Storyboard: Lynn Aldrich

Cultivating an outward gaze

I was lucky enough to have lived a life before ArtCenter.

What do I mean when I say this? For one, I had a background in biology and worked in a virology laboratory. I got my undergraduate degree in English from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. I have enjoyed learning since childhood and studying keeps me engaged, curious. It’s part of why I was so drawn to science, then literature, then art. All are fueled by an investigatory drive.

ArtCenter was a great place for me, even if I had my head in the clouds. As a student, I was at least a decade older than most of my fellow classmates. During my time there, the college was attempting to lend the fine art discipline the same esteem traditionally associated with its design departments. The MFA program took off with added faculty, visiting artists, and studios on campus.

I was still observing and investigating, but now my thinking and making became more experimental, fostered by a sense of play. My sculpture and installation work was becoming more conceptual. But I didn’t have to adhere to an established scientific method or write lucid prose in order to say what I wanted.

At a certain point, I had an epiphany. I allowed myself to be a fine artist, and that was that.

At ArtCenter, a lot of wonderful, useful design was obviously happening, but fine artists had less “finished product “ to show. Our faculty treated us as serious artists, but to students in other majors, we must have looked as though we were wasting a lot of time talking about philosophy and meaning – and trying lots of things that didn’t work out in our messy studios downstairs in the Hilltop building.

Coming up with a sustaining idea is the hardest part of the process for a fine artist. It begs the question, what does one even make art about in a world like ours? There’s a period of nurturing one’s own ideas, and, frankly, a period where one cobbles together a body of work that no one really asked for. Fine artists, in my experience, are generally motivated by a poet’s desire to do something meaningful within the culture, to give a gift to the world.

Of course, different artists work in different ways. Personally, I’m not as interested in my inner psychology or a signature style as in cultivating an outward gaze. My art is more a reaction to the wonder of being alive in such an extravagant cosmos, at this time and in this place.

It’s tough to tell someone to just “be creative.” What does that even mean? It starts with not putting the act of creating on a pedestal. Creating doesn’t have to be your sole reason for existing. I try to think of it more like a job I’m kind of made to perform. Once you remove any unnecessary prestige attached to it, creating becomes something accessible, something that’s passed down through the ages. I had to lower my own expectations so that I wasn’t paralyzed by the fear of trying.

Artists must ask themselves certain essential questions in these difficult times. How do we manage to get by? How can we all contribute? I promised myself when I started out that I would try to develop a path where I’d not get bored with my own work. My art can be formal and quite simple, dense, or tragically funny, but I’m always trying to see better and respond with authenticity. I’m uncomfortable with the current emphasis on “branding” – it sounds like we’re all products. I want viewers to experience being human in real time and space, open to mystery and slippery insights. The question I always return to is, “what would keep me engaged enough to keep learning and working for a lifetime?”

Of course, I don’t have all the answers. I try to address pressing issues, such as consumerism in the natural world, history and time, human longing for transcendence. Then I get to work making stuff in the studio. I would love to slow the world down, and encourage us to be aware of its extravagant beauty and wonder in a physical way, instead of staring at phones and screens 24/7. In that way, I’m swimming against the current. As a fine artist, I’m just one small part of a movement that is attempting to enhance the fabric of our culture. I’m just doing my part.

The question remains, what part can YOU play?

Lynn Aldrich
MFA 86 Art
Artist, Lynn Aldrich Studios

My art is more a reaction to the wonder of being alive in such an extravagant cosmos, at this time and in this place.

Lynn AldrichMFA 86 Art
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