Profiles in Art: The Female Gaze Team

Maybe you’ve seen our series “Profiles in Art” , which follows female professionals in the visual arts. But were you ever curious about the writers here at the Female Gaze? Wonder no more because this week we’re sitting down and answering the questions we’ve sent out to our interviewees. We are feminist scholars that all came to Massachusetts for school but are now based throughout the United States, from East Coast to West Coast and everywhere in between.

AW: Annie Wang

TKC: Tiffany Chan

CSH: Catherine Harlow

KEC: Katie Constantine

Q: What is your story? How did you fall in love with your current field of work/study?

AW: Art has always been a part of my life, but I fell into theatre mostly by accident. I didn’t go in to college thinking I would do theatre at all (I majored in Art History and Film), but I ended up joining two student theatre organizations and was actively involved all four years. After I graduated, I left it behind me–or so I thought. Last year was the first time I ever considered that I could have a career in the performing arts, but dramaturgy turns out to be perfect for me–it’s the perfect combination of artistic and scholarly work. I’ve had a weird and diverse set of professional experiences throughout my life, so I know that I could be successful in a variety of different fields, which makes my choice to pursue the arts feel even more empowering.

TKC: I’ve written already about why architecture interests me, but looking through my academic portfolio, I’ve definitely gravitated towards domestic architecture, post WWI. Honestly the first time I learned about design from that era in my high school class, I don’t think I really internalized or paid attention to it (though I have always loved Fallingwater). I really latched on to domestic architecture when I revisited it in college, particularly the aesthetic of Mid-century Modern. Putting aside the fact that it is now trendy again, looking at those spaces was the first time I felt like they could have been made for me (if I had several millions more than I do). Skyscrapers are very American and glamourous but I felt like I could connect with the spaces and pieces in a way that I hadn’t before.

CSH:  For as long as I can remember, I have always been drawing.  Making art has always been one of my favorite things to do.  As I grew older, I made it a priority to take visual art classes whenever I could.  When I finally learned how to paint, I found I loved it even more than drawing.  I love the search for just the right color.  By the time I started college, I was open to other possibilities, but I was pretty sure I would major in Studio Art.  I believe I made the right decision to double major in Studio Art and Art History, since art is such an integral part of who I am. Right now my day job is not at all related to art or creative work, but while I find it difficult to carve out time for painting, I am making a strong attempt at it and trying to strategize how best to start selling my artwork.


Q: What are the greatest rewards of your job?

AW: I love working together as part of a creative team, I love to learn, and I love to teach. Dramaturgy allows me to combine all of those things because I get to really dig deep into a text, do a lot of historical, contextual, and artistic research, and then I get to work with other artists to present something that will hopefully end up being really valuable and impactful to the cast, crew, and audience. In my previous work as a techie, the greatest reward was getting to work with thousands of students from all over the world, and advocating for them as they seek to improve their lives.


Q: What are the biggest challenges you faced at your job?

AW: No one really knows what dramaturgy is, and I feel like my understanding of it changes every time I try to explain. In tech (though I know this is absolutely true in the arts as well), it was overcoming racial and gender bias within the industry–particularly after coming out of an educational environment where I was surrounded by incredibly diverse women.


Q: What was your professional path like? How did you get to this job?

AW: Long story short (but not that short), I graduated thinking I was going to do non-profit arts/community development, since both of my internships during college were in development. Turns out that entry-level positions are hard to come by, so I ended up taking the first job I was offered that allowed me to move to the Bay Area, which was a customer support role in educational technology. I always knew I wanted to go to grad school, and that I wanted to continue studying Asian American and contemporary American media, so I planned to get my MA in American Studies. That didn’t work out for a myriad of reasons, so I stayed in tech for another year, where I eventually realized that what I really wanted to do was make theatre. Now I’m about to start an MFA in Dramaturgy, and hoping to make my way as an artist, scholar, and activist.

Working in tech actually taught me more than I expected about the importance to access–to education, and to the arts–and my experience actually made me stand out as an MFA candidate. Just because your experience isn’t directly related to your dream industry doesn’t mean that it’s still irrelevant or lacks value–so much of it is about how you frame your narrative, both for yourself and for your future employer/collaborators (I’m also a freelance career counselor for young professionals and people looking to transition careers, so consider this free advice).


Q: What advice would you give to your younger self/someone just starting in the field?
AW: Be patient with yourself.


Q: What inspires you? What motivates you?

