Each year MassArt sponsors the gallery show Why I Write. Why I Create where students explore the essence of their work. On large banners hung in the main Tower hallway, they dispense with subtlety and unleash a full range of feelings with their words and their art. They show us a commitment to passionate work that requires creativity, risk, dedication, and sacrifice. In this blog, we present a behind-the-scenes look at this gallery show. The blog posts are composed of verbatim excerpts from student interviews unless otherwise noted. Afterwards, we ask one faculty member—students choose the faculty member—to reflect on the student interview in light of their teaching practices.

In 2017, we will begin to publish students’ reflections on their participation in the show. We invite you to explore what it takes to create a story that is true from the heart, to be drawn to its passion, to be aroused in your own spirit.

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Radical Openness: Andrea Lijoy-Shields

After the show Why I Write. Why I Create, I asked Andrea Lijoy Shields to describe her feelings on vulnerability—what she calls radical openness. In this interview, Shields explains how vulnerability becomes the shield for the inner most self against the monster we might call “society’s expectations.” Nicholas Collazo joins our conversation.

Andrea: All the writing in this show talks about the evolution of self—the evolution of how they thought they saw themselves and how this thought transpired into the true essence of who they are. It feels like an evolution that happens while you are reading.

Nick: As I read through each of the responses to Why I Write. Why I Create, both last year and this year, I thought: Now I know these people. Each expression gave me new insight into the person. They show a sense of vulnerability that I didn’t know they possessed. And that is really refreshing.

Andrea: There is something about vulnerability that is inviting. When you read these responses, you have this great appreciation that you are allowed to enter into someone’s inner thoughts. As you read, each person becomes a little more human and you can see yourself in them. When someone is so willing to be open, you want to enter in. For example, what I liked about Nick’s response is how he began with something that he didn’t like about himself and how he evolved. Even if you don’t have it all together, that fact that you are trying to find yourself is most important. It’s the pursuit that matters.

Nick: You see your response on the wall and you have the opportunity to embrace it—to not be afraid to show who you are.

Andrea: It’s like a pledge or a declaration: There is so much more to life. You are so quick to do, do, do—to do for other people. This is a chance to stop and take yourself in.

Nick: And you see not one, not two, not three…but twenty individuals being vulnerable. It makes this big, strong shield.

Andrea: Together these responses protect the rawness of who you are from mass society. In a sense, it’s like a freedom.

Nick: If you keep reading, there is no denying the truth of them.

Andrea: Yes, because truth is truth.

Faculty Response: Edward Monovich

Andrea Lijoy Shields’ philosophy of “Radical Openness” opposes today’s prevalent, winner-take-all attitude. In contemporary mass media culture and in geopolitical struggles, it strikes me how easy it is to tear down Art, culture, tradition and diversity. Yet within Andrea’s powerful idea is a seed to combat ubiquitous, destructive vectors.

For me the greatest joy of teaching is to share, unapologetically, the power of Art with students. This power is harnessed through a journey that unifies communication, making and surprise. We explore how aesthetic and conceptual growth arises from the least expected places. If you “know” what you’re doing, you’re probably making boring work. Discomfort, uncertainty and vulnerability are the Artist’s best friends.

Vulnerability can be difficult to cultivate, especially when media channels define success as taking what is yours and humiliating the competition. By contrast, Art is a place where all boats can rise simultaneously, where I don’t win because you lose. Rather, we win together. This is the key to creating good Art and the antidote to the “rawness of mass society.” Andrea Lijoy understands this, both in concept and in practice. As a young artist, she grabs new bits of techniques and fearlessly applies them to her forms. She is not afraid to get her hands dirty. While building objects, she considers the slippery place where form and content meet. Through her willingness to share her explorations and to listen to new approaches, Andrea makes herself vulnerable. Her “evolution of self” benefits the community. Art’s magical lens inverts intensely personal efforts (like Why I Write. Why I Create) and self-expression becomes universalized. All are welcome to join under what Nick aptly describes as the “big, strong shield,” forged from communal vulnerability. Is it a coincidence that the second half of Andrea’s name spells: Joy Shield? At a time when many feel that truth and fact are terms reserved for the loudest microphone, Andrea and Nick remind us that “Truth” grows from a process of sharing.

