Five Questions With Ben Johnson
Last year, the Indianapolis Art Center, in conjunction with the Robert H. McKinney family, awarded Art Center Glass Blowing studio chair Ben Johnson the sixth Skip McKinney Faculty Award. The $20,000 fellowship is given to an Art Center faculty member who exhibits excellence in his/her art, excellence in teaching and focuses on building community through art.
Johnson took his first glass blowing class at the Indianapolis Art Center and has since received a B.F.A. from Kent State University, an M.F.A. from Ball State University and several awards and fellowships for his work in contemporary glass, including the Creative Renewal Arts Fellowship from the Arts Council of Indianapolis.
Johnson will be showing new work, created for the Skip McKinney Faculty Award solo exhibition, in conjunction with the Annual Faculty Show, opening Friday, October 13, 2017.
Indianapolis Art Center: What was your first glass blowing class like?
Ben Johnson: I remember unfamiliar smells. I remember being very excited to be around a material that I couldn’t touch. I remember being burned my first class. I remember I couldn't wait to come back.
IAC: How has your work evolved since then?
BJ: Over sixteen years, it’s evolved quite a bit. First, learning all the different processes and all the different things glass can do. It’s a really hard material to obtain firm understanding of, it takes years. I often tell my students I didn't feel I understood what I was doing for 2-3 years. I kept at it because I knew I loved it and knew it was something that I wouldn’t stop learning and continue to grow. I still feel like that today. So as an artist I have certain things that I am interested in, but I also take opportunities that are presented to me and then I run with that and they lead me down the rabbit holes that I never thought I would pursue. So don’t stop growing, right?
IAC: You have been teaching at the Indianapolis Art Center for 7 years, what have you learned in that time?
BJ: Life creeps into everything. So many people have so many different things going on in their life that the glass studio, or classes in general at the art center, are an escape from that. It creeps in once you start to become friends with students and other faculty, or people you work with. You develop friendships you didn’t see or didn’t know would happen, and those have been some of the biggest learning experiences for me, dealing with just life in general. I thought, lets teach glass and give people sharper skills, but there is so much more in the classroom that has impacted my life, that I didn’t expect it would.
IAC: How do you think the Skip McKinney Faculty Award will help you develop your work?
BJ: I want to continue to learn myself. I want to continue to grow as an artist, I don’t want to be stagnant. It’s going to give me funds to continue my education, and beyond that it’s going to give me the opportunity to make a body of work to present to the community I work with. So, it’s going to give me the opportunity to experiment, push myself and really try to find the limits of the material and my conceptual ideas.
IAC: What words of advice do you have for Glass Blowing beginning students?
BJ: It’s tough starting out and it’s going to be hot, and it’s going to be hard. And it’s going to take a long time to make the things you think you are going to want to make or that you can make. But if you want to do it, all you have to do is show up, continue to make those things and continue to learn