Wade MacDonald –  Becoming an Artist and Advice for the Future

“While preparing for high school graduation, I had a brief moment to sit at a kickwheel in the art classroom and attempt to throw a pot. This was my introduction to clay. Obviously, my pot was not successful and I thought I would probably never engage in that particular activity ever again. My first art mentor was Cary Vanderveen at Mattawan High School. Cary makes realistic drawings and paintings and his curriculum revolved around learning the necessary techniques to render any subject exactly. Ed Harkness at Western Michigan University ignited my passion for clay. One day, Ed spoke very eloquently about the clay medium while throwing a delicate porcelain jar. In that moment, I felt as though ceramics was the place for me. As a graduate student at Michigan State University, Paul Kotula, Blake Williams, Jae Won Lee, and Theresa Winge were stalwart guides and tremendous mentors.

For the first part of my journey in ceramics, I found myself drawn to the work of Chris Gustin, Chris Staley, Philip Cornelius, John Middlemiss, and Byron Temple. Later, Ken Price, Andy Brayman, Ron Nagle, Del Harrow, Matteo Thun, Arlene Shechet, Paul Sacaridiz, Peter Shire, Isamu Noguchi, were a few of the individuals who inspired.

I believe the need to make is a feeling that all artists are born with. I realized the great satisfaction of creating when I was in Montessori at the age of six. I’ve always owned a drawing pad and a journal and use them. The act of making is ingrained in my daily routine. I often hear colleagues or students say, “the most important thing you can do in your studio practice is to just make!” Having done this for many years, I’ve found that this isn’t entirely true. I have the ability to make art all day without understanding the greater reasons or messages behind the work. Artists must be thinkers not just makers. I look forward to the day that I can attend a residency and read and write and make very little.

Besides contemporary ceramics, my work is informed by architecture, interior design, furniture design, and fine woodworking; I could see myself exploring all of these areas in greater depth in the coming years. In my ceramics practice, I’ve been able to dabble in these areas while keeping focus on the ceramic object.

The best advice I received in my life, as it pertains to art, is not to be timid. In my first undergraduate drawing class, I felt trepidation to make a mark on a piece of paper. What if it was the wrong mark? I’ve worked hard to create an environment where my students are allowed to experience failure without the stigma. The classroom should be the safest place to conduct research, to experiment. If you think you are going to fail, fail big.

For the pre-emerging artists, I encourage you to work everyday. If possible, be in your studio everyday. Read voraciously; don’t be in a hurry to experience success. Focus on making great work; success will follow.”