-changing political landscapes, conceptions of history, and globalism through hybrid drawings and sculptures; and Franco Mondini-Ruiz who fuses aesthetics of high and low in installations and creative economy widely accessible to people both within and outside the confines of the art world.

Through narrative conversation, this thesis enriches overlapping theories that encompass our understandings of education and learning—mentorship, experiential learning, the aesthetic experience, place-based learning, communities of practice—through lived example, underscoring learning as a socially constructed phenomenon. Experiences of learning, unique and wholly individualized, contribute to a one’s sense of self and agency; in the case of the six artists featured in this study, creative experiences contribute to their identity as “artist” and motivated their pursuit of lifework and career.