3 Questions with Miriam Harris
Filmmaker and animator Miriam Harris on pragmatism, holding down other jobs, and throwing caution to the winds.
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.
“Risk! Risk anything!”
What advice would you offer current students about to embark on a career in the arts?
My advice would be to intermingle your passion for creativity with a healthy pragmatism. The arts undoubtedly play a pivotal role in such hugely important areas as cultural vibrancy, personal growth, creative expression, environmental sustenance, and beauty, community connectedness, and health, etc, so don’t let anyone question your desire to pursue this path. As the NZ writer Katherine Mansfield wrote: “Risk! Risk anything! Care no more for the opinion of others, for those voices. Do the hardest thing on earth for you. Act for yourself. Face the truth.”
At the same time, a sense of realism is also required: jobs are not going to just fall into your lap, and in the current climate of high student debt and the growing corporatization of education, one cannot blindly subscribe to romantic dreams of working within a Montmartre garret or New York loft, with an extensive clientele of collectors who pay hefty amounts for your creations. A career in the arts usually means maintaining other jobs alongside your creative practice, such as teaching, running a small business, cab driving, or garden gnome-painting (I did this one summer). As an animator and digital artist, I’d also encourage students to consider the growing amount of jobs and projects associated with the Web, eBooks, multi-media, and interactivity, rather than just waiting on tables in order to financially support yourself.
How do you maintain your creative practice? What keeps you motivated and engaged?
I’m a Senior Lecturer in Graphics and Animation at Unitec New Zealand, a polytechnic in Auckland, and feel very lucky to be engaged with these disciplines on a daily basis with students at tertiary level. It keeps the creative cogs going round in my head, and I learn a lot from the students, and am frequently inspired by them. Some other things that motivate me are gallery visits, literature and music, poring over art books, wild and wonky folk art, the online perusal of great animation and motion graphic sequences, stimulating discussions with friends, periods of reflection and meditation by the beach or in the New Zealand bush (woods). Working to deadlines – whether it be for commercial or fine arts-based projects – really assists my animation practice, and I try to maintain a fairly regular output, even if things don’t chug along totally smoothly.
Could you describe a moment or experience that profoundly changed the nature of your work?
I initially studied both Fine Arts and Literature, and found that my work often incorporated temporal concerns, together with text and image amalgamations. Ever since I was a kid I was drawn towards animation and comics, but while I was an undergraduate (during the late ‘80s), there were no courses in Auckland focusing specifically on animation. In 2001-02, I threw caution to the wind, and through a combination of savings and a scholarship, completed Post Graduate Certificates in Digital Animation and Visual Effects at Sheridan College in Toronto, Canada, one of the top animation colleges in Northern America. That experience was fundamental in attaining the skills to express myself through the medium of animation; a medium that moves, delights, and consistently energises me.
MIRIAM HARRIS is a Senior Lecturer in Graphic Design and Animation at Unitec New Zealand. In 2011 she completed her PhD with a thesis entitled “Words and Images That Move: The relationship between text and drawing in the animated film and graphic novel.” She has had essays published in Animated Worlds (2007) edited by Suzanne Buchan, and The Jewish Graphic Novel (2009) edited by Ranen Omer-Sherman and Samantha Baskind. She is also an animation practitioner, and her collaborative film Soaring, Roaring, Diving, made with composer Juliet Palmer, won the Best Experimental Film award at the 2009 Brooklyn International Film Festival, New York.