Dr. Nan Smith
School of Art & Art History
2016-2017 UF Doctoral Mentoring Award Winner
I am deeply honored to have been nominated by my students for the 2016-2017 MFA Doctoral Mentoring/Advisor Award. For me, mentoring is a personal and professional investment in the next generation of artistic leaders in the field of ceramic arts. My mentoring style is student centered, responsive, and encouraging. I listen, look, and offer insights to help each student navigate their research/art practice/career path. I am enthusiastic about innovative research in the visual arts and the contributions artists’ can make to society. Trust and respect are the cornerstone of any relationship and key to successfully serving as a mentor. I believe in community-building through interactive discussions about art, sharing research through presentations, and an on-line list serve where career information supports current students and alumni. MFA candidates are encouraged to take initiative, to participate in the national community of ceramic artists, and to seek opportunities that advance their career. The University of Florida’s MFA Program in Ceramics is nationally recognized as a top program in ceramic art and as such attracts top talent from peer institutions. Working with these artists as MFA candidates for the past 38 years has been both an honor and a blessing.
My role as mentor begins when a student is accepted into the program and continues beyond graduation. Every artist who enters the UF Ceramics MFA Program has my dedication and interest in their success; whether I serve as their supervisory committee chair, committee member, or faculty educator. Most MFA candidates enter our program with skills and talent in art along with an intuitive process of making art work. I assess each person’s talents, temperament, native skills and goals to educate and mentor them. They learn to develop a research agenda within the studio arts that relates to their perspective, interests, and values. The students engage in creative experimentation in diverse technical areas whereby studio skills are enhanced. They are challenged to refine aesthetics and design choices to serve concepts. We discuss creativity and how to nurture idea development. The MFA candidates work privately on studio research and production of art work. Their public outreach often begins during their MFA tenure when they apply to competitive national exhibitions, conference panels, and summer research residencies. I encourage these experiences so that these activities are part of the learning experience and become the norm for their creative practice. As a mentor I inform MFA students and alumni about opportunities and mentor them so that their applications are competitive. I teach inside the classroom, through tutorials, lectures, demonstrations, and outside the classroom by mentoring individual grant applications, residency applications, and applications for jobs. During the past 3 years I have secured special funding that sponsored five MFA figure sculptors who attended the third Figurative Symposium at the Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts. During this period I also negotiated matching funds for two MFA student scholarships to attend summer sessions at Anderson Ranch. I had one student assist me at a master class at Penland. In 2009 I curated a UF alumni exhibition for NCECA. In 2008 I arranged an exhibition of alumni figure sculptors, shown along with my sculpture in a Cincinnati gallery and reviewed in an international journal.
My role as a mentor includes functioning as a:
Role Model: I believe that an actively producing and exhibiting professional artist can best mentor a student artist who seeks a full-time career in the visual arts. My studio practice, continued research, development and production of art works that are exhibited and published serves as an example of the consistent effort this career path requires. By sharing my philosophy, work ethic, and achievements, my students can witness an example career in its ongoing evolution. Student and alumni artists in ceramics are members of the UF Ceramics list serves. The philosophy of being a creative community is very much a part of our program. These list serves have created an interactive network (240 to date) that receive information about opportunities and successes, educational information, scholarships, residency opportunities, exhibitions and much more. This outreach has been the life blood of a vibrant community of generations of UF Ceramic artists and has indeed been instrumental in establishing enthusiasm and a “culture of success” amongst the members.
Advisor: It is important that the student artist be guided in selecting areas of study during the MFA program to strengthen their practice. Insights about my student’s talent, inspiration, philosophies, which are the underpinning of why they create what they create is something gained through discussion of ideas and how they are conveyed through the art work they create. Through critiques, discussion, and individual tutorials, I gain insights to suggest course work, research topics, readings, and experiences that will inform them as artists.
Coach: I feel that positive reinforcement and trust is at the foundation of any mentor/mentee relationship. My style is to meet individually when I feel a graduate student needs to be encouraged or needs feedback on a new direction. I often speak to them about their strengths and what needs to be strengthened in their work. Change needs support, experimentation although encouraged can be uncomfortable. It is during these times that I step forward and coach.
Strategist: I hope to make the MFA students aware of resources and opportunities so that they can become self-sufficient as artists. I continue to suggest career steps, and keep the flow of opportunities forthcoming. I often discuss future career strategies, privately with a student. I support each of them through letters of recommendation as well as reviewing their applications.
Critic: I offer honest feedback about art work, during the process of making a piece as well as when it is completed. I also help students select works for a portfolio to be used for an application. I have also offered critical feedback to alumni for work following graduation when asked.
Editor: Visual artists are often uncomfortable expressing themselves in writing. However, writing needs to become a secondary skill for today’s artists. I set the benchmark for written material through required writing assignments. I meet with the student to provide editorial feedback. I suggest research publications, and often facilitate public presentations and workshops so that they gain proficiencies in these areas.
Leadership Counselor: The MFA students take a leadership role as the officers of our highly active student organization H.O.T. Clay. I have served as the faculty advisor for H.O.T. Clay for the past four years, 2013-2017. I mentor the officers about policy, activities, funding raising, their visiting artist program and “Currents’ their national juried exhibition. Leading this student group has been described as a vital experience in establishing leadership skills needed to work in a business or academic setting.
MFA alumni artists I have mentored have gone on to initiate the first Figurative Association Symposium at the Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts, and to found The Socially Engaged Craft Collective https://sociallyengagedcraftcollective.org/. Mentees’ successes include professorships at Florida Atlantic University, University of Texas at San Antonio, Kennesaw State University, Gulf Coast State College, Florida State College at Jacksonville, Northland Pioneer College. They have been awarded residencies at the International Research Center at Guldagergaard, Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts, Archie Bray Foundation, Houston Center for Contemporary Crafts, the Red Lodge, Mesa, Roswell, and Lux Art Centers. They have been recognized by NCECA as Emerging Talents, as NCECA Graduate Fellowship winners, and took the top prize in the NCECA Student Juried exhibition last year. My students have been published in Ceramics Monthly magazine, Ceramics Arts Daily, and Ceramics: Art and Perception. They are juried members of the national online resource for contemporary ceramic art; www.artaxis.org. MFA students that I have mentored have received ThinkTank Emerging Educator’s Fellowships plus scholarships from the Albert K. Murray Foundation, and the UF Women’s Club. They have regularly been awarded scholarships to attend summer programs at Watershed, Penland, Arrowmont and Anderson Ranch.