Professional Practice

From the Archives: Rediscovering Your Artistic Identity

This episode, from earlier in 2021, encourages you to take the time you need to create some art. But where can you find the inspiration? In today’s episode, Tim welcomes on artist and educator Juana Meneses to talk about how you can rediscover your artistic identity. Listen as they discuss finding inspiration, how you can always be ready to make art, and possible opportunities available to you when it comes to artmaking.  Full Episode Transcript Below.

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Tim: Welcome to Art Ed Radio, the podcast for art teachers. This show is produced by the Art of Education University, and I’m your host Tim Bogatz.

Summertime it is here, or if it’s not here for you yet, it will be very soon so just be patient, you are close. For us as art teachers, summer is the time where we can rest, we can relax, we can recharge. And for a lot of us, that means making art and we have the time . . . finally. And now it’s just a matter of finding the inspiration we need and getting ourselves started. So I want to talk today about how we find inspiration and how we can sort of go through the art making processes now that we have the time and allow ourselves to create, to make more art. And joining me today will be Juana Meneses an artist and educator from Miami.

She has so many great ideas about making art, finding inspiration, staying creative, which all of those things I think are absolutely vital right now. And Juana is also the instructional designer for the newest AOEU course called Rediscovering Your Artistic Identity, it’s an awesome grad course. I talked really briefly about it last week and promised you a little more discussion on it today, so here we are. I was looking at the syllabus for the course a couple of hours ago and honestly it looks fantastic. It’s a one-credit hour course, it dives really deep into the art making process and gives you so many pieces of inspiration, so many incentives, so many prompts to figure out your process and to figure out what’s going to work for you to make your work.

And so I want to talk about all of that today, about creativity, about the art making process about everything we need to be creative, to be artists over the summer. So Juana is here, let me bring her on and we’ll go ahead and get our discussion started.

Juana is joining me now, Juana how are you?

Juana: I’m pretty good, Tim. How are you?

Tim: I’m doing really well. I’m excited to chat with you about just rediscovering artistic identity, art making all of those great things that I think are really appropriate right now. Before we dive into that though can you introduce yourself and tell our audience just a little bit about who you are and what you do?

Juana: Yeah. So I’m an artist, an educator obviously.

Tim: Yeah.

Juana: But really I think one of the most important things is that I came to art-making I guess as an immigrant. I mean I think that’s really where my art making comes from. So I moved to the US when I was 11 and I didn’t speak English. And so for me art making it just became my identity, like I was the kid that could draw. And I know many of us are that kid right?

Tim: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Juana: But for me it became the way that I understand the world and the way that I processed everything. So obviously I learned English, it was all good, dah, dah, dah, dah and I went to art school and then when I was in Chicago, actually I went to SAC, I had to get an internship. And so there was an awesome internship at the Chicago Cultural Center, which was like amazing right?

Tim: Yeah, yeah.

Juana: Like the best place, like the most beautiful place ever. And that’s how I found teaching. I mean, I was assisting but I realized like I loved… These kids would come in, they would see an exhibition and then we would walk them through an activity. And that’s really where teaching began, like I realized I actually loved it. It fed me, it fed my spirit and it fed my art making and it fed everything. And how lucky am I right? Because it was so organic and it was really, it was just very, very lucky for me really. Now I look back and I’m like, “Wow.”

So yeah after that I came back to Miami and I made work, like I’ve worked as a gallery artist. Like I actually sold a ton of work and it helped me pay my student loans, like all this stuff, it was really nice. And then I knew I wanted to develop my work more. So I went out to LA and I have an MFA from a school out there and I kept teaching. Like I taught in museums and galleries and that sort of thing and then in higher ed too. And all along, it’s like I’m making work and I’m teaching and again it’s like I’m not really even that conscious how important teaching is becoming-

Tim: Right.

