10 Questions for our alumni
Gina Pisto, BFA, Ceramics, 2016
1. Why did you choose to attend Grand Valley?
I chose Grand Valley because I wanted a liberal arts education and, as cheesy as it sounds, the general vibe of campus really stuck with me while visiting colleges. The location was also perfect. I knew I wanted to go into the arts so the proximity to Chicago was good, and it's close enough to downtown Grand Rapids that commuting from the city was easy.
2. How or why did you choose your major or main emphasis area?
I truly didn't seek out ceramics when I first got to school, I thought I was going to be a painter and teach high school students. While taking electives for the art education requirement I had my first Intro to Ceramics class in 2013. and really fell in love with the challenges of the medium. I decided to not pursue teaching fairly quickly, but I continued taking both painting and ceramics classes for a few semesters. I ultimately ended up sticking with clay because it felt like the most effective medium for me to articulate the ideas I was interested in, and I liked that it always encouraged me to creative problem solve in new ways.
3. What advice do you have for future students thinking about colleges?
Do your research. A school can look great on paper, but until you visit it, talk to the students truly in the thick of it, and talk with some faculty you really can't know. Think about what kind of environment you wouldn't mind spending 4 or 5 years in, and even longer if you choose to and are able to find work in that area upon graduation. I also can't recommend enough getting away from your hometown if you have the means to do so. Grand Valley is about 5 hours away from where I grew up in Ohio, and though it was intimidating to go to a school where I didn't know anyone and I wasn't that familiar with the area, it was very formative for my growth as a person. There's nothing wrong with staying where you grew up, but it's worth remembering that putting yourself in uncomfortable and challenging situations is how you learn, grow, and develop, and there's no better time than college to do those things and get out of your comfort zone.
4. What advice do you have for current students thinking about careers?
Don't put too much pressure on yourself. Making and selling work on a regular basis isn't for everyone. Teaching isn't for everyone. Do what you need to do to make the things that you love. Sometimes your priorities can shift, and that's okay too. How you decide to be an artist is up to YOU, there's no formula for it, and something that works for one person may not work for someone else, so don't stress too much if you fumble around trying to figure it out.
5. What did you do after graduating?
After I graduated I stayed at Grand Valley doing a 1-credit independent study in ceramics so I was able to access the facilities I needed to make my work, and receive the mentorship I wanted as I applied for post-bac programs, residencies, and shows. Once I finally actually was done at GV, I stayed around in Grand Rapids and made work at a local pottery studio for a few months before I moved to Richmond, VA to complete a post-bac at Virginia Commonwealth University in the Crafts and Material Studies department.
6. What are you doing now?
Currently I'm in the thick of graduation applications for Fall 2019, but I'm still living and working in Richmond. I work for a local ceramic store called Clayworks Supplies Inc, I'm the studio assistant that fires the kilns at the Visual Arts Center of Richmond, and I work as a server at night. I'm also continuing to make my work in my home studio, and I'm selling in pop-up shows and the Quirk Gallery in the arts district of Richmond.
7. How have you used the skills you developed in your field of study in your life and/or career after GVSU?
The most important thing I learned while at Grand Valley was that failure is a way to learn and that it's okay. Not everything works the way that you may expect, and everything you make doesn't have to be a masterpiece. I keep this in mind everyday when I'm in my studio, or even when I'm at work. Of course I give complete credit of my knowledge about ceramics and ceramic processes to Grand Valley. I'm not only able to make the things I need to make in my studio, but I'm also better equipped for my jobs at Clayworks and the Visual Arts Center where I'm engaging with folks all the time about clay.
8. What is the best advice you got from an instructor at Grand Valley?
Work makes work. Hoon Lee told me that a few years ago, and I kept it stuck up on my studio wall for a while because it was, and still is, the best advice I've gotten.
9. What is your favorite memory of being a student at Grand Valley?
"It's hard to pick one, but probably walking into the studio and knowing that anything I wanted to do, I could. The resources at Grand Valley are amazing, and not just the facilities, but the outstanding faculty and larger community of students. It truly felt like everyone there wanted you to succeed, and having that affirmation and guidance at your fingertips was really unforgettable."
10. Anything else you would like to share with our Visual and Media Arts Community?
Make the work you need to make, create opportunities, and don't be afraid to ask for help.
Image Credits: Gina Pisto. You can see Gina's portfolio at https://www.ginapisto.com/2018.html