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Pacific Northwest College of Art  Online Magazine  Portland, OR

3 Questions

3 Questions with Sarah McNeil

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Artist Sarah McNeil on cultivating a sense of humor, engaging conversations, and pursuing inner geekdom.

3 QUESTIONS is series of brief, three-question interviews with PNCA’s visiting artists and lecturers. Each year, PNCA attracts innovative, thoughtful, and creative makers and thinkers who share our belief in the transformative power of creativity. In three short answers to three short questions, these artists offer perspectives on career, motivation, and transformation. When available, we include links to audio recordings, transcripts, slideshows, or video.

The Low-Residency MFA in Visual Studies welcomes Sarah McNeil as part of the 2012-2013 Graduate Visiting Artist Lecture Series. You can listen to a podcast of her lecture here.



“The most meaningful research I do
occurs outside of the studio.”


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Photo via puppetsinprague.eu.

What advice would you offer current students about to embark on a career in the arts?

Most importantly to maintain a sense of humor, I think it is actually a necessity in this field. Being able to recognize humor, even during times of darkness, is a survival skill that I actively promote as an especially useful (and often ignored) tool during waves of artistic growth and development.

Also, to stay open and aware to the variety of different creative potentials available for yourself. As Artists, we are trained to be creative problem solvers, so do not be afraid to carve out a place of your own if the opportunity presents itself.

Lastly, give yourself permission to be a nerd and to pursue the path leading towards your own inner geekdom. I promise you will not regret it!


How do you maintain your creative practice? What keeps you motivated and engaged?

With a deep investment into the pursuit of ideas that peak my curiosity, I find I am never bored or short of paths to follow. This kind of research can take many forms but is always inspired first by life experiences.

Mining outmoded technology and scientific thinking, reading equal amounts of fiction and non-fiction, watching films, gardening, and travel, all contribute to the exterior layers of my projects. This being said, the most meaningful research I do occurs outside of the studio, in conversations with people from all walks of life, and these stories are what really get me fired up and excited about artmaking.

Could you describe a moment or experience that profoundly changed the nature of your work?


I recently returned from a fellowship where I studied traditional Czech puppetry and puppet animation in Prague. Unlike the United States, where it is often associated only with children’s television, in the Czech Republic puppetry is thickly woven into the culture. Performances regularly occur in galleries and museums, as parts of operas and other adult oriented theater, in circus shows, and regularly found on the sidewalks. The experience of studying and living in a place where performing objects saturate the environment, and are rooted in a fertile history, has greatly impacted the current direction of my work.






SARAH MCNEIL is a story-teller whose work combines sculptural installation and contemporary animation. Growing up in a family of antique auctioneers in a small town on the coast of Maine she inherited a collector’s love of handcrafted objects, historic artifacts & the richly layered narratives behind them. In her art practice, McNeil re-examines historic thinking and outmoded technologies to provoke thinking about the contemporary world we inhibit. Her sculptural installations combine embedded, or projected, stop motion animations, which act as a breathing mechanism, allowing the space to come alive.

— Posted on 06/18 at 02:03 PM

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