1 November 2014 - 31 October 2015
Kelly Malec-Kosak is an artist in Columbus OH, and is the Chair of Fine Arts at Columbus College of Art & Design. She received her MFA from California College of the Arts in Oakland CA. Her work has been featured nationally and internationally, most recently in "Protective Ornament: Contemporary Armour to Amulet" at the National Metal Museum and "Reflection: 100 Years of Jewellery/Metal Arts at CCA" in Oakland CA. She has received an Individual Excellence Award from the Ohio Arts Council, and the International Residency in Dresden Germany from the Greater Columbus Arts Council. In 2012, she traveled to Ravenstein, Netherlands to study with Ruudt Peters and a group of international artists. Malec-Kosak's work has been featured in Metalsmith, Humor in Craft by Bridgette Martin, and On Body and Soul: Contemporary Armour to Amulet by Suzanne Ramljak.
On-hiatus Proposal Summary
As higher education continues to evolve and adapt, Kelly finds herself in a unique and frustrating position in her own artistic practice. As the chair of Fine Arts at Columbus College of Art and Design, she has been tasked, along with the faculty, of restructuring the Fine Arts curriculum to better relate and adjust to the changing climate of higher education and art. The tremendous amount of research and collaboration demanded by this, along with her other work and personal obligations, has pre-empted her ability to participate in her art practice in any meaningful way.
During her residency at RFAOH, Kelly has decided to solely focus on this task of restructuring a college art program with a fundamental objective of writing an outstanding and relevant Fine Arts and Crafts curriculum, while also travelling for research purposes to various academic and commercial art sectors. She believes that her on-hiatus endeavour will lead to a new direction in her work and impact her art-making once she returns to it.
I would first like to thank Shinobu and Matt for their incredible support - as I mentioned in my post, this residency period came at a time of personal and professional difficulty. I hadn't anticipated either, and Shinobu and Matt would gently guide me back on track with encouragement and reminders. That said, I am sorry I didn't participate as fully as I would have liked. But I appreciated the other artists in the residency, reading their posts and activities.
I started out with the intention of posting updates on reworking a curriculum, and that evolved into writing a new major for our college. I did wind up reaching my goal: the proposal and courses were submitted to our accreditors in August, and I'm still waiting to hear if it's approved. I'm weirdly OK either way - despite the hours spent, I was able to let it go quite soon afterwards. Now that I've had time to reflect, I can think of several things that probably aren't right and need to be reworked. I think, if nothing else, I should learn from this year I shouldn't sweat the little things.
The biggest thing I learned from this period of reflection: it made it clear that I desperately needed to get back to my work. As I looked back over the last three years, I became horrified that I allowed it to slip away - administrative duties, teaching, family all took priority over my work. While I know life ebbs and flows, it became intolerable to me, particularly in the last two months of the residency, that I haven't made anything of significance recently. No investigations, no research for myself, no experimenting. This really hit me the hardest when I started teaching a studio course this fall - I almost dropped out of the residency just to make something. I couldn't take it.
I'm back in the studio, but my idea of studio has changed. It's not a place - it's where/when/how I can make something. I can't set aside hours to work - not at this point in my life. So, I have to adapt. Right now, my studio is a canvas bag, which holds a capezio body suit, black thread, scissors and needles. I'm altering the suit through repetitive stitches, thinking with my hands. I discovered, to my delight, that TSA lets you take needles on airplanes (?) and recently, my studio and I went to San Francisco, where i enjoyed five hours of uninterrupted time, stitching, thinking, tying knots. I still am not sure why or what I'm doing. But I'm making, and I can't ask for more than that.
I think this residency helped me prioritize what I'm doing. I really had to think about why I've done what I've done - and how to change it. I thank you for the opportunity.
Kelly Malec-Kosak’s year-long on-hiatus residency ended on October 31, 2015. We thank Kelly for her participation as our 2nd round resident, and for sticking around despite her heavy duties at work and her personal difficulties throughout. RFAOH sincerely wishes her the best of luck in her post on-hiatus life, and hopes to hear from her from time to time.
Click “Final Report” to read on her experience at RFAOH.
