My own arts endeavors have been limited to casual doodlings on random pieces of paper in lazy afternoons, and I have always attributed those “artistic” moments to the sheer need to kill some time. Even so, I have found in those simple and often incoherent scribblings tremendous possibilities. Consciously or unconsciously, I channel my experiences and emotions into my “works.” Those carelessly intertwined lines may in fact belie profound revelations about myself. Art has always inspired in me both awe and wonder. It is with these feelings for art that I met with senior studio art major Kevin Hollidge ’17, who focuses on painting but works across disciplines. We talked about his artistic development as well as his opinions on the relationships between art and politics, artists and empathy. Throughout the conversation I was amazed at Kevin’s artistic perspectives and innovations, but during our conversation I was even more amazed by the vast amount of potential that arts have to affect changes in the world.
TMW: Why did you choose to become a studio art major?
KH: I bounced around a lot. I transferred to Macalester in my sophomore year. My first year here I started out thinking about geography, but then I took a geography class I didn’t like very much. After that I became interested in history and thought I could perhaps minor in art history. Since you have to take art classes to fulfill the art history requirement, I took a painting class and really