Faculty Profile: Susan Smith explains how research resonates through art

Q&A with Susan Smith, assistant director of the Intermedia Master of Fine Arts (MFA) program

You are a graduate of the Intermedia MFA program here at UMaine. How does this help you connect with and understand the students’ challenges?

My years of graduate studies expanded my view of the world and how I interact with other people. Each level of education just opens me up more – gives me more vocabulary, more perception of the world. I would have never gotten that had I not pursued each level of education that I have.

In addition to the Intermedia MFA program, you now offer the Intermedia Master of Arts (MA) program. What are the advantages of this new degree?

We found that having the MA option opens it up for more people who are interested in what we have here. MA students may have a different intention to pursue graduate studies, such as professional development or simply to expand their skills. They are provided the same opportunities as MFA students. One difference is MA students do not write a thesis at the end of their studies.

(More information on these programs can be found online)

How do students benefit from the interactive approach to the Intermedia MA and MFA programs?

Interactive work can be a big learning curve.

When I came into the MFA program, I came in with a background in drawing and painting. When I started the program and had to learn to work with technology … I was like, ‘Oh, am I doing the right thing?’

Now, I have a reason to get up tomorrow – from these learning opportunities – that wouldn’t have happened so much had I stayed and pigeon-holed myself into just drawing, drawing, drawing.

I see photographers doing performance pieces and illustrators doing textiles. That openness is really great and the university gives us the opportunities to do some really cool things.

Why is interdisciplinary work in research so important for artists?

Working with others is the way research happens – they can give you insight, materials to read and help your research, and all of that evolves into something you create.

Art topics can’t really be explored off the top of your head. Sometimes that means interdisciplinary research with another department, with people working in the field with other artists or collaborations.

It’s really an exploration of what is the best medium for the research. When you do the research, that determines the medium of the work. Then, how do you present it to the world? How do you present something that people won’t immediately agree with?

People with an art background are considered really valuable resources to businesses because they have a more creative way of approaching things. I’ve been asked to participate in projects with philosophers, scientists and architects because they need that kind of thinking outside the box, especially if it’s to solve social issue problems.

It’s a way of thinking creatively to do something other than just creating a brochure – not that that doesn’t have value – but this is different, another tool.

How have you evolved as an artist?

I never thought my art would impact the world. I never anticipated that I was that kind of person – politically outgoing or a social activist. There was a point at which everything shifted for me. The work no longer seemed satisfying to just be about something. It had to do something.

I’m not always comfortable with this new way of creating but this discomfort pushed me out into the world.

I try to stay open and really explore and so I see my work moving more and more into putting myself in uncomfortable situations because I know I can no longer sit by.

I don’t impose my political agenda on anyone – but the fact that I work getting out there in the world and being uncomfortable or having to confront people or issues has done so much for me sensitivity-wise. You bring that back into the practice, to the work. It affects the way I perceive and understand someone’s situation.

I see my role personally as an artist, as my responsibility and I have an ability to call attention to situations in a different way than somebody else.

What do you want people to know about UMaine’s Intermedia programs and the students pursuing their degrees?

1. We are creators and makers.
2. Our society needs to acknowledge the transformative power of art.
3. The resources of the program and the cutting-edge technology of the IMRC (Innovative Media Research and Commercialization Center) are available to not only the Intermedia students but the campus and community as a whole, and it is used daily for everything from entrepreneurs to concert bands.
4. The support of the university has allowed us to bring in some really interesting, diverse visiting artists. Also, to offer programs and workshops that are open to the community.

Visit the pages below for more information about Intermedia Programs at UMaine.

Intermedia MA Program

MFA Program

Media Contact: Christel Peters, 207.581.3571

Intermedia students will be presenting their work at the 2019 UMaine Student Symposium (#UMSS19) on April 10 at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor.