Remote MU, A Special Series of Inside Mizzou: Thriving Creativity

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May 12, 2020

Whether it’s in our labs, classrooms or studios, the MU community is accustomed to innovative thinking. Even during these unprecedented times, our students, faculty and staff continue to make virtual connections and show their Tiger resilience. Across the disciplines, our community is finding unique ways to share experiences that bring us all together.

On this week’s episode of Remote MU, we talk with Kearra Johnson, a senior earning her Bachelor of Fine Arts in Art with an emphasis in Graphic Design; and Zoe Rich, a junior earning her Bachelor of Arts in Art and Marketing. Together, we discuss how Mizzou artists are overcoming challenges, finding inspiration and staying creative during this extraordinary moment.

More about Inside Mizzou


Moderator: [00:00:11] From the classroom to the cornfield, journalism to SEC athletics — and now to computer screens around the world — the University of Missouri works 52 weeks a year, every year. This is Remote MU, a special edition series of Inside Mizzou that explores the real stories, real discoveries and real impact of our remote community. This episode of Remote MU is called, “Thriving Creativity.” Innovation and creativity have always defined our Mizzou community. But in this time of physical distancing, Tigers are finding even more uniqueways to make their mark. From Zoom classes and digital hangouts, to Mizzou’s virtual celebration for graduates, the University of Missouri is creating new ways to gather, celebrate and share the many voices that make up our campus. Today on Remote MU, we’re going to talk with two members of Mizzou’s vibrant community of artists. They’ll share a bit about how they’ve adapted their creative processes to this new normal, and how that influences the work they do. Joining me over Zoom to talk more about this are Kearra Johnson, a senior earning her bachelor of fine arts with an emphasis in graphic design. Kearra is also the creative lead for Relevant Youth, the student marketing organization on campus. and Zoe Rich, a junior earning her bachelor of arts in art and marketing. Welcome, everyone. Thank you for joining me today.

Kearra Johnson: [00:01:20] Hello. Hello.

Zoe Rich: [00:01:21] Hi.

Moderator: [00:01:23] So the first question is for both of you. How have your classes adapted to remote learning, and how does this shift change your studio courses? Kearra, we’ll go ahead and start with you.

Kearra Johnson: [00:01:33] Ok. So I was taking some graphic design courses as well as a screen printing class. So those were the art classes I was taking. So the graphic design class is like technically remote anyway. We don’t have to meet up to do our work, so doing the work for that class hasn’t really changed. It’s just in a sense of being physically there and being able to critique with our peers and stuff like that. And then I had a screen printing class. So that’s like studio work, so you have to be there to do things. You can’t really do them at home unless you have that equipment. So that’s kind of like in the air — she just tells us we can basically just do whatever inspires us and just kind of check in with her to make sure we’re still working. But overall the art instructors are kind of just not pressuring us because art is like you have to be inspired to do. You have to feel like being creative. They’re kind of like thinking that we’re tired, so they’re just like, “Do whatever brings you joy in this time, as long as you’re working.” So that’s how my classes are going.

Zoe Rich: [00:02:45] Yeah. So building off Kearra’s points about graphic design classes, I’m also in a couple right now. And what you said about professors being really flexible and not like pushing us too hard and being very open to creativity and whatever brings us joy — that’s the same experience I’ve been having in my classes. I have Jean Brueggenjohann. She’s one of the graphic design professors right now, and she’s been really amazing about being flexible with deadlines and then helping us with our work and helping us be creative and pushing us in new directions. She’s been giving us a lot of really good feedback online for all of our stuff instead of doing critiques, which has been beneficial because we’re still getting some of the feedback we would be getting in classes. Though not all of it. Even though I’m not in a painting class right now, I go to the painting lab quite frequently. And so that’s been a bummer, not to be able to go in and engage with like that side of the creative process. I have a few friends that are in painting and ceramics classes, and I know some of those classes have taken to doing digital art instead of oil painting. So painting in Photoshop. And I was talking to one of my friends about it, and he was saying like, “Well, I’m really sad that I don’t get to paint anymore, but this is a cool opportunity as well.” So I think all-in-all, that our program has been really adaptable, which has been nice, especially for something that takes up so much time. And if you’re having struggles, especially mental health struggles at this time, it can be draining to be creative. So having that adaptability has been amazing.

