- written by Sagar Patel
Meet Beth Grabowski, a professor and director of undergraduate studies for Studio Art. Professor Grabowski received her BA in Studio Art from the University of Virginia, and her Masters of Fine Arts from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Immediately after graduate school, Prof. Grabowski joined the UNC Art Department faculty.
Prof. Grabowski finds that the research-oriented perspective of UNC makes for a rich environment in which to study, make, and teach art. She says that contrary to the popular characterization of creativity as divine inspiration or available only to those with native talent, creative research actually requires a deliberate and disciplined practice of “critical making.” The notion of criticality calls upon students to ask not only how something is made, but also why, and to understand the context of production. Hallmarks of this practice include the abilities to adapt to change, to acquire skill, knowledge, and understanding through physical experience and to read meaning in the unfamiliar. The art-making process includes a great deal of experimentation. Starting anywhere, students will create something, receive feedback, analyze it themselves, and then make changes, try variations or in the event of an “accident” or “failure,” see if different question reframes a next step. She calls this process “iterative thinking” and in this way, research in art is very similar to research in other subjects – there is a need to “fail” (and recover!) to learn something new.
Prof. Grabowski serves as a faculty mentor for Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) students, and an honors thesis advisor. In this role, she has overseen many interesting student projects. For example, one student traveled to Arizona and worked under the guidance of a native Hopi medicine woman to study traditional medicinal plants (through drawing). Another went to Cairo, Egypt as the post-Mubarek political landscape was unfolding and documented street art made by women artists exploring issues of sexual harassment and women’s rights. Whether traveling across the country, overseas, or staying right here in Chapel Hill, Prof. Grabowski’s students have conducted some amazing research projects. Prof. Grabowski says her favorite part of being a mentor is seeing the enthusiasm and passion that students have for their projects.
When asked to give one piece of advice to undergraduate students interested in research, Prof. Grabowski said the following: “Be curious. Treat all assignments and tasks as personal challenges–make them take you somewhere new. Students who explore on this deeper level and resist grabbing for answers that reinforce what is already known, are already engaging in research.”
Professor Grabowski currently teaches book art and photo printmaking.
Pictures taken from Beth Grabowski’s faculty webpage at http://art.unc.edu/studio-art/faculty/beth-grabowski/.