How do you make a living off your passion and talent? Artists dedicate their lives to fine-tuning their skills to create masterpieces. Getting paid for this work is another story. 

The UC Santa Cruz Art Department and Arts Division held a Zoom conversation amongst artists on March 5, called “Life in the Visual Arts: Before and After Graduation.” This dialogue between guest speakers Kim Anno, Melissa Gwyn, and Jock Reynolds highlighted the triumphs and let-downs these creative professionals endured to make a living off their art.

The event was moderated by director and curator of the Mary Porter Sesnon Art Gallery, Shelby Graham, and UCSC alumna Louise Leong, the gallery’s manager and museum preparator. 

The event started with each artist sharing their advice for professional pathways in the arts, followed by a Q&A with the audience at the end.

Melissa Gwyn: Seeing The World Differently

“MLA Style” 2020    22” x 30”   Oils on paper Courtesy of Melissa Gwyn

Melissa Gwyn is an associate professor of drawing and painting at UCSC. Her most recent paintings investigate the prospect of having unsuccessful reproductions or visual representations. Gwyn’s work has been shown across the globe, earning acclaim from Art Forum, Time Out New York, The Village Voice, Art News, and The New York Times.

Gwyn started her art journey a lot later than others might recommend, she said, only pursuing it seriously after dropping out of Ohio State University in her junior year. Gwyn was originally troubled by the prospect of becoming an artist when there were so many problems in the world art couldn’t solve. In her time away from art, Gwyn found a day job as a home health aide.

During the event, she recalled how she got to where she is today. After graduating from the Yale School of Art in 1990, Gwyn worked on community-based art with teenagers in Brooklyn schools, where she was inspired by science fair projects to begin her series of paintings based on molecular models. 

“All of the forces that were pulling me away from such an impractical decision were not as strong as my will to answer what Jock referred to as ‘a calling,’” Gwyn said to the audience. “And, and to tell you the truth, all of those forces that worked in opposition to the pursuit of my works, created a kind of resilience in me that I still rely upon today.” 

Click here to see more of Melissa Gwyn’s art.

Kim Anno: Breaking The Seal On Contemporary Art

Kim Anno directing “90 Miles from Paradise” on a barge in Miami. Photo courtesy of Kim Anno.

Kim Anno is a Japanese-American abstract painter, film maker, and photographer. Throughout her career, she has highlighted contemporary art through her own lens as an Asian woman and continues to do so to this day. She earned her Bachelor of Fine Arts from San Francisco State University in 1982, and received her Master of Fine Arts at the San Francisco Art Institute three years later. Anno started as an associate professor at California College of the Arts in 1996 and was appointed chair of the painting department in 2012.

Kim Anno grew up on the west side of Los Angeles during the political turmoil of the 1970s. At the event, she shared that her father was a Beatnik astronomer, and her mother— a nurse and civil rights activist — took her to the speeches of Martin Luther King Jr. and Bobby Kennedy, where she became inspired to incorporate political messages in her art.

Anno found refuge in visual art, with the entertainment industry “too square” and “too white” for her to have a place. Anno started working full-time and going to school to support her dreams of being an artist.

“Having relationships with people becomes really primary, some were even detrimental,” Anno said. “So taking my own career by the horns was the only way I found to control my own creative narrative.”

After finishing her undergraduate degree, she quickly went to graduate school and got her MFA. While Anno’s goals have always been centered around traveling and having cultural experiences with her work, she always knew she wanted to teach and inspire others.

Currently, Anno is working on a film and has participated in several exhibits, like “On the Silk Road,” which has toured along the historical Silk Road network, showcasing artists inspired by Asian art and culture in cities like San Francisco and Oakland. She has been awarded the Fleishhaker Fellowship and fellowships from the Open Circle Foundation and the Berkeley Film Foundation.

Click here to see more of Kim Anno’s art.

Jock Reynolds: Innovative Collaboration Leads To Happiness

Suitcases and steamer trunks list the station stops along the Impossible Railroad. Model trains are also running through the galleries upon whose walls historical images are being projected. Photo courtesy of Jock Reynolds.

Jock Reynolds had never thought of art as a career. Throughout the recorded conversation, he recalled how happy art made him as a child. His parents were both scholars and encouraged him to focus on academics.

Reynolds is currently the director of the Henry J. Heinz II Art Gallery at Yale University, serving as both an artist and curator. He received a Bachelor’s degree in psychology from UCSC in 1969 and a Masters of Fine Arts from UC Davis in 1972. 

“My greatest intelligence was my visual intelligence,” said Reynolds at the event. “I was going to have to insist on it myself to the detriment of some of my other academic achievements if I was going to be happy.”

Reynolds’ art, which includes performances, installations, and photographs, pushed the idea of collaboration. Working with other people is something that has inspired Reynolds throughout his life. Reynolds considers his most important collaboration to be with his wife, Suzanne Hellmuth. After working together for about four years, the two fell in love, and have continued to work together ever since, even raising their kids later on. 

Click here to see Jock Reynolds’ art.

Finding Your Own Path

Hopeful art students were encouraged to continue and pursue their dreams in visual arts with Anno, Gwyn, and Reynolds being examples of what life is like before and after graduation.

“Don’t let art classes be an example of the times of sharing your work as a student, you don’t create the deadline date for showing your work,” Anno said. “I’m very happy that no one else determines when it’s time for me to open my studio because if I was on someone else’s schedule, it would just be awfully unpleasant. But if you start to feel conviction in your ideas, then that’s the time to gravitate toward that.” 

At the end of the event, the featured guests focused their attention on relationships and relationship building — what they called an essential part of artistic expression. They said finding spaces for artistic expression that betters society, as an artist, is difficult to find without agency. 

“If you aren’t really called to make the work and know that it’s not going to necessarily be an easy choice in life to be an artist, that may not be the thing you should pursue,” said Reynolds. “But [pursue it] if you really feel it’s necessary to follow your muse and to make the things that are in your imagination.”

To view the recording of the roundtable conversation, click here.