Professor: You can make career choosing integrity in the arts

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October 10, 2019

By Mike Killeen

Sam at wheel

Sam Johnson

Some students – and quite possibly mom and dad – might be skeptical about majoring in art.

After all, we’ve all heard stories about starving artists eating Ramen Noodles for 14 straight days.

“I think students are curious about what it means to live and work as an artist,” said Sam Johnson, professor of art at the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John’s University. “They want to know what it means to choose beauty and to live with integrity in the arts.”

But Johnson knows a little about that choice. An exhibit of his work closed Aug. 10 in Copenhagen. It was his third major exhibition in the last year, following a pair of exhibits in 2018 in New York City.

On Nov. 16-22, he’ll have another exhibit on display (by appointment) at the Entoten Gallery in San Diego.

“We have a thriving art department with a very active faculty,” Johnson said. “Each of our faculty members are practicing artists who are each engaged in the creation and exhibition of their artwork.”

Johnson says students see this every day, whether they know it not.

“When working with a student who is making their own way in art, there are moments where we are really not that far apart because the artistic struggle is more or less the same at any point in one’s career,” Johnson said.

“Experience helps. But the fundamental questions, the searching, continues to be deeply personal regardless of age and status,” Johnson continued. “Having engaged and active artists teaching art puts the student and professor into a mutually engaged relationship, and I know this increases the chance that an art student will want to come to CSB and SJU.”

Johnson was part of an exhibit called “Alle Tiders – Krukker,” which loosely translates to “All Times – Jars.”

“As I understand it, the title conveyed the feeling that some forms are classic, or perhaps, timeless, in their ability to communicate poetically. They operate outside of time,” Johnson said.

Johnson said he wasn’t aware of the title of the exhibition or its theme when he sent the items to gallerist and curator Ann Linnemann.

“The gallery did tell me about the other exhibiting artists and I was aware of their work,” Johnson said. “I sent work that I thought would best relate and offer contrasts to their work.

“My view is that Ann was interested in exposing her Scandinavian audience to a broader perspective on the possibilities of art with respect to ceramics. My work offered a counterpoint to a common understanding of a Danish perspective on ceramic art,” Johnson said.

As far as Johnson is concerned, the more exhibitions the better it is for both the artist and their students.

“The more the work, its ideas and meaning is shared with a broader audience, it adds to the cultural discourse,” Johnson said. “It also raises the visibility of CSB/SJU and highlights our thriving Art Department.

“It may be rare at other institutions to be a part of exhibitions like this, but not at Saint Ben’s and Saint John’s,” Johnson said.