Classes began last month, and for the first time in years, I’m back in a studio class – I had been teaching our senior class which focused on critique, writing, exhibiting and presenting the students’ work. But this fall, I’m back to teaching intermediate and advanced jewelry. With my absence of a practice, particularly a technical one, I was worried – I hadn’t done some of these processes in years. Turns out, it’s like riding a bike. I used to think being a great teacher meant you had to know every process and technique in your discipline, so I would practice and practice so I would be viewed as an expert – now, I know that was based on lack of confidence. I am much more comfortable telling my students, “I don’t know. Let’s figure it out.” Being in the jewelry studio makes me realize HOW EXCITED I am to get back in the studio after all this time
I decided I wanted the students to explore contemporary jewelry – what is it? Why do we wear it? So I wrote a series of problems for the semester – “jewelry as….” is the theme. The first was “jewelry as purpose,” and the second is “jewelry as symbol.” The final will be “jewelry as decoration” (I think???). I was hoping to broaden their minds and have them understand why they make jewelry….turns out, the short investigations I’ve had them do between major assignments are much better. For the first one, we did a quick piece – the first was a piece that transformed when you took it off the table and put it on the body. For the second, I handed them a bag with 11 objects in it – they had to make a piece that connected two parts of their body, using the objects – they had two hours and they weren’t allowed to talk. That’s when they made some jewelry.
Very excited to post this…and it’s a slight excuse for missing July, and being very late in August. I was able to finish my draft of the NASAD document for the Contemporary Craft major, with an embedded business minor, on August 15…and there was much rejoicing. What this invovled was a large document full of academic speak –
Degree title and purpose
General body of knowledge
More stuff like that…but I think I am slowly forgetting it 🙂 It was fascinating to work on – painful sometimes, but really makes you think about what you’re doing. Is this the right thing at the right time in the right place? I had never really thought about our competencies for students; for example: “The ability to think, speak, and write clearly and effectively, and to communicate with precision, cogency, and rhetorical force.” Then you investigate the classes you’ve written, and you show where this competencies has been met.
Once it went to my dean, it was sent to our associate provost. I understand it’s a different document but if it gets approved? Fine by me…being invovled at the initial stages gave me more of a sense of responsiblity to follow through on what we wrote. Will this all align? Will it make sense? Does it leave room for flexibility? Serendipity? The document, in all its seriousness, does not seem to have humor at all. It sincerely believes in its purpose. But I hope it comes alive – with the students, instructors and the making – into something more: organic, always changing, fluid.
In relation to my proposal, my intent had been to build a relevant Fine Arts and Crafts Curriuculm. The Crafts one is still theoretical, but the Fine Arts curriculum is moving forward:
1. We have an Intro to Fine Arts Class in the first semester for our freshmen: it is integrated with Art History, Modern to Contemporary. So the studio person and art historian team teach it, working on projects, readings and assignments that work together. The first studio assignment was “25 self-portraits your mother wouldn’t hang on the refridgerator.”
2. We have an Integrated Sophomore Studio: it is the same type of course, but is integrated with Contemporary art history. I’m most excited about this class, because we were able to build a floor dedicated to Fine Arts Sophmores only this summer – it has a seminar/project room, and a large working space where each student gets a table, locker and chair. For the first time, we are really trying to build community in our major. I think/hope this space is the key – they have a place to work, all to themselves.
It’s all a big experiment – it seems right, but there are so many variables: the right faculty have to team-teach it, the students have to buy into a more contemporary way of making and the other faculty have to support it. Right now, it’s week 2 of the semester…so it’s all unknown.
Shinobu posed an interesting question – is not teaching practicing? I don’t know the answer. In the last few years, I have been in charge of reviewing faculty – in that process, we have been really pushing our faculty to have more of a professional practice. It was considered a problem at the college – we had a lot of people not engaged in their fields, teaching what they had been taught and never questioning why or what. I did agree – if people aren’t following or engaging in the contemporary art and design world, how do they know what they’re doing is relevant? Do we not have an ethical responsibility to prepare the student to enter that world?
