Visiting Professor and Artist-in-residence Kahlil Irving recently began teaching ceramics at Knox College. While tidying up the studio, he shared his thoughts on what it means to be dedicated to art.
In response to the hesitation that some student artists experience when contemplating whether or not pursuing an art degree could reduce their enjoyment for their craft, Irving offered a straightforward perspective.
“I don’t think people really understand what passion is, because if you’re passionate about anything, at any means necessary you will do what it takes É to do the thing that you are so passionate about. If you say it’s a passion, you wouldn’t call it a passion, you would just be doing it.”
Irving has worked tirelessly to build and maintain a career in art and believes that making art should be taken seriously.
“Art making is not a hobby and people [have] got to stop thinking it is a hobby É Making things doesn’t have to necessarily be serious, but making art is.”
He acknowledged that many enjoy creating art for fun but explained that choosing to engage with art history is a key component of turning that enjoyment into a profession.
Irving compares artistry to entrepreneurship, pointing out that an artist must be willing to dedicate time, effort and take emotional risks in order to sell their art. In his eyes, an artist’s career begins long before they sell their first artwork; the first day in the classroom is where it actually begins.
While he didn’t consider himself to be an artist until halfway through his undergraduate career, he believes that from a young age his attitude towards art aligned with one of a successful artist.
“What I was doing at the time had all of what I wanted to be within it: the meaning of the work, how it was presented, the level of the craft of the objects that were made, all of the avenues by which you’re supposed to engage,” Irving said.
Starting at the Kansas City Art Institute where he earned his BFA in Art History and Ceramics, he continued to pursue art when he earned his Master of Fine Arts at Washington University in St. Louis in 2017. As listed on his personal website, Irving’s artwork is featured in multiple collections including the Riga Porcelain Museum in Riga, Latvia, and the Foundation for Contemporary Ceramic Art in Kecskemet, Hungary.
Many of his works study and critique societal issues, especially those of racism and colonialism. Some deal with present-day tragedies, such as Bricks, Concrete, Tubes (Mass Memorial) which contains the text “I AM MIKE” in memory of Michael Brown, who was killed by an act of police brutality. The exhibit this work is a part of, “Streets: Chains: Cocktails,” pushes spectators to consider the innumerable ways in which the effects of colonialism continue to appear each day. According to Irving, these analyses can and should be continuously developed, since limiting them would not only be a disservice to the art but to history as well as collective and individual narratives.
Relating to his argument that interacting with art history is a vital component of art, Irving sees his art as “engaging and challenging history in some capacities, the way things are built and understood.”
He maintains a complex relationship with his art, explaining that he tries to be “any kind of manifestation of what a third person omniscient could be É You’re involved, you’re all knowing, you’re out on the outside but you’re also on the inside … You are the narrator of that side that’s a part of a narrative that people are reading.”
Irving is currently preparing for his upcoming exhibit at Wesleyan University which will be designed to challenge and explore the various ways in which people engage with art by incorporating works of multiple mediums that are not simply sheltered by the building, but rather engage with the space itself. Irving explained that even sunlight travelling through the exhibit will affect how the work is viewed. He plans to utilize the space to enhance the artistic experience, stating that art is not “just decoration, but it’s about building an overall conversation that comes from the experience.”