Juana: … to who I am. It’s very interesting. So that’s where my identity as an artist educator comes from, and it gets more and more pronounced as time goes by so-

Tim: That’s awesome.

Juana: … that’s me.

Tim: No I love how that all sort of came together for you. I think that’s really cool. Now you’ve talked a little bit about your art making. I want to ask more about that if we can. Can you tell us a little bit about your art? Can you tell us where you find inspiration or just how you kind of follow your curiosity when it comes to creating or it comes to making art?

Juana: Yeah. I mean, I think again because I’m an immigrant and again this idea of finding my identity, like defining my identity, it wasn’t this clear cut, it wasn’t something that I was just given like, “Oh this is where you’re from and this is who you are.” And so for me because I also came here when I was 11, so it’s the sort of thing where I was at this moment where I was starting to understand who I was and so that’s where the beginning of my art… Which that happens to many of our students, like identity and who they are and their voice and all of that. And then things start to shift and they start to think about the identity of place also that happens and the way that identity is constructed right?

Tim: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Juana: And so when I was in Los Angeles, that was a lot of what I was interested in.

Tim: Yeah.

Juana: I mean, I was going out to the desert and thinking about the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves and about place and how those things are weaved in, which makes a lot of sense also in the classroom. Like that helps me a lot in the classroom as well.

Tim: Yeah.

Juana: And helping my students think about those things. And so now, I’m back in Miami and I again I start to think about, okay well I go on walks, I pick up leaves. I want to know about the stories about the neighborhood where I live. I want to know about the story of my city. I’m also very interested in archives. I have a family, I do a lot of things. So how do I weave those things in is that now it’s become about the story of my city and my neighborhood and the places that I go to, but it’s all the same thing right? It’s just keeping that thread of identity and that’s how my work, it really it’s all the same thing. I always tell my students, it’s just about what you privilege. Like the thing that you’re most interested in at the time, but it’s all the same. It’s all about its stories and identity, so…

Tim: Yeah I think that’s great and I think that is good for a lot of people. I think that sort of a universal experience where you are trying to find the stories that make up your life and translate those into your art, into your creating. And I guess that kind of brings me into my next question, because I think a lot of teachers are beginning to think about that right now, because it is summertime, art making becomes easier for us in the summer and a lot of teachers get back into creating and that’s a wonderful thing. But I think the issue is that when we go back to school, when we’re back to it in the fall, things get a lot more difficult, so do you have any tips just as an artist for teachers who are trying to create. Like how can they sustain their artistic practice when times get busier, when things get more hectic? Like what is the way they can approach art making to make sure they can still find time to create?

Juana: Yeah. So I think, well the things that have worked for me are making sure that I build it in and what I mean by that is… That meant before it meant “Oh let me go to my studio.”

Tim: Right.

Juana: I mean, I know that doesn’t happen for me anymore either right? I just don’t have that time, I just don’t have it. But what I do have is I literally have my watercolor kit. I mean, I show my students, I teach watercolor as well which I love.

And I literally have it all ready. Like it is built in, I have my small palette of colors that I have chosen, that I like, I have my watercolor brush, everything is portable. I have a tiny little spray bottle. I mean, it is like miniature, everything. I make my own artists books as well. So everything is done ahead of time though. I think that, that’s key.

Tim: Yeah.

Juana: So that the bag is ready, all I have to do is grab that bag and throw it in my book bag or in my beach bag or whatever it is. If I’m allowed to think about it like, “Oh I have to go get whatever” it will never happen. So what I suggest is… Or having like notes, maybe you are better with notes and you write things down. I love mind maps as well and so I also have another notebook that has my favorite pen and that one is also easy and small, this is key for me.

Tim: Okay.

Juana: It’s not heavy, that I can again throw in. I also don’t tell myself that I’m not allowed to do something in a particular book. I’m allowed to do whatever I want in whatever book I have at hand, it’s all good.

Tim: Yeah.

