Why Art in Unexpected Places Is Good for Your City — And Your Soul

A conversation with artist Jean Shin.

(photo: Metropolitan Transportation Authority)

Jean Shin is nationally recognized for her monumental installations that transform everyday objects into elegant expressions of identity and community. Her work has been widely exhibited in major national and international museums. An alumna of Pratt Institute, she is also an Adjunct Professor of Fine Arts at the Institute.

Your work often consists of transforming everyday objects into something else — or creating art in somewhat unexpected places. What is it about the unexpected object or place that inspires you?

Most people do not visit museums or galleries on a regular basis, so it’s an incredible honor to be able to bring art to people in the public spaces where they live, work, and commute. It’s actually those everyday environments and objects that inspire me. I’m drawn to the history and the traces that we leave behind that are often forgotten. An example of this is my recent installation Elevated in the new 63rd Street station on the Second Avenue subway line in New York City. My goal of this particular project was to produce a work of public art that transported subway riders from the daily grind of their commutes to a different time and space in New York’s rich history.

As someone who creates art in the public realm — why do you think public art initiatives are important for cities? Why is it important for the individuals who inhabit these cities?

With public art taking on a more significant role in our cities, it’s worth noting the numerous benefits it brings to our everyday lives. Whether site-specific or contrasting to its environment, what distinguishes public art is that it’s free and accessible to all viewers. The benefits go far beyond adding beauty to a shared environment. When creating a public installation, artists often produce work that reflects collective issues that we face as a society. The outcomes are unique pieces that add meaning to our cities, contribute character to our neighborhoods, and mark a time in our city’s history. Cities with dynamic cultural scenes are more attractive to inhabitants as well as businesses and frequently spur tourism and urban growth.

Just as public art brings people together and creates a sense of civic vitality for communities, it’s also restorative for the individual. Public art enhance our experience of a place, they inspire awe, and they draw out profound emotions in us. Art in the public realm often interrupts us from our day-to-day routine and encourages us to think and question what is going on in our world.

As you balance your career as a professional artist with your role as an educator, how are you preparing students — the next generation of artists — to be open to different types of careers in Fine Arts?

I’m grateful to have the opportunity to teach the next generation of artists at Pratt Institute with the experiences I’ve developed as a professional artist. In the MFA program, I teach two classes in particular, Integrated Practices where students engage in critical inquiry as generative process for making their work and Symposium, where they learn to present their work in contemporary and public contexts. I also teach internship courses at Pratt, offering students hands-on experience in professional working environment, giving them a better understanding of different models of success and build long-term relationships with larger field of art practitioners. The art world is much bigger than the gallery system (with the goal of selling work). I want to demystify the notion of art only as commodity and to show them that there are many critical ways that artists can present their creativity beyond the marketplace.

Jean Shin is currently featured in a major exhibition at the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia, Person of the Crowd: The Contemporary Art of the Flanerie through May 22, 2017 http://www.barnesfoundation.org/exhibitions/person-of-the-crowd

Shin will be a part of a panel discussion at Pratt Institute on Thursday, April 27 titled: Pratt Presents: A Conversation on the Second Avenue Subway Installations and the Role of Public Art in the City with Lester Burg and moderated by Brooke Kamin Rapaport. For more information visit https://www.pratt.edu/events/public-programs.

Originally published at medium.com

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