LINEA is the online journal of the Art Students League of New York. LINEA offers a slice of the knowledge and esprit de corps of the League’s legendary studios with artists interviews, posts on artists’ tools, and inspirational advice.
At what age did you decide to become an artist?
I began thinking about art in early childhood. It was my only other serious career choice, right after astronaut. And since NASA was not seeking eight year old candidates, I went with art.
I wonder at what age a large part of society becomes convinced that art is neither a viable option nor a valuable pursuit. Too many people grow discouraged and give up. Creative work exists in countless fields ostensibly unrelated to the visual arts, and I’d argue that the cultivation of a creative mindset is what’s paramount in any field. Lack of imagination is probably a failure of many schools.
How did your parents react when you told them you wanted to be an artist?
No specific declaration was ever necessary. It was clear, given my youthful interests in drawing and painting, that some aspect of the arts would eventually appear along my career path. This, in conjunction with having been raised by a Siamese cat, made it a predictable outcome.
Who are your favorite artists?
In no particular order: Donna Dennis (theatricality), Saul Steinberg (inventiveness), Paul Delvaux (mystery), and George Herriman (lyricism). These are the first few that leap to mind. There are thousands more.
Who is your favorite artist whose work is unlike your own?
Again, it’s difficult to limit favorites. For now I’ll say Stuart Davis and Beatrix Potter. Disparate from each other, both create works that are full of surprises.
Art book you cannot live without?
I’ve been collecting art books for more than forty years. Each has a special place in my heart. To single out one as a favorite might make the others sad.
What is the quality you most admire in an artist?
A sense of humor. It’s admirable in any line of work, but its absence in art leaves a palpable void. Maybe humorous people perceive the world more clearly.
Do you keep a sketchbook?
Yes, but if I’m home I also keep a “digital” sketchbook. It has the same utilitarian purpose as paper but I like the freedom of recombination it offers due to its fluid temporal nature. It’s like a painting that never dries.
What is your favorite museum in all the world?
My current favorite is the Art Institute of Chicago. But favorites change. National Museum of Fine Arts of Quebec, anyone?
What’s the best exhibition you have ever attended?
Many factors go into choosing a “best” but one of the most illuminating exhibitions I’ve seen recently was Inventing America: Rockwell and Warhol. People are surprised to learn that there are so many similarities between the two.
If you were not an artist, what would you be?
Early on I realized I wasn’t going to be an astronaut. Rock star didn’t really pan out either. Perhaps I could have tried my hand at being a feline psychiatrist. I think a career spent talking to cats on a couch would have been interesting.
What is one thing you didn’t learn in art school that you wish you had?
To value process over product.
What’s your go-to NY museum?
That’s a tie between the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the American Museum of Natural History. (Incidentally, the Museum of Natural History’s dioramas contain wonderful landscape paintings.)
What work of art have you looked at most and why?
I look at Cézanne a lot. I admire the way he layers space. As a teenager, a classmate showed me how to unlock a Cézanne painting by mentally separating the planes so that they seem to open like a popup book. I still very much enjoy that.
What is your secret visual pleasure outside of art?
Anything made of Lego bricks is beautiful. They are three-dimensional pixels that simplify forms, shapes, and volume.
Do you listen to music in your studio?
Yes. When I was younger I played in a rockabilly band that was founded, as many rock bands were, in art school. I still have a strong interest and affection for different genres and keep music on for much of my working day.
What is the last gallery you visited?
I visited one in Rahway, New Jersey. As with big city commercial radio, sometimes you have to tune to a smaller station to hear something fresh.
Who is an underrated artist people should be looking at?
Probably not underrated, but I don’t see as much of Richard Deon’s work as I’d like to.
What art materials can you not live without?
It’s not about any particular physical material. I’ve tried working with many mediums as well as with their digital emulators, and If I don’t have one medium handy, I’ll use another. Anything that leaves or records a mark will do the job.
Do you paint/sculpt/create art every day?
Every small meditative thought can contribute to artistic pursuits. In that regard, making coffee and staring out of the window can be considered a part of the creative process. And I do both several times a day.
Some mornings I begin with a series of drawings depicting what I dreamt that night. There’s something about the nature of working digitally that allows me to commit to drawing these ideas in a way that I would not feel comfortable with on paper.
What is the longest time you went without creating art?
Due to a bicycle mishap, I was unable to hold a pencil for nearly a year. I might have switched to my non-dominant hand, but doing so did not interest me at the time. By using the hunt and peck method, I was able to type on a keyboard and, as a result, began writing. Though I couldn’t draw a scene, I could still describe one. The hand injury actually lead to my concomitant career as an animation writer.
What do you do when you are feeling uninspired?
I have never been uninspired, uninterested, or bored. I truly can’t relate to those feelings. Life overflows with inspiration and I believe that seeking it is a teachable mindset.
What are the questions that drive your work?
I usually ask myself one vexingly complex question — is the problem I’m addressing interesting?
What is the most important quality in an artist?
What is something you haven’t yet achieved in art?
I keep an ongoing list of projects I want to begin and ideas I want to investigate. That list keeps getting longer. You try to set realistic goals because time is not unlimited.
What is the best thing about art in the era of social media?
I’m not interested in the networking aspects of social media, but being able to discover or share content online is a boon. Its relative lack of gatekeepers is a boon. It greatly benefits mediums like animation and other short form graphic narratives though, by necessity, shortchanges more experiential mediums like sculpture. Even that may eventually be overcome by improvements in virtual reality that usher in another period of artistic growth.
JEFF BUCKLAND teaches Art for Animation at the Art Students League.