Early last month, sophomore Emma Lister won first place in The Figge Museum’s Annual College Invitational. This past week, The Knox Student sat down with Lister to discuss her process.
The Knox Student: How did you originally get into visual art?
Emma Lister: I think I’ve been pretty lucky growing up. My mom is an art conservator at the Art Institute of Chicago. So from day 1, I would go in the galleries whenever I wanted to and spend time in her studio and go to her exhibitions, just wander around the art museum. She has access to so many things. I think I was just really, really lucky in that respect. But I stayed away from art for a while, I think maybe because I had seen so much of it. It didn’t seem like it could be anything really exciting because it just was always around. Even in high school, I did a couple studio art classes, but I was never especially inspired. It wasn’t really until I came to Knox that I started picking it up again. I’ve always been a doodler in my notebook. But as far as taking large projects, it wasn’t until I came to school and refocused that I started looking at what I might actually be interested in doing with my life.
TKS: When you first came to Knox, were you on a completely different path then?
EL: Yeah, I don’t really know what path I was on. I took a gap year between high school and college because I never really knew what I wanted to do. I some traveling and I think by the time I got to Knox, I was ready to refocus and found that art is really what I ended up coming back to. But it feels now like a focus, like I have an intention in doing it. It’s not this inevitable thing. Like I’m doing art on purpose now.
TKS: Do you think your background in art or your travels ever manifest themselves in your pieces?
EL: Yeah, I think they do. I don’t think that when I make art, I have a particular event in mind or any part of my life in mind. But I do feel that my life is reflective of patterns in my life. A lot of my art is really twisty and winding and jagged. I don’t want to read too much into it, but I definitely feel that my pieces are kind of introspective, like they’re aware of the fact that they’re taking up space. I guess I just really want to create pieces that almost seem to be aware of themselves in the way that a person would be. So I think there are some larger themes in my art, but I don’t think I can draw from specific events. They just kind of pile on.
TKS: Do you feel like the atmosphere in Knox promotes the creation of new art, or do you feel like there’s a restraint to create for the college?
EL: I think definitely in high school, I had this idea that I wanted to rebel against some sort of structure. But instead of rebelling through creation, I rebelled in conventional ways, like what I wore and whom I hung out with, what I chose to do with my time. But at Knox, I learned that the best way to go against convention is to achieve. The best way to rebel in an institution like this and in a world like this is to achieve. Whereas I feel like you get the idea when you’re in school growing up that the best way to give the Man the middle finger is to f*ck around and not bother with anything; when you come to college and see so many people working hard and going places, you realize that the best way to give that middle finger is to be the best at something and do the best you can. That’s why I love doing art here. Because there are so many other artists that are way better than I and further along than me, but I don’t see that as a hindrance. I think I’m lucky here.
TKS: Has your perspective on your own work changed now that people are giving you so much attention?
EL: Yeah, I think I need to be really careful with how I look at it. I kind of have felt a drive like each piece I create now has to be better than the last. Especially since I got recognized by the Figge and the college invitational exhibition, I’m having more trouble now going back to work because I feel that I did this thing that people enjoyed, so my next piece has to be even better than that. But if I can’t create for myself, then that’s not me creating anymore. That’s the worst kind of art.
TKS: Earlier, you talked about rebellion. Is the process of making art still a rebellious process to you?
EL: Oh, yeah. The second it stops feeling like that, I’m going to stop f*cking doing it. I think art that doesn’t have anything to say becomes a wall hanging or something to put next to your desk lamp. I’m not trying to invade people’s spaces, but I want to at least encroach on what makes them comfortable. I don’t ever want my art to be a comfortable thing.