3 Questions with Mary Smull
Artist Mary Smull on saying yes, complaining, and staying connected to other artists.
3 QUESTIONS is a 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.
“Say yes to everything.”
What advice would you offer current students about to embark on a career in the arts?
When I left school, I got one important piece of advice that really stuck with me: say “yes” to everything, to any opportunity to show your work, or write, or teach. Even if it’s new for you, even if you’re afraid you might not be able to do it. Usually, when you are afraid you might not be able to do something, what you’re really afraid of is that you might not be able to do it perfectly. It turns out, you don’t have to do everything perfectly – you just have to be willing to do your absolute best.
How do you maintain your creative practice? What keeps you motivated and engaged?
The best thing about graduate school is the dialogue – it’s this incredible time to work surrounded by colleagues who care passionately about art-making and are ready and willing to engage with you about your practice, or theirs, or art happening by others, at any time. Shortly after leaving graduate school, I joined a curatorial collective in Philadelphia – Grizzly Grizzly – which provided that kind of community and discourse. I’ve never needed much motivation to work in the studio, because I really enjoy that – but staying connected to other artists is what motivates me to show my work, and it gives me energy for teaching and writing. Also, it’s a genuine pleasure to reach out to other artists and show their work, if you’re moved by what they are doing.
Could you describe a moment or experience that profoundly changed the nature of your work?
I think I had a sort of “a-ha” moment in my first year of grad school – a few things happened serendipitously, at roughly the same time. My husband complained about the labor-intensive nature of my work at almost the same time my grandmother was trying to get me to finish her unfinished textile projects circa 1965. Also, as a grad student, I was hearing my fellow students complain about critiquing art that they felt their colleagues hadn’t “worked hard enough” to produce – just then, my first year review came in, and the feedback was that I was doing some interesting stuff but there was worry that I wasn’t “finishing” enough works. Then it hit me – this was the conversation I wanted my art practice to address, that I would wrestle with these external pressures and internalized judgments regarding labor and virtue.
MARY SMULL is an artist, writer, and curator living in Philadelphia, PA. She merges object and action in a practice centered around textile processes to expose the diversity of attitudes toward labor and the complex relationships surrounding art and craft, amateur and professional, producers and consumers. Recently, Smull’s work has been exhibited at the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia International Airport, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Temple Contemporary, Bridgette Mayer Gallery, Philadelphia, PA, and at the Houston Center for Contemporary Craft, Public Fiction Gallery in Los Angeles, CA, Cranbrook Museum of Art in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. In 2013 and 2014, Smull will be featured in exhibitions at the Racine Art Museum in Racine, WI, and the Craft Alliance, in St. Louis, MO. Smull holds a BFA from the University of the Arts, Philadelphia, PA and an MFA from Cranbrook Academy of Art, Bloomfield Hills, MI, and currently teaches in the Fiber Department at the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore, MD.