And it that process of being so critical, I found myself feeling like a hypocrite – my academic and administrative duties, and having a husband and two small children, did not allow me additional time to create work (hence my draw to this residency). It’s a work-life-art balance struggle that I don’t think I can solve at this point. One thing that might make me less stressed, more mentally healthy is if I let that go. I kept thinking if I read more time management books, made more lists, slept less, I could do it all. But there aren’t enough hours, and I’m a terrible parent and partner with sleep deprivation. So, like I lecture my students, the first thing to go is the art if you don’t make it a priority. Because you can’t quit your family, and you need a job. But no one really cares if you make art.
With all the craziness of the end of the semester, my life got the best of me and ate my good intentions, but I appreciate Matt and Shinobu checking on me after my last post.
Summer has started, and in my pre-child, pre-chair life, that meant a full engagement in my studio practice. I almost convinced myself I could make it happen, but with only two days of childcare and a major to write, I think I’m fooling myself. But, I’m really starting to have a hard time – I was convinced that my residency ended in May and I said, “I HAVE to start making art now – I’m no longer on hiatus! Woot!” And then I realized I committed to October. And, truthfully, I don’t see where in my life I’ve made room to be a practicing artist. Which leads me to the question – can I really be teaching this and not be praticing? When does one become so much of an administrator that he/she is ineffective in a classroom? Or giving any opinion on art?
With this short post, I am going to read Heather’s recent post – I caught a glimpse of it, and I think I need to see what she says…..
These last few weeks have brought huge changes to me professionally – the main thing is that the president of my college and its board of trustees decided to part ways after only eight months. It was a tumultous time when he arrived (our beloved former president – a painter – decided to retire, and then was diagnosed with cancer), and it became more difficult as the worlds of business and art collided. In the meantime, we lost two other staff members to cancer, and about twenty other people were either quit or were fired. I can’t describe the stress, but the impacts of the deaths were what made me rethink my entire life, personally and professionally. I was particularly close to a professor who died, and the loss continues to impact me.
I decided to apply for a new job – I got a couple of interviews at a great school in Portland OR, but didn’t make it to the final round. Ironically, I find my investment in administration, curriculum writing, and management will probably hurt me in this endeavor. My professional practice has suffered over the last three years as the college restructuring and then in the scramble to adjust to the new president and those expectations. I was really interested in jobs outside of academia – ones at art centers, artist in residency programs, etc. but I don’t know if I have the background for that.
When I didn’t get the final interview, I had to come to terms with that as well, and am rethinking everything in order to make myself happier. This involves a return to studio and a revaluation of priorities. A more balanced life – that will make me happier. I’m sure of that. Sort of.
On this last day of Februray, I finally make my post – as the email reminder from Shinobu and Matthew says, “Februrary is the cruelest month.”
One of my larger, non-residency goals was met – I met with my deans and our provost, and I was approved to write a craft curriculum to go up for approval in the fall with NASAD. I had a long proposal written to justify the move, and under my dean’s directive, reduced it to bullet points (I had to google, “writing effective bullet points”) so the information was easy to digest in a 10 minute meeting. I was excited but sad at the same time – all that work and research was reduced to:
What is it:
Professional craft study with an imbedded minor in business
Digital integration with hands-on making
Conceptual emphasis for the high-end market
Why should we do it:
Name recognition for the college for unique programming, with potential enrollment growth
Facilities, faculty and much of the curriculum already exist
Columbus is perfect location to launch innovative programming
There’s a practical side to writing all this, and I believe in professionally preparing students, but I had a certain amount of reservations writing “embedded minor in business” and “high-end market.” I question the way we educate crafts majors in the united states – I find myself more in line with, say, the Dutch and how they approach materials and ideas. In the crafts areas where I teach, students are usually in two camps: they create production work they hope to eventually sell, or they use the material conceptually, usually in a more sculptural way. They don’t do well together in critiques, as they view each other as “sell outs” or “art freaks.” One of my goals in writing this major was trying to find a home for both groups, and my fear is that by trying to make everyone happy, no one will. It will be challenging as the months go on, and I work with my colleagues, to maintain integrity and create a unique identiy to this program.
