CMA Stories

“Working with children is the perfect antidote to taking oneself too seriously” — 5 Minutes with Artist Jamie Emerson

Artist Jamie Emerson joins Set Design as a guest artist this week, sharing his mobile theater — an old shopping cart turned fully functional theater! Get to know Jamie below.

Can you tell us about your art practice and how working with children inspires you?

I am constantly inspired by my surroundings, and more significantly by the energies of the people I work with. I aim to create work that is meaningful and talks about serious matters without being heavy-handed. Working with children is the perfect antidote to taking oneself too seriously. Children are an inexhaustible source of creativity and fun for fun’s sake. To me, the importance of this is hard to overemphasize. Working with children helps me remember the spirit of freedom that drives my best creativity.

As we grow older and each choose our path (be it creative or otherwise), we fall into a mode of thinking that involves constant calculations of “Is this a smart decision,” “does this move my goals forward,” or “how will this affect x-y-z?” This thinking is of course an imperative part of being responsible and making good decisions. However, it can easily crowd out the space we have in our lives for freedom of expression / experimentation, for doing things simply because they resonate within us personally, or just for fun. In my career, the projects that grew out of a pure joy for the thing itself are far and away the most successful and fulfilling ones.

Tell us about your mobile theater and your experience working with students in CMA’s Set Design online camp.

My mobile theater (the TV World Caravan) was a project that again was started purely for fun. I was able to convert an old shopping cart I found into a fully functional theater with a system of rigging that allowed me to raise and lower key pieces of the set and / or the characters in the show. It is a microcosm, within which anything in the whole universe can happen.

Getting to work with the CMA’s Set Design camp has been wonderful. As is often the case, children get you to look back at yourself and read your work from another perspective, as well as giving you a chance to share some of the techniques that got you started in the first place. Getting to give someone a new tool that will help them create what’s in their imagination is deeply rewarding for both the instructor and the student.

What advice would you give to young artists who wish to pursue an art practice?

Do what you love, follow the things that are truly interesting to YOU. In the world of art, there are many ideas about what is and is not “good,” as well as ideas about “how to be an artist,” but in reality none of these things exist. There are absolutely no right answers. Also don’t spend your energy worrying about money, fame, recognition, or any external indicators of success as they relate to your work. If you follow what truly makes you happy and excited, and you are dedicated, all these other things will work themselves out.

Why is it important to make art accessible to all children and families?

Because art is perhaps the most powerful tool for speaking to the human condition, and the human condition includes absolutely everyone. For this reason we should want to hear the voices of our communities; in fact we need to in order to grow and learn.

Additionally, for children and families art can provide both a path to success and to personal liberation. When we find a way to raise ourselves up individually, we enrich our communities, inspiring those around us as we become stronger, deepening our roots and connecting to each other.

Do you have a favorite memory of making art as a child?

I was raised by two practicing artists, so it’s hard to pick just one memory! One of the most significant is the memory of watching my mother draw a quick sketch of a leather motorcycle jacket. I was so amazed at how well she did it, and how fast! It was like seeing real-life magic. It was a moment where something clicked inside of me, and I realized that I had a deep desire to be able to communicate what was in my mind with art.

Can you share a work or artist that inspires you to make art?

Wow, it’s going to be so hard to pick just one! I collaborate with a collective of artists around the world who are known as the Cart Dept. The work of these artists is a big part of what pushes me ahead, whether out of friendly competition, collaboration, or simply just being inspired by the amazing things this group produces. I also have deep admiration for the genre-spanning work of Tom Waits, and the grit, determination, and radiance of Claudi from the band Pinc Louds!

Learn more about Jamie at jamesmikhel.com

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