Art21 at NAEA: An Interview with Mark Bradford

In anticipation of Mark Bradford‘s Artist Keynote at the NAEA Convention this month, Art21 spoke to the Season 4 artist about his thoughts on art education, access, and the job of an artwork.

Art21: In terms of becoming an artist, what educational experience had the greatest impact on you?

Mark Bradford: I would say that the greatest educational influence was art school. It sounds obvious, but for me I was not brought up with people who dedicated themselves to sustained artistic focus. There was a whole world out there I just didn’t know existed, but at the same time I always had an intense curiosity, which demanded a creative outlet. Art school gave me the structure to hang some of my interests on.

Art21: You emphasize that your art practice is “not an art background. It’s a making background.” Why is this an important distinction? How might art teachers consider this perspective?

MB: I think it is a matter of perspective and access to an art education. Growing up I always had the desire to make things, but going to art school was too expensive. My background implied that if I went to college, I should major in something that would provide me with a secure salary. I didn’t even contemplate going to art school because I felt there was, and is, a certain class perspective built into being an artist, which I couldn’t do because I needed a real job. For many years I did work a job because that was my social and economic reality.  I hate it when people tell young kids “you can do anything you want,” without qualifying it. Economic, social, and ethnic realities play a big role in young people’s choices. These realities need to be discussed almost in conjunction with their artistic aspiration.

Art21: If students and teachers were able to learn one or two important things through engaging with your artwork, what is it you hope they will learn?

MB: This is not a question I can really answer. If I did, it would imply that the artwork is not doing its job.

Art21: Since you mentioned it, what is the job of an artwork and what’s an art educator’s role in the process of understanding it?

MB: The job of an artwork is to convey the artist’s intent. Sometimes an artist’s intention can be complex, but a good teacher challenges a student to grasp it, maybe not the whole of the work, but at least an important facet of the work.

Please join us and educators from across the country at Mark Bradford’s keynote at NAEA in Minneapolis. Visit our Web site for more information on this event and others presented by Art21.

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