On a more personal note, I really loved what Heather wrote in her last post about “cheating.” It’s been really funny and odd to do this residency – as I stated at the start, I really haven’t made any significant work in years due to the administrative nature of my job, having two young children at home, and just life. But once I declared that I WASN’T going to make anything, I find myself like a recovered smoker or someone who has decided not to eat gluten. I WANT to make things – but I worry that I violate the terms of the residency if I even grab a sketchbook or play with some materials. I felt sneaky when I made paper robot sculptures with my kids on a snow day a couple of weeks ago.
With school back in session in full swing, and things chugging along, I’m finally posting after my lofty weekly goal.
The background of our school: we were a traditional Bauhaus program for decades, and in the past three years have pushed to more contemporary practices. This fall, we launched a new curriculum which involved a series of integrated and intensive studios for the fine arts students – these are six credit studios, in which their art history, writing and professional practices (basically, the liberal arts components) will be embedded in the studio classes (and team taught with studio and liberal arts faculty) for the integrated classes. For the intensive studios, we’ve envisioned directed, intense studio time for our students. It’s a new model for us, and I found myself frustrated when we were asked by the administration to make more changes, before we had even worked through this program – we just got our first freshmen in their first Intro to Fine Arts class this spring.
I don’t know how it will work, how to staff it, how to account for the credit hours or contact time for the faculty. But, instinctually, I feel this is the right thing – a focus on intense studio time, supervised by faculty, to develop the students’ individual artistic practice from the first moment they enter college….it just seems right. But there are places that make me nervous – as a craftsperson and artist, I believe in the technical aspects and training that entails. But does that make me out of date? It feels like a divide: either technical proficiency or concepts in work.
One of the major areas to build is the introduction of a “craft” major at our school – I will be posting the results of the research, writing and the effect on my thoughts on my own practice.
After several failed attempts at writing what I was doing at the start of the residency, I eventually posted just a quick update in December. I started thinking: this is out of my league; these people are so much more smart and interesting; my proposal is too academic and dull; I don’t have time and shouldn’t have taken this on; I am disappointing the directors of the program. Clearly. I need to get out and let the real artist do this.
Then I realized I’ve been here before – back in 2011, I did a residency/workshop in the Netherlands with Ruudt Peters, one of the leading Dutch jewelers. The workshop was called “NOW:BREATH” and the intent was to get artists “out of their heads and into their bellies. The week was a 24/7 experience with 12 international participants – we created work and investigations based on topics, readings and discussions. Ruudt pushed us out of our comfort zones and had us collaborating, creating videos and performance work. For me, it was exhilarating and terrifying – I lived in fear of doing it wrong and of risking looking stupid. This tripped me up constantly in the creating of new work – I was constantly worried about what others would think, if what I was doing was worthwhile. I would sit and think and think and think, and my experimentations would be stifled and, of course, overthought.
At the end of the week, he did a critique of each of our past work and performance during the residency. As I held my breath, he called me out on everything – on my repeating ideas because I had had previous success with it, on my reliance on narrative because I was scared that I would be misunderstood, on the lack of risk in my work. At the end of the critique, he said, “You just need to be brave.”
It was at the start of this new year, I was horrified and thrilled to realized I was repeating the pattern when I was challenged here with this residency – horrified that I’m still not brave, but thrilled that I can be if I commit. So my commitment will be weekly postings: even if they’re boring, stupid or rushed. I will be brave for this.
Thank you for the inclusion in this residency program – as stated in my proposal, much of my on-hiatus activity will be spent on research, collaboration, writing and proposing a new fine arts and crafts curriculum. This has been challenging as the faculty and I have met bi-monthly, gathering data, writing proposals and conversing about what we think the “right” thing(s) to do is/are…
And then Oct. and Nov. hit, and the administration part of the job really took over, with classroom observations, writing faculty evaluations and meeting with individuals. And my desk exploded in paper.
Relief came, however, in a trip to Miami to see Art Basel – this was my first experience, and it was incredible: overwhelming, inspiring, confusing, satisfying. I’m not sure, after buzzing through several fairs, I can say with confidence I can see where contemporary work is headed, but I can say I will process this information over the next several months with colleagues who also attended.
I was particularly interested in the jewelry work at Design Miami – personally, I wanted to engage in that conversation again. I haven’t made wearable work since 2011, and this is the first time the impulse was alive.