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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Avoid it if You Can

“Blu 3 (Dyptich/Corner),” oil on canvas
“Blu 3 (Dyptich/Corner),” oil on canvas

Teaching on our very own campus is a world-renowned artist who has works in The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, The Library of Congress in Washington, and the National Library in Paris, just to name a few. Wilfredo Chiesa, an art professor at UMB, embodies the artistic spirit with his eccentricities and free spirit. Not to mention the dozens of canvases leaning against the walls of his office.

Chiesa grew up in Puerto Rico and started painting at a young age. “I couldn’t help it; I started painting when I was 13. The moment I did it, it sounds exaggerated but I can tell you it’s not, I knew I was going to be a painter,” Chiesa stated.

When asked if he has ever experimented with sculpture, Chiesa smiled and said jokingly, “Sculpture I’ve heard of… As Ad Reinhardt says, ‘It’s that thing you bump into as you’re stepping back to look at a painting.'”

He went on to explain that he has not done sculpture but has worked on artists’ books, printmaking, murals and two public installations. “For me, all those activities are in support of my painting,” said Chiesa.

It is clear that Chiesa was destined to be an artist, because when asked what profession he would do instead, he answered, “That’s a nightmare. I can’t imagine doing anything else.”

After contemplating that terrifying prospect, Chiesa went on to say that he would probably be doing something visual. “I find the visual part of the world the most engaging.”

Chiesa has taught workshops and courses at other schools, but he has been at UMB for more than 25 years. Regarding the art department he said, “There’s a lot I would change but I’m not unhappy with what we are.”

Chiesa echoed the complaints of many faculty members in various departments about lack of space and resources.

“We have worked for many years under very adverse conditions,” he said, “in terms of lack of ventilation in the painting studio, the inability to teach oil painting and things of that nature.”

Chiesa, as well as many of his colleagues, are looking forward to moving to the new building where they hope the space issues will be resolved.

That said, Chiesa also praised the department for its “unique experience”: “[We] have a combined art history and studio department where everybody works together and the students take classes in both areas, and we actually get along.”

Chiesa made the bold claim that UMB’s art department is better than some liberal art schools.

“We’re not a professional school but we have a revolving door open to anyone who wants to have a meaningful experience with art,” Chiesa said. He believes the art department is enriched by the fact that a student in any major can easily take an art class.

One can see Chiesa’s passion when the subject of his art is brought up. He did not want to reveal any secrets about what is going on in his head while he’s painting. Chiesa simply said, “From my perspective, the idea of what the artist is thinking is not so relevant to the experience of the viewer.”

This is a view that most certainly fits the motif of his highly interpretable abstract style.

As for tips for an aspiring artist, Chiesa says to try and avoid being one if you can. After laughing heartily he continued, “If you can’t avoid it, surrender to it sooner rather than later. […] The sooner you can identify whether you can get away or not, the better. Because if you cannot, you’d better surrender yourself to it with the full force of being alive, otherwise it’s a life of misery.”