TKC: I’m inspired by the “ordinary” art. In class (especially for art of the antiquities), there is a focus on high art, made of expensive materials for the most important clients. As we move into the 20th century, that paradigm shifts somewhat with the advent of the Industrial Revolution making the manufacture and dispersal of materials so much quicker and broader. I like thinking about the elements of design that everyone can access that anyone could see. I’ve gravitated towards architecture as the stage in which we live our lives and I continue to think about it because so many of us live our lives in or around the built environment. It’s an easy “in” for talking about art with someone not in the art world.  

KEC: It’s definitely hard to stay inspired when you’re focus can so easily be distracted by other day to day necessities. That’s why I make sure to watch a film at least once a week. I know that every time I watch The Breakfast Club, I find my motivation to keep writing screenplays and working to create motion picture art. I also love it when I walk away from a new film and feel the power of its story for the rest of the day. It reminds me of why I love what I do and the impact it can have on an audience.  

CSH:  Artistically, I am inspired by whatever I find beautiful.  That may be cliche, but it’s the truth.  What that means in practice, though, can be very cliche or not–it could be anything from flowers, sunrises/sunsets, rocks, cracked surfaces, rain moving on a windshield in an unexpected pattern, a broken acorn, to failed 3D prints and leftover support material from 3D printing.  In general, I gravitate towards things that are overlooked.  In my work, I like showing the things around me that I notice and find interesting that most other people might not notice.


Q: What is one contentious issue in the art world that you are very passionate about?

TKC: The re-use of motifs/design elements from other cultures is a complicated issue that I think about a lot. On the one hand, it’s nice to have the aesthetics of other cultures enter our zeitgeist but on the other hand, we have to consider things more carefully. Who is using what? In what context? What is the awareness of the creator of the symbol’s original context? What are the power dynamics in play between the user and the society of origin? Yes, the use of these design elements can produce a stunning hybrid style but it can also be hugely problematic.

KEC: I always struggle with whether or not it’s appropriate to tell a certain story. On the one hand, you definitely don’t want to trigger or disrespect anyone, but on the other hand, you also think the story deserves to be told and could help a lot of other people. This debate is currently happening with 13 Reasons Why. I’ve heard people say how bullying has gone down in their schools because of it, but people also worry about the glorification of suicide. It’s a fine line and one I often think about while writing.

CSH:  I wrote about this before in my Science vs Art post, but I think society emphasising STEM education at the expense of arts education is doing a huge disservice to my generation and the future generation.  I realize that our culture is becoming more and more dependent on technology, and technological advancements are very beneficial and a goal towards which we should strive.  However, there is ample evidence that proves our exposure to arts and creative endeavors only improves our ability to come up with innovative technological solutions to problems.  Also, life is about more than work.  A good chunk of life is about connections–to others, to our emotions, and to the world around us.  Art is an incredible conduit for all those kinds of meaningful connections.


Q: What is the best advice that someone ever gave you?

TKC: My mother always says “hard work is never wasted”, and of course there is the classic “Just Keep Swimming”.

KEC: You might as well spend time putting in the work, even if you don’t think anything will come of it, because that time is going to pass anyway.

AW: I feel like quotes from parents are going to be a recurring theme here; I know I consider mine to be an endless fount of wisdom. Here are the words from my dad that I keep closest to my heart: “Everyone has the same twenty-four hours in the day. Only the Heavens will know how you choose to spend that time, but you’re the one who has to live with yourself so always strive to become the kind of person you can live with.”

CSH:  Yeah, Annie is right that quotes from parents is a recurring theme for this question.  My mom always told us, “When you do the right thing, something good always happens.”  That has always proven to be true.


Q: The class of 2021 was recently accepted to the college. If you could address them, what would you tell them about why they should study Art History/the arts?

TKC: Simply put, the arts have made me a better scientist. From conversations I’ve had with people outside of the art world, there seems to be the misconception that we just “make things up” but that could not be further from the truth. In an Art History classroom, you have to make keen observations and draw conclusions based on data in front of you. If you come out of left field, you will be quickly shut down. But more importantly in a general sense, you will have to confront art that you do not find aesthetically pleasing and opinions with which you will not agree. There is no hiding from them. So you will need to learn to consider objects (and fellow students) with respect, which I think is one of the most valuable skills you can hone right now.

