Trusting Your Instincts

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As a guest lecturer selected by students to participate in the Paul Brach Visiting Artist Lecture Series at the California Institute of the Arts, NACF Program Associate Wendy Red Star (Crow) made studio visits and offered a motivational message to CalArts students this Spring.

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Medicine Rock Child by NACF Program Associate Wendy Red Star (Crow).

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During her visit, Red Star met with students in the disciplines of music, performing arts, electronic kinetic sculpture and found object installation, including two graduate students of Native descent. “I listened to the talented graduate students speak about their current practices and I provided feedback on how to best accomplish their individual goals. I learned several new things from music technology to experimenting with Pepto-Bismol on concrete! It was sentimental for me as I could relate from my own experience as a grad student in Los Angeles at UCLA,” said Red Star, who studied graphic design before combining her interests in photography, sculpture and fabric art to design and photograph her signature 3-D installations.

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The Four Seasons by NACF Program Associate Wendy Red Star (Crow) is on view at the Metropolitan Museum of Art until May 10, 2015.

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“I knew just what they were going through. Various professors come in to your studio throughout the day and offer critique, giving sometimes conflicting feedback,” said Red Star. “I remember how easy it was to begin to doubt yourself and I was glad to be able to be there and say, ‘Don’t worry, it’s going to be okay.’”

In her lecture, the artist presented an overview of how she became a practicing artist, from where she grew up to the works she is creating now. “I told them as hard as it was, they needed to trust their instincts,” said Red Star. “In a critique on a piece when I was a grad student at UCLA, a professor said it was ‘unprofessional: it will never hang on a gallery wall.’ I shared how much that feedback caused me to doubt my practice and how I decided to believe in my decisions in the piece. When I told the students before the presentation, I’d just returned from New York where the same piece, Four Seasons, is now hanging in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, they exploded into applause.”

In the lecture, Red Star shared information about the support the Native Arts and Cultures Foundation offers to American Indian, Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian artists. Advice the artist would offer to emerging artists would be two-fold: “You don’t need to go to school to be an artist. I did because I also wanted to teach,” said Red Star. “However, you do need to be willing to work hard. Beyond building your own skill set in making art, developing your voice in that practice and finding out how best to tap into that with the tools and time you have at hand — successful artists also have to figure out how to promote themselves, how to apply to grants and how to present themselves in the best light to promote their work to galleries, critics and the media. They work really, really hard.”

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To learn more about the foundation’s programs, visit nativeartsandcultures.org and connect with the foundation on Facebook and Twitter.

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