In second year, Padnos Distinguished Artist-in-Residence emphasizing the role of gumption for artists to create their own art world

As Sean Carney was settling into his first year as the Padnos Distinguished Artist-in-Residence amid a pandemic, he was curious about how those conditions might spark his creativity.

"I was inspired in an unlikely way in terms of art; it came to fruition in a different way, interestingly through writing," Carney said. "I turned to things I could do when I was holed up by myself."

His subjects included the difficulties do-it-yourself urban artists are facing trying to live in increasingly expensive cities, along with what he called a pilgrimage to see land art in Utah, including Nancy Holt's "Sun Tunnels." 

Sean Carney looks off to the side while sitting outside a building.
Sean Carney describes himself as an interdisciplinary artist.
Image Credit: Kendra Stanley-Mills

These land art works were created decades ago by artists who wanted to get outside of the gallery to do something different -- and faced puzzled responses, Carney said.

What he hopes this experience will help him impart to students: "Reconsider what gets to be called art. That's what changes the course of art history."

These writings reflect Carney's interdisciplinary approach to art, which also includes an emphasis on challenging convention to create an art world wherever you are. He wants students to see limitless possibilities for their art.

As he heads into his second year of the special role in the Department of Visual and Media Arts, which is designed to help students understand the business side and marketplace of the art world, he plans to invite speakers who can help students and the entire Grand Valley community see the broad view of the art world.

The first scheduled speaker also takes an interdisciplinary approach and specializes in making an art community wherever he is, Carney said. Azikiwe Mohammed, based in New York, is involved in a wide range of projects, from a series of elaborate installations which take the form of neighborhood second-hand shops to studio work to his free art school, the Black Painters Academy, Carney said.

There will be a presentation by Mohammed at 7:30 p.m. September 14 under a tent outside the Seidman Center on the Pew Grand Rapids Campus. At 5 p.m. September 15 at the Calder Fine Arts Center, Mohammed will lead a conversation with students about the salient issues artists face. Both events are free.

"His work shows there's not one way that you're supposed to do this necessarily," Carney said. "If you have the gumption you invent the context for your work, and that can be very liberating for students."

Sean Carney stands partially in the shade, partially in the sunlight.
"I want to embolden students to break new artistic ground. If a student goes really big on an assignment and it totally crashes, that's not such a bad thing. We can always reflect critically, revise, and then finesse new processes on the next project."
Image Credit: Kendra Stanley-Mills

His students last year also demonstrated how to create art within the context of where they find themselves, he said. He taught a course that normally calls for students to create and present art in a public context, but pandemic limitations thwarted that intent. 

Carney said he instead asked students to research and interpret artistically an urban legend or oddity of their hometowns.

He said as many students kept researching, they got beyond a funny story and found cultural, social, economic or environmental issues to explore. Their work ranged from a short film to a series of paintings.

"They stepped up and really impressed with the projects they did," Carney said.