When you look at a computer screen, you likely do not see the potential for endless creation, interpretation, and art education. That is exactly what Assistant Teaching Professor Kevin Curry envisions as he leads his Digital Foundations courses at Florida State University. Embracing the technological capabilities of the 21st century, Curry constructs a unique learning environment for his art students where he mixes education, computers, and art.
With an extensive professional background in graphic design and advertising, Mr. Curry has since left the ruthless advertising industry to embrace newfound passions in art research, art residencies, and teaching. He didn’t always want to teach, but after earning his master’s degree he reflects that he gained an appreciation for what a good professor can do, the difference they can make, as well as the challenges that come with the job. “For a while that’s why I really didn’t want to teach; it’s a lot of work. Now, it’s a challenge I like struggling with.”
Now that Mr. Curry is teaching, he does so with gusto, innovation, and compassion. Shadowing his Digital Foundations course, I witnessed how he interacted personally with each student, making sure everyone had the support and instruction they needed. It was apparent from observation and speaking with him that Curry truly sees each student as an individual with a unique perspective and something worth saying. At the start of the second project of the semester, he told his students, “the biggest enemy of creation is hesitation. Start now.” This advice is valuable to students, professionals, and creators alike.
The prompts that Mr. Curry presents to his classes for projects are open-ended and thought-provoking and he makes clear that there is no correct answer or result he intends for his students to accomplish. Many student artists go on to create work that taps into the deeper questions of humanity and contribute to this greater commentary, but often they do it unintentionally. By prompting students to be introspective and reflect on personal moments, Curry allows them to naturally tap into these relatable and revealing ideas in their work and become aware of them. He explains that once the work is finished and they review it together they often realize what the piece is saying and what it can represent in relation to current issues and the human condition.
Curry explains that often working as an artist and teacher can be isolating if one does not make an effort to reach out to others collaborate. He sees the value in collaboration after having positive personal experiences with it so he makes a steadfast effort to continue to create new opportunities and platforms where collaboration can happen. One of these efforts is his work with the FSU FAR program. “Through my role as a Faculty in Residence at FSU’s Facility for Arts Research (FAR), I am establishing an initiative called COLLAB, which will provide an opportunity to examine the ebb and flow of ideas, aesthetics and language through collaborations with and between individuals in all fields of research. COLLAB, would be a scalable, intra-university pilot program of curated dialogues with faculty from other departments and disciplines here at FSU, based on the model of a working artist’s studio in regards to exploration, experimentation and investigation.”
Kevin Curry is not just a teacher. He is, among other things, an artist, a husband, a father, a researcher, a traveler, and an inspiration and mentor to his students. How did he get to this point? As B.J. Neblett said, “we are the sum total of our experiences.” Curry’s formative experiences began as a child when he moved around a lot. Constantly changing countries and learning new cultures while still holding on to memories of previous homes embedded in him a curiosity about memories and how we attempt to retain our fleeting experiences. This interest can be seen through his work done during his 2016 artist-in-residency hiking from Alaska to British Columbia. During this residency, Curry photographed then later 3D printed the busts of the various people he met along the trail. This was his way of remembering and reflecting on his experience.
An influential part of Kevin Curry’s life was his work in graphic design and advertising. After a successful career, he left advertising as the industry became saturated and negative in nature. Now fully engulfed in his artwork, Curry embraces his past through a project reconstituting old abandoned signage. He notes the project’s connection to his past in how the signs, “at one point had this language that served a function of informing people, or swaying them to do or buy something, or pointing them in a direction. That’s basically what I did while I was in advertising.”
Life experiences translated into artistic expressions are what create meaning in an artist’s work. Each person lives a unique life, but throughout it, we all experience similar ups and downs, joys and struggles. These connecting events are what makes an artist’s work relatable and meaningful to viewers.
One piece of Mr. Curry’s work literally connects people. The piece is a floor based sign titled “Conjunction” which has the word “and” in the middle. When two people stand on each side, it triggers the neon “and” in the middle to light up. As these two people stand on the artwork, they are now connected to one another for the few moments they are there. Naturally, families and couples often try it, but Curry’s favorite moments are when two strangers use it. One stranger approaches the other and asks them to stand on the piece with them in hopes they will interact with the art and make the sign light up. This piece is a statement of connection as it joins each person who interacts with it to Curry, the creator, while also linking the two people standing on it through physical interaction as well as language.
Kevin Curry has led a life of discovery, introspection, adventure, experience, and expression. He now passes all these things on to his students. Sasha Azevedo said “we can teach from our experience, but we cannot teach experience.” Curry embodies this ideology as he takes his accumulation of knowledge and experiences and uses them in prompting his students to reflect on their own lives in order to create art with deeper meaning from within themselves. He says, “I consider my classrooms to be fluid environments. There are tasks to be done and assignments to be solved, but I’m less interested in producing a syllabus that is so task driven that students lose sight of why they are here in the first place. It shouldn’t be just to crank out assignments and get the degree. What makes you different?” It is this philosophy of teaching that makes Kevin Curry an exemplary teacher that Florida State University is proud to have.
Curry continues to be an asset to Florida State University and the Art Department as he is continually learning and improving his work, research, and teaching. The future for Mr. Curry is not written in stone or strategically planned. Instead, it is a process that will continue to be shaped by a growing family, a rotation of students, professional colleagues, and every life experience.
– Alison Amann