Moderator: [00:04:28] And you both make great points, especially just from the mindset of a creative, which I can definitely relate to. Another question for you, Zoe. Does this situation have any effect on you as an artist, such as your process or the medium you’re producing in?

Zoe Rich: [00:04:44] Yeah. So I think since quarantine started, I’ve been doing a lot more physical art instead of digital art. I’ve been embroidering a lot, which I haven’t really taken the time to do in a couple of years. And it’s been really nice to engage with that side of my creativity because it’s not really something I take the time to do when we’re not in this situation. I think my creative process is kind of slowed down a little bit, too. I think with less distinction between work and home life it’s kind of created an interesting duality in one place — wherein there isn’t as much separation. So it’s harder to kind of divvy up time for things. But I have been working on a new project, which has been cool.

Moderator: [00:05:38] Definitely cool. And then what about you, Kearra. As a senior this year, how is this shift impacted any final creative projects you’ve been working on?

Kearra Johnson: [00:05:46] So I feel like once classes and everything kind of stopped, dealing with that emotional toll and everything kind of like discouraged me with the projects that were class courses. Like it just inspired me to take on more personal projects, stuff that I actually enjoy, which I had been doing, and then taking on more projects that are like business related, like commissions and things like that. It’s shifted my focus, definitely.

Moderator: [00:06:13] Makes sense. And then another question for both of you. Does being at home present any obstacles to staying creative? And if so, how do you overcome these difficulties?

Kearra Johnson: [00:06:24] Well, so I went back home to Kansas City for about a week for spring break. And I’m definitely more focused here, like in my own space. You know, I could just sit at my desk and just get to it. So I definitely stay more focused in Columbia than KC. It’s just like a comfortability thing, where I feel comfortable being centered and creative, especially since back home when I was there, you couldn’t leave the house. So I couldn’t like escape to Starbucks or anything like that. So definitely being here at Columbia keeps me focused.

Zoe Rich: [00:06:58] Yeah, I’ve been at home the whole time. And I’ve got to say, sometimes it definitely feels like regressing back to high school. Like you said, I also feel like I’m focused more on Columbia. So that’s been a pretty big obstacle. I also think a big thing for me is that Mizzou has such a collaborative artistic community. And so not getting to be around those other forces — whether it be in class or out — it’s kind of draining not be able to be around there, listen to their projects and talk about our own. So like talking to people either over Zoom or, you know, just putting an extra effort to reach out and really engage with other people has been really helpful in keeping on top of projects and stuff.

Moderator: [00:07:47] No, of course, that definitely make sense. That’s another reason I didn’t go home. I couldn’t go home. I wouldn’t be doing anything except my chores that my mom wants me to do.

Everyone: [00:07:57] (laughing)

Moderator: [00:07:57] Anyway, even though this is such a strange and difficult moment for everyone, is there anything that inspires you artistically? Are there any special projects that you guys have been working on specifically during this time that you guys would like to speak on?

Kearra Johnson: [00:08:15] Kind of like taking this time to not focus so much on what everybody else is doing has kept me creating. But honestly just having time to focus on what you want to do and what you want to see created, and that’s just really kept me going. I don’t know if I can name things specifically — not because it’s like a secret or anything — but I’ve just been working on a lot of like freelance stuff from back home. My cousin has a food truck, so I’ve been working on the branding for that. He wants me to do the logo and then the truck design and everything, so that’s like a good challenge because it’s kind of like taking what he has now and then being able to actually rebrand it. And like I said, it’s a real truck, so I feel like I’m doing like some authentic work. It’s called, “The Food Factory,” and it’s based in Kansas City. So it’s been taking on a challenge because it’s kind of like a level up in the work that I do. So that’s been exciting.

Moderator: [00:09:15] For sure.

