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Marathon Perspective: Alison Causer (MFA 2021) Teaching Assistant
March 8, 2022 · Marathons
Working with Clintel Steed is like attending a cross between an art boot camp and a revival meeting. Stay with me. I first met Clintel in the New York Studio School’s famous course Drawing at the Metropolitan Museum in 2019. For those of you outside of the New York Studio MFA program experience, this class takes place inside the Metropolitan Museum of Art on a Friday afternoon, where the students tour the halls of the humanities’ great creations. The instructor, Clintel Steed, selects a genre of focus for the afternoon, and students choose the artwork to transcribe for the next four hours. It’s a beautifully intense experience. People are everywhere and you are asked to stand for four hours to transcribe an artwork. Mind you, this is after a four-hour studio session painting from the model that same morning. Needless to say, at this point you are exhausted and entirely focused on not being late for Clintel’s headcount in the Museum lobby. When you arrive at the museum, you’re met with a large smile that makes you feel truly welcome. As if this is the only place to be at that very moment.
The same smile greets me every time we meet for our pre-marathon discussion. I have worked as Clintel’s Teaching Assitant for two Marathons to date. Working with Clintel on the other side of the preverbal easel has helped me grow in many ways as an educator and an artist. I have encountered many educators along my journey, and there are very few people who show up in a space with such enthusiasm and care as he does. That right there is a massive lesson in and of itself. Love what you do and show up (preferably on time)! This is where the boot camp comes into play. Respect and “putting in the work” is a large part of Clintel’s ethos. He calls for his students to respect themselves and the process of the Marathon by showing up on time and working with intention each day. There is a distinct focus on being fully conscious of the day’s objectives and tuning out all the internal negative dialogue and outside noise. I write this, and you read this with casual consumption, yet this is the work of a lifetime. To find focus is a huge hurdle, especially in 2021, between our phones and our everyday day-to-day responsibilities. This is a task of monks or athletes, yet he reminds us that this is the first thing an artist must do to get into flow. Art at its base is about showing up and making the work. “ … the very soil in which the seeds of learning take root for a student of art – which is work, the continuity of work in a studio.” In the words of Mercedes Matter, the founder of New York Studio School. Clintel’s continued messaging about focused time in the studio connects back to Matter and her deep belief in atelier-based art education.
In the world of celebrity artists and Instagram, it’s easy to forget or not see or even comprehend the pure labor that goes into being an artist, let alone doing good work. Yes, we can all overwork, and late-stage capitalism has pushed us into a deep and unhealthy relationship with the toxic hustle culture. However, I am strictly speaking about showing up for oneself when you make your (art) work. Grinding for your own self in the name of artistic integrity and discovery. This is not about money or fame, it’s quite the opposite. My takeaway is that this grind in his Marathon/Atelier/Class is a humble centering of oneself. An interior excavation through the process of making that speaks to me as more of a spiritual dig into the softer lesser known spaces. Getting into a flow state where you can hear your interior voice and listen.
In my opinion, some educators teach ideas typically from the brain, and some educators are born to share their acquired wisdom which comes from the heart. Clintel is the latter. Here is where the revival meeting comes into play. Clintel will tell you he is a man of faith, which plays a part in his teaching style. In some way his honesty and transparency about his faith seems to provide a safe space for me to investigate and trust my inner knowledge. That inner knowledge that comes from a heart centered space, he tells me often that if you speak/make from the heart you can’t be wrong. It’s your truth and that is real. I find peace in knowing that my heart is never wrong. He seems to be connected to spirit. As humans we all know when someone is filled with passion because there is a physicality to the exchange. He can be discussing pictorial geometry or discussing the color temperature of an object with the most secular words and still be transmitting from spirit. The powerful energy is palpable and to some, including myself, it’s truly inspiring.