Edward Monovich teaches Drawing and TIME in the Studio Foundation Department. With regard to his art practice, Monovich first invited viewers to complete a “graffiti collaboration” at the Drawing Center in New York. The birth of participatory qualities in his work occurred while studying in Sierra Leone, West Africa. There Monovich witnessed powerful secular and sacred rituals involving masqueraded performers. The presence of audience participation, elaborate costumes, hybrid humans and performative elements in his drawings, find their roots in these experiences.
Monovich received his MFA from the University of Texas at Austin in 1996. His works have exhibited in Colombia, England, Belgium, Italy, New York, Massachusetts, Texas, Florida, Colorado and Michigan. 
Currently, Monovich is working on The “Footprint Project,” a collaboration with the Institute of Evolutionary Biology at the University of Zürich. “Footprint” is a contemporary reflection on the state of the Alpine Ibex, combining visual art with genetic and ecological research. 


Andrea-Lijoy Shields, Fashion Designer

The Blank Page: Nicholas Collazo

The summer after our first gallery show, Nicholas Collazo sent his response to Why I Write. The moment I read it, I knew I had to find funds for the next year. Nick achieved what every writer and artist dreams: a genuine expression of his commitment to valuing himself and others around him.

For Nick, it took more than one attempt to feel satisfied with his response. He needed to create a quiet place where he could listen to himself. In this interview, Nick shares some thoughts on his most generous listener: the blank page. When our conversation moved from listening to expressing confidence, fashion designer Andrea-Lijoy Shields joined the fun. What follows is a conversation with Nicholas Collazo, Andrea-Lijoy Shields, and me, Jeanette Eberhardy (faculty coordinator for Why I Write. Why I Create.)

Nick: I sent my first draft response to Why I Write and you said, “Hmmm.” You wondered whether I had something more personal to say. I thought about it. I stopped worrying about the outside—about other people judging me. I started the first sentence with a personal feeling: “I’m starting to like my nose.” Then I found I was thinking about so much more. When it is just you, your thoughts and the page—good or bad—you are your most vulnerable. That’s when it [new thinking] begins—in the silence between you and yourself. The page is open to whatever you have to say. It’s just there to listen. What surprised me in this experience with Why I Write was feeling confident enough to put myself out there with no fear of being judged.

Andrea: Confidence can be scary. When you exude confidence, you cannot waiver. It takes a lot of strength to be unapologetically yourself and not care what people have to say about that.

Jeanette: Are you speaking of the kind of confidence that comes with a genuine feeling of connection to yourself?

Andrea: Yes, my strength is in staying connected to myself.

Jeanette: How do you stay connected to yourself?

Nick: You have to surround yourself with people who want you to be your best self.

Andrea: There is a lot of adversity to confidence because a person may feel they are lacking it—which is interesting.

Nick: Everybody does have confidence. Sometimes it’s buried or locked away.

Jeanette: The poet David Whyte feels we need to “encourage the best in them [friends], not through critique but through addressing the better part of them, the leading creative edge of their incarnation, thus subtly discouraging what makes them smaller, less generous, less of themselves.”

Nick: Yes, and you also need to have confidence in your awareness of your connection to everyone around you—to hold awareness of the impact you may have on others.

Jeanette: Beautiful. Thank you for sharing your practice on valuing yourself and those around you.

Faculty Response: Sarah Bapst

What Nick and Andrea write about self-connection and not being concerned with how others might judge one’s own actions is very important. What they describe takes courage and personal strength to act and not let the possible judgment of others affect one’s actions, art, writing. And I also very much value what Jeanette says about encouraging the best in others.

I am reminded of Haruki Murakami for his use of the metaphor of a ‘well’ in The Wind-up Bird Chronicle: At various points in the novel, different characters find themselves in a dry well and in very different contexts. At one point Lieutenant Mamiya is thrown into a deep dry well for what at first reading appears to be a form of punishment and mortal imprisonment. In another part of the novel, a character voluntarily retreats to a dry well as a self-imposed silent space in which to think. The ambiguity of the metaphor of the well forces the reader to search subjectively for its meaning. The metaphor could be viewed then in itself as a means by which the author encourages the reader to forge a self-connection.

Professor Sarah Bapst teaches Visual Language and TIME in the Studio Foundation Department. Bapst’s work includes sculpture, works on paper, and photography. Literature is a more recent reference. Her work has been features in regional and national group shows. In 2013, Bapst’s work was included as a nominee in the Boston’s Institute of Contemporary Art Foster Prize Exhibit.


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Nicholas Collazo, Animator

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