Kathi J. Smith, Teaching Lecturer, Department of Art
To be an effective artist, Kathi Smith believes, a student—and even his or her teacher—must be conscious of the world around them, noting where they are, both physically and mentally, in a particular moment.
This simple idea forms the cornerstone of Smith’s art and her teaching philosophy. Whether it’s created at a specific location or from memory in her Ashland, NH, studio, Smith’s art conveys a sense of place. “My art is an investigation of the spaces around me, and the stories of those spaces,” she says. “Some paintings speak of a landscape in context, and others are ‘memory’ paintings, capturing how I remember or imagine a place in time.”
Students gain a sense of where they exist in the world in Smith’s classes, where artists at all levels move seamlessly from the classroom to the Boyd Science Center, where they draw specimens in the biology labs, to the Silver Center for the Arts, where they roll out enormous canvases to create large-scale perspective drawings—and interact with other students who must navigate around them. “I think I know the view from virtually every window on campus,” Smith jokes, “and I want my students to know them too, because the landscape plays a huge role in helping students understand themselves; art requires us to investigate, own, and nurture the self to convey our ideas. Plus, these travels around campus provide us all with a chance to be less introspective—a characteristic not uncommon in the artist—as we help bring the arts to the broader campus community.”
A Maine native, Smith had a strong desire to combine her career as a professional artist with a second role as a teacher. She earned a BFA in painting and drawing from the University of Southern Maine and an MFA in painting from the University of New Hampshire before accepting an opportunity to join the faculty in PSU’s Department of Art. She teaches and maintains a professional practice, which makes Smith a strong role model for her students. She is known, especially among her more advanced students, for bringing whichever project she is working on currently to critique days. “These exercises are about sharing art in progress, what’s working and what isn’t, and about getting constructive feedback from others. Students can see that even though I have experience as a professional artist, we face similar challenges and are all trying to do our best work,” she explains. “Teacher and students alike can benefit from this level of engagement and be inspired by the discussions.”
Smith’s professional practice also gives students a window to the world of the artist’s studio, exhibitions, and residencies. Smith has had recent solo shows in Portland and Farmington, Maine, and has completed five residencies since 2010; this summer, she will participate in a seven-week artist-in-residency program in Brittany, France. “I see my professional practice as a critical component to my effectiveness in the classroom,” Smith adds. “In one recent class focused on professional practices, students researched and presented information on topics such as grant writing and art installation, and I did a presentation about residencies, talking to students about where I’ve been and providing resources so that they can find their own opportunities. Our students gain critical skills in problem solving and creativity that will make them versatile in whatever career they choose, but I absolutely want to help them visualize an experience similar to mine for themselves, to see themselves as professional artists in their own studios, and to take themselves seriously as artists.”
–Donna Eason ’85