Zoe Rich: [00:09:15] I think for me, looking and seeing what other people are doing has been really inspiring. I follow a bunch of other graphic artists on Instagram, and just kind of seeing what they’re producing has been really cool. And there’ve been some fun drawing challenges that have come out from this. That being said, I also think it’s important, like as artists, that we realize that creativity can sometimes be like a finite resource. And so looking at other people but also realizing that you don’t have to be at peak productivity all of the time, and it’s OK if you’re producing less or not at all in this time because it’s stressful and hard for all of us. And so kind of like putting that into perspective. Personal project wise, I decided I’m going to take time and do a personal passion project. So I started researching and illustrating different cryptids, which has been really fun because it’s completely different than something I normally do for class and can do whatever I want with it.

Kearra Johnson: [00:10:20] That’s exciting.

Moderator: [00:10:23] Very, very. So then for you, Kearra, have you found any unique ways to mark the end of your time at Mizzou, seeing that you are about to graduate.

Kearra Johnson: [00:10:33] No. Honestly, it’s a little sad because we don’t really get like an exciting cap to our years. So I’ve just been trying to do what I can, honestly — just trying to wait things out and see what I actually can do. I’m going to take some graduation pictures next week, so that’s exciting. I’m going to hang out with my friends one last time. We’re going to safely have fun. So that’s about it. And then of course my auntie, like my family, might do something for me once I get back to KC. So, yeah, I’m just doing what I can honestly, and trying to enjoy people here before everybody leaves.

Moderator: [00:11:13] Yeah, that’s all we can do. And then last question for you all. Creativity is something that I think all of us are embracing right now. We’re being creative in the ways we live, the ways we work and the ways we connect. So even though it seems like some things are starting to change a bit, how can the Mizzou community stay creative in the weeks ahead?

Kearra Johnson: [00:11:29] I would say just keep creating and then try to like keep a community within that. Because I know Mizzou is pretty spread out, so kind of like when you’re here and you got like a small group, I would just say continue to build that community, share stories of creativity, share fun and inspiration of things that you’re up to and just keep the community.

Moderator: [00:11:29] Agreed.

Zoe Rich: [00:11:58] I agree. Keeping that community is really important.

Kearra Johnson: [00:12:02] I saw that Truman went out to somebody’s block and did a drive-thru “I Choose Mizzou” Day. And that was pretty cool, so, you know, stuff like that is exciting.

Zoe Rich: [00:12:15] I was also going to say that, even though both of us are artists, and there’s like, you know, inherently creativity in art, art isn’t the only thing with creativity in it. We can all engage in creativity in any aspect of all of our days. You know, like coming up with a new yoga flow. That’s creativity.

Kearra Johnson: [00:12:35] I did yoga for these past two weeks, and it’s great. I start my morning off with it. It’s new to me, so it’s exciting to take on that challenge. Cooking is a way to stay creative.

Zoe Rich: [00:12:47] Yes.

Kearra Johnson: [00:12:48] That’s all I’ve been doing is cooking, doing yoga and art.

Zoe Rich: [00:12:48] That sounds like the ideal life.

Moderator: [00:12:57] Yeah, I actually started, you know, learning how to actually cook-cook. Like I got by before, but this has made me actually learn how to put some decent dishes together. Definitely exciting about that for sure. And also, one thing I will add is I like what you guys said about creativity not being solely a part of art. You know — like you both being artists — I’ve gotten creative around my house. Just thinking of different ways I want my house to look and, you know, things I can find or things I can do to make that work. Even finding at home workouts, which I didn’t do initially when this started. But things like that, just to help you keep busy. I think that’s the biggest thing, is just whether it’s being creative or whether it’s just staying mentally stimulated. Being busy is important because it’s very easy to just get stuck in not doing anything during these times. So I think that’s probably the biggest advice I would give to the Mizzou community moving ahead as well. Like I said that was the last question for you all. Thank you again so much for joining us.

Kearra Johnson: [00:14:00] Stay creative, stay safe and be healthy.

Zoe Rich: [00:14:05] Yeah.

Moderator: [00:14:05] Agreed. That’s great advice. Our audio engineer is Aaron Hay. Our featured music is composed by MU master’s student Niko D. Schroeder and performed by the Donald Sinta Quartet. You can find more information about Niko, the Quartet and their piece on the Inside Mizzou webpage. Make sure to join us next time to stay on top of what’s happening with our remote community. Thanks for joining us for this special edition series, Remote MU. Stay strong Mizzou.