We've all heard the tired narrative in which the artist is depicted as standing outside of society at large. Isolated, autonomous, and omniscient, this false depiction of the artist imagines a contented soul who makes art with disinterested amusement. That doesn’t match my experience. I find that those who make and study art and design have much more to express. The artists, designers, and scholars I know are aesthetically voracious and intellectually restless. They are socially invested, aware of art’s power in society, and globally minded citizens, rarely lacking in compassion. Rather than turn their backs on the world, artists, more often than not, rush in where others fear to tread. They are, in a word, courageous.
This issue of our magazine explores the courage of School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) artists and designers in art school and beyond. The feature story profiles how alum and member of the Board of Governors, Sanford Biggers (MFA 1999), pictured on the cover, displays fearlessness in his interdisciplinary, history and culture mixing practice, which “combats cultural amnesia” that obfuscates systemic racism. Also in this issue, the reflections of many faculty, students, and alums comprise an interrogation of the group critique. This evaluative tool unique to art school has been braved by countless students, but in its contemporary formation, critique may also be a source of kinship among makers. Perhaps the most moving profiles in courage, however, are those of our first-generation students, who are from the first generation in their families to pursue higher education. Without family members’ personal reflections to learn from, everything from life in residence halls to completing financial aid paperwork can be overwhelming. You’ll be moved, as I have been, to meet some of our dauntless first-generation students in these pages; you’ll also be glad to read about how SAIC is supporting these extraordinarily intrepid artists, designers, and scholars.
Perhaps I find the stories of first-generation students especially moving because I, too, was a first-generation student, but I think it’s more than that. The first-generation student narrative closely mirrors my favorite narrative of the artist. I see the artist as someone who glimpses an unseen future, takes a risk, and pursues a question. They are explorers. Exploration—boldly working across media and throughout an open curriculum—is one of our core values. That’s why you can always ascribe one word to the SAIC artists, designers, and scholars you’ll meet in this issue or out in the world: courageous.