Juana: So I think making sure that you have made those systems, put those systems in place before you have to make that choice of like, “Am I going to make art or not?” It’s like, no, no, no, you are going to make art because-

Tim: Yes. Yes.

Juana: … the stuff that you need is already in your hand. So I think that’s important. And my second tip is also just whatever you’re curious about, just follow it. So I talked before about picking up a leaf, like literally I will pick up leaves, like my family knows I’m ridiculous, I pick up everything off the ground, it’s so bad. But then you know those apps where you can identify the leaf or the plant or whatever.

And I’m like, “Oh, this is a native plant” or “This is not a native plant, how cool.” And so I allow myself to follow those tangents and I don’t know where it’s going to lead me. Maybe it won’t make me do anything but maybe in the end again it’ll be about that history of place and then I’ll find out that this tree has been there for a hundred years and it took a hundred years to give fruit and flower and this has happened too. And so then it becomes again about the identity of place. But when I think up that leaf, I just think it’s a cool leaf.

Tim: Yeah.

Juana: But I let myself do that. I think that, that’s also important.

Tim: I love that, I think it’s just a really organic way to develop some of those stories we tell and like you said, sometimes it doesn’t lead to anything, but when it does, it’s incredibly meaningful and it makes for great work and great conversation about your work as well.

Juana: Being constant is the other thing. So like I pick up a lot of those leaves and so I trust that picking up all those leaves adds up to something. So that’s the other thing, even if I don’t want to take my watercolor sketchbook with me, I will tell myself, “Take it anyway”

Tim: Yeah.

Juana: And then I’ll end up opening it up and I’ll make some doodle. So I think also being constant, I think that is the other key.

Tim: Yeah. I think that’s really good advice as well. The next thing I wanted to talk about was just kind of the connection between art making and teaching. I think that’s a big question for a lot of us. So I guess I’ll just put it to you fairly similar, like how does your art making translate or how does it inform the teaching that you do?

Juana: Well, first of all, I like to share with my students what I’m interested in. Even if I know it’s not their thing. I think it helps for them to know that I have passions. And then again that I will support theirs because I am curious about the world. And so I love making zenes and my students know, like I love making zenes. I love it. I think it’s fun, all these different things. And so then they recognize, well she has this other outside passion. So I think that’s important. And also whenever possible I would always give my students options for bringing something, their personality or their interests into the classroom. So if it was an object that they had to draw, they brought their object. If it was a story they had to tell it was their story.

All of those things, like every time there’s a choice, they’re allowed to bring something in because I think if it’s not their voice, then it doesn’t matter. Like if it’s just about the technique, I mean I’m passionate about the technique, but they might not be right?

Tim: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Juana: But if we’re creating that safe space for them, then they have to be allowed to tell their story. So try to open those stores and allow them to explore also. Like we give ourselves that time to explore and sometimes we want our students to produce these beautiful polished pieces so quickly and we can’t do that so why do we expect that from our students? So leave time also for the experimentation and that sort of thing is I think really, really important.

Tim: I think that’s an excellent point. And I wanted to ask you too, just as you’re sharing interests, as you’re hearing about your students and their interests, does the reverse ever happen where what’s happening in your classroom or what’s happening in your teaching, does that ever come back to your art? Like does your teaching ever inform your art practice?

Juana: Yes, so many times, because it makes me feel… Sometimes I realize that I may have been rigid about an idea or a way of working and my students are awesome and so much better at something and I’m like, “Oh my God, of course” that was such a much better way of doing it or making the order or they’re much more open and free sometimes about the way they make. So it’s a good reminder for me.

Tim: Yeah I think so, I always love that when my students can kind of challenge my thinking on things where they say, “Why don’t we do it like this?” Or “Have you ever tried this?” I’m like, “Let’s do it.” I love hearing that from my students.

Juana: Yeah, totally. And it’s like there’s so much more fresh and so that’s definitely something that I love about teaching.

