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Experimenting with Work, Money, Love

Experimenting with Work, Money, Love

RISD students clearly understand how to coax their craft – as evidenced by works born out of their studios.

RISD students clearly understand how to coax their craft – as evidenced by works born out of their studios. But to give them the tools necessary to sustain their practices in the professional world, Jennifer Liese, director of the RISD Writing Center, and Liz Collins 91 TX/MFA 99 TX, associate professor of Textiles, developed Work, Money, Love: Practices of Art and Design, a new interdisciplinary graduate course made possible by a two-year grant from the Marketplace Empowerment for Artists program sponsored by the Emily Hall Tremaine Foundation.

Offered for the first time last spring, the course drew together 20 students from 11 departments, including Painting, Architecture and Jewelry + Metalsmithing. A series of readings, lectures and field trips allowed them to explore “models, philosophies, strategies and skills” designed to help establish “flexible, sustainable practices in art and design” once they graduate, Liese explains.

According to Brian Goldberg, dean of Graduate Studies, the class took a multi-pronged approach to making the transition from RISD studios to working in the outside world. “It’s about understanding your creative practice as part of everyday life, with all of its complex and nourishing contingencies: economics, politics, community, family and friendship,” he notes.

Work, Money, Love took students off campus to learn directly from practicing artists and designers. In March they visited the Armory Show in Manhattan, one of the world’s busiest art marketplaces. They also met with an art advisor, a curator, a critic and an arts lawyer to get an “insider’s view into the art world,” says Liese, adding that “understanding the roles of professionals who support artists and designers is imperative to being empowered.”

In New York students also learned practical lessons about fiscal responsibility – one of the keys to sustaining creative practices – from some of the best in the industry. At a day-long series of talks at the Cabinet Magazine headquarters in Brooklyn, Amy Whittaker, a writer with both an MFA and an MBA, discussed how artists and designers might define their own “creative economics of practice.” A.L. Steiner talked about Working Artists and the Greater Economy (WAGE), the group she cofounded that advocates for artists being compensated not just with exhibition “exposure” but with fair wages for their work.

For the last session of the semester, the class traveled to Mildred’s Lane, an artists’ collaborative in rural Pennsylvania run by Morgan Puett and Mark Dion. There, students got a first-hand look into communal living as it relates to artistic practice. In addition to fostering friendships over home-cooked meals, they built an enormous bonfire, planted seeds representing their professional goals in a garden, and generally carried out what Pruett calls the “ethics of comportment” – the act of taking care of others, and in turn, the environment.

Toward the end of the semester, the students drafted a group manifesto to outline their values and ambitions. The text is filled with as many questions as answers, which didn’t surprise the instructors. “Rather than a how-to guide to creative professional practice,” Liese explains, the course “offered a chance to think individually and collectively about the history, opportunities, vulnerabilities and stakes of creative professional practice.

Students plan to pocket the lessons learned as a “toolset for future growth,” according to one. “What I feel I’m walking away with are various perspectives – perspectives that will help me evaluate and reevaluate these issues as they relate to me in the future,” noted another student.

The experimental course will be offered again in the spring of 2013, with a new mix of faculty and guest lecturers.Goldberg is pleased with the first iteration of the course, and hopes to continue developing it and additional, related courses as part of the Graduate Studies curriculum. “What I find compelling about Work, Money, Love is how it locates professional practice within broader historical and theoretical considerations,” he explains. “It supports students with practical skills and insights, but also provides a broad context in which they can imagine, and invent, a life in art and design.”