Armory Teaching Artist: Michelle Wiener

Marshall Ayers Art, Artist Profiles, Drawing & Painting, Sponsors, Visual Arts

1382055_10102697931211057_791232145_nMichelle Wiener, received her BA in painting at the College of Creative Studies, UC Santa Barbara and her MFA in Fine Arts from Otis College of Art and Design, Los Angeles, CA. She is also an alumna of the Ryman Arts program.  Her work ranges from paintings and drawings to altered books, and ceramic sculpture. Michelle has been a Teaching Artist with the Armory Center for the Arts in Pasadena, CA since 2009 and participated in their Armory Teaching Artist Fellowship Program. The program involves learning to teach children and teens through gallery touring techniques and hands-on art making experiences in a contemporary art context.

Michelle Wiener shares her personal, professional and educational journey.

Where are you from?

Los Angeles – I was a west sider for 30 years, but recently made the move to the east side (Highland Park) two years ago, and I love it so much.

What type of art work do you do?

It has made a complete turn in the past five years.  I went from painting and drawing exclusively to now making altered book sculptures as well as ceramics.

DSC_0195.181225448_stdHow did you get your start as an artist?

I lived in an apartment for the first ten years of my life.  There was an elderly couple who lived down the hall, and my sister and I adopted them as grandparents.  It was great, because their last name was Weiner and mine was Wiener, so of course we had to be related!  Grandma Weiner was an amazing artist.  She would keep sketchbooks and paint on both sides of her canvases, so that she could flip the picture over when she got bored of looking at one side.  She taught me how to use pencils and colored pencils, but I think that seeing that she was constantly drawing displayed the work ethic of an artist.  Also, I associated art with her, and I loved her dearly.

Who or what are your major influences?

Ed Ruscha, Vija Celmins, Lari Pittman, Roy Dowell, Annetta Kapon, Amanda Keller Konya, Raymond Pettibon, Marilyn Minter, Hitchcock, food, puns, dirty jokes, Marilyn Monroe, anything cinematic, Wes Anderson, Kay Rosen, Carolee Toon, Linda Hudson

Describe your studio practice or methodology for producing your artwork.

I am stuck between feminism and femininity. My art practice examines this purgatorial state, and visually poses questions about what it means to become a woman.  My work is a coming of age narrative, almost diaristic, and yet uses imagery or text that is universal in an uncanny way.

What advice would you give a young artist just starting their career?

Don’t expect to retire, or to want to retire.

263920_10100313226418577_6067804_nWhat do you think is the right educational path to a career in the arts? Do you endorse art school over a liberal arts or university education, or do you think you should skip any type of formal art education and just get out and practice your art form?

In a perfect world, all artists would be well rounded and educated people, in every sense of the word.  An art practice needs time in order to develop, so I think that graduate school pushes an artist to sit with their work and be guided by other professional artists and their peers.  It gives you the gift of time, (hopefully) a peer group to take with you for future feedback, and of course a network of people to help you navigate the scary waters of the art scene.

What has been the single moment in your life that you knew that you would pursue a career in the arts?

After going through Ryman Arts, I felt like I could pursue a teaching career in the arts.

Did you always know you wanted to teach?

Yes, even in high school I had a plan to pursue teaching and I was inspired by my own art teachers along the way. My Dad was a teacher and I went to an arts focused high school (the Crossroads School for Arts and Sciences) so it was always in my mind.

Matt.222194004_stdYou got your MFA from Otis College of Art & Design when you were only 22. Can you tell us about why you chose to jump on that advanced degree at such a young age and the value you gained versus the student debt?

I went with a “name brand” school because it was always my intention to teach and I knew that coming out of Otis I would have the connections I needed to pursue teaching and that turned out to be true. Since it was my game plan to teach, going straight into grad school made sense for me. As to the cost, I viewed it as an investment in my career and from that standpoint the experience has been very valuable for me. I think you have to go into it with open eyes through.

Getting your MFA is about honing your own art practice. It doesn’t really teach you how to teach.

So since you didn’t learn how to teach in grad school how did you learn?

First as a teaching assistant at Otis and Ryman Arts and then through the Artist Fellowship training program through the Armory. In my teaching practice I was influenced by so many but most importantly by Rush White, Cathy Lightfoot and Carolee Toon.  Carolee was the most influential and I greatly miss her (she passed away early this month).

What was it like the first time you stood up in front of a class on your own?

The first time I stood in front of a classroom I was extremely nervous, but I remembered that I had the knowledge and the skills to get me in that position in the first place. I have learned that in order to teach you need a lot of confidence and you need to be really clear with not only what and how you explain things, but with what you expect from your students as well.
You have taught every age group from preschoolers to adults, do you have a favorite age you feel really drawn to?
No, not really. I love them all and when you teach different ages it’s a different adventure every day!

What is your artistic super power?


Tell us a secret.

I am a hoarder of images- magazine tear outs, books, ads, postcards – I keep everything! I have tons of file folders waiting to be used.
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Marshall Ayers
Arts education specialist with 25+ years experience in non-profit organizations and public educational settings. Marshall founded Artzray to create a community of young, multidisciplinary artists who are seeking professional, practical and personal career resources. Marshall lives and works in LA with her family, but hails from the east coast. When she's not working on Artzray, she would rather be sailing, reading or listening to her son play cello.
Marshall Ayers