Tim: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Juana: I mean every time at every level right? A student will ask you, “Well what about this?” And you’re like, “Of course, of course that’s such a great connection to make.” So I think leaving always room for that is like one of the best things about teaching. Like I never want to stop teaching at any level because it just refreshes me every single time. Plus I have to keep current, right.

Tim: Yeah.

Juana: Like I have to go find out if a student’s like, “What about this?” I’m like, “Oh my God, you’re right. I have to go find out about that.”

Tim: Yeah. That’s awesome. It keeps you curious and that’s a good thing. Now before I let you go, I do want to ask you about the new course that you put together called Rediscovering Your Artistic Identity. I’m super excited for this one, but can you tell people what kinds of things there’ll be learning in the course, the opportunities they have and just kind of the art making that they’re going to be doing?

Juana: Yeah. I mean, I’m really happy about it as well, because it’s such a passion for me that I love, the beginning of the course is all about ideation and idea creation which I think, without that obviously you can’t sustain your practice. So a lot of it was about putting together resources for anyone that wants to either connect to their art making or reconnect to that art making. So there’s mind mapping and there’s all these different ways of generating ideas. So that’s the beginning of the course, like really strong generation of ideas and lots of different ways because we all know that what may work for you now might not work for you later.

Tim: Yes.

Juana: So even if in the course you’re like, “I love this,” but later on maybe you want to try something else. So really I’m really big on lots of choices and being able to direct your own discovery. So there’s definitely that at the beginning of the course and then we double back and think about mid-point critique. So still you’re in this place where you’re already excited about what you’re making, things are happening and they’re clicking, but then how do you move forward? And I feel like that happens a lot at all levels. It’s like, okay now you’re in this place where you’re feeling good, but how do you resolve?

Tim: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Juana: And so we talk about that as well. Like how to help you move forward and resolve and evolve this series of work. And it’s really more about the series of work rather than just one piece, because the idea is that you’re going to get tools to keep going. It’s a short three week course so it’s really to spark that practice and give you tools to continue without me, without the instructor, like that’s key. I always tell all my students that really it’s about, I want you to have everything and then you can run with it, right?

Tim: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Juana: So then the end of the course is about, yes you’re presenting these couple of pieces and then also talking about it and of course giving feedback to others as well. And we also are building a digital gallery as well, walk through. So there’s other tools as well in how to take those things into your classroom too.

Tim: All right. That all sounds really great. So I want to thank you so much for taking some time to chat with us about your art, your teaching and new course, I think it was all really, really valuable. So thank you so much.

Juana: Oh my God. Thank you Tim.

Tim: Juana had so many great things to say, so many good pieces of advice on so much to take from that conversation. A couple of things that stood out to me, she talked about how in her process and how in this course, art making is not just about creating a one-off, it’s about finding what you need to create a more significant amount of work. It’s about getting in the habit of finding inspiration and the course is giving you ideas on how to use that inspiration. And there are so many options on how to refine or how to fine-tune or how to find new ideas for your art making process. So if you’re getting into making more art this summer, or if it’s a goal of yours to do more creating, to do more art making in the next few months, I really think it would be worthwhile for you to check out the Rediscovering Your Artistic Identity course.

You can find everything you need, you can register, you can learn all that you need about it at the And if you decide that a graduate course isn’t in the cards for you this summer, there’s still nothing stopping you from creating and making art. So take Juana’s advice like have your art making materials accessible, have your go bag with all of your favorite medium and give yourself permission to create, give yourself time to create. And you know what just go pick up some leaves, you never know where they may lead.

Art Ed Radio is produced by the Art of Education University with audio engineering from Michael Crocker. Thank you for listening and we’ll talk to you next week.

Magazine articles and podcasts are opinions of professional education contributors and do not necessarily represent the position of the Art of Education University (AOEU) or its academic offerings. Contributors use terms in the way they are most often talked about in the scope of their educational experiences.