CSH:  Tiffany’s answer to this is spot on.  Studying and practicing art hones your observational and analytical skills in a way nothing else can, in a far deeper and broader way than any one other subject can.  Also, to have a truly well-rounded education, it is key to have at least some knowledge of art history.  We live in an incredibly visual culture.  To be able to navigate through it with a critical eye is a crucial skill everyone should learn, and one you can only learn by studying our global visual history.  We need to have the ability to analyze and criticize the visual imagery before us because we are bombarded with it constantly everyday, and if we don’t approach it with a critical eye, it is all too easy to swallow the messages they present to us.


Q: As you probably know, the new proposed federal budget eliminates funding for the National Endowment for the Arts as well as many other cultural/educational organizations. If you had to address the general public, why is arts/art history education important for the average American?

AW: This doesn’t directly answer the question, but the National Endowment for the Arts supports more than just artists; based on their 2016 Annual Report, NEA grants also support arts and cultural education in underserved communities, benefits for veterans, art and music therapy, and interdisciplinary research. So when you devalue the arts, you’re devaluing the millions of lives for which the practice of making and sharing art has a real, tangible benefit. Art allows individuals and communities to express themselves and communicate their perspective with the world, and arts education helps us start to understand how others see the world, so there’s a real personal exchange that goes on between artist and art viewer. I think that trust is something that we’re all trying hard to hold onto nowadays.


Q: Some parents may discourage their children from following a creative path, out of concern for financial stability (or at the very least, worry greatly about their children). How would you address those parents/their concerns?

CSH:  This is a really valid concern, and as I am just starting to try to get into the arts as a career, this is not a question I can answer yet.  However, I can say that more and more job functions are automated with machines now, but artistic work can never truly be replaced by computers.  Art brings something special and valuable to life that is absolutely worthy to pursue.  Besides, if you do some combination of art and technology, there are lots of jobs doing work like graphic design and animation.


Q: For any given visual product, how many people work to produce what we end up seeing as users?

TKC: To build this site, I made the menus and integrated all social media accounts into them. But the rest of the process has been very teamwork based. All members of the team voted on the final template that we would use and every member was vocal in finding and designing the logo you see now. This happened over the course of about 2-3 months early in the process to finalize a look that we were happy with and we haven’t done much tweaking since (though that is subject to change!)


Q: In your opinion, what are the most important considerations that make up good design?

TKC: For me, it is important to have engaging and beautiful design that would make people want to read our pieces. That was what drove my decision to have an interactive homepage. More than that, I wanted to have a template that would harmonize the images and our words so our home page also features cover images prominently and the titles will appear if you hover over the image. Another consideration is of course legibility and streamlined design to make posts easy to read so our default font is a Sans Serif font (though I like the way Serif fonts look so titles will be accented with that). That being said, we are definitely open to re-engineering the look provided that it works to those aims!


Q: What was it like to start your own business? What were some unexpected challenges/lessons?

TKC: When I first had the idea for this publication, I was incredibly lost. Many of my friends had scattered across the nation (and internationally!) and I was doing summer side hustles to try and save up for when I started graduate school, in science. I wasn’t ready to let go of my art history studies (and thankfully, now I never will) and at the time I thought that I also wanted to get published. But academic writing (though something I learned to do “well enough” in undergrad) never had a real pull on me intellectually. I wanted to branch out from the so-called Ivory Tower and have real conversations about why art should matter to us all, not just to the scholars of Long Ago Art of Far Far Away.

We built this entire site up, designed the logo, integrated social media-the works. Some parts were easy because while I am not a UX designer or CEO, I do have a sense of what needed to be established in terms of the nuts and bolts of everything-in terms of establishing a standard looking website and social media accounts. But what has been more of a challenge is constant content creation, building up a following and continuing to write interesting pieces. For me personally, having the bandwith to write insightfully about visual design has been challenging several years out of an art history classroom. But I will follow my childhood mantra to the end with this one: Practice makes perfect. So practice, practice, practice.


And Just For Fun:

Q: Can you recommend a wine (any alcohol/cocktail) and cheese (any drunk food) to us?
TKC: Truffle fries and a Shofferhofer Grapefruit Hefeweizen

Q: What is do you do for self-care?

CSH: I like reading a good book, watching a YouTube video, or watching a TV show at the end of the day to unwind and relax.  Very recently I started watching The Great British Baking Show and The Great British Baking Show: Masterclass on Netflix.  I absolutely love it!  Though I don’t do it too much since I don’t have the time, I like baking and I’ve learned something new every episode I’ve watched so far.  It also just makes you feel happy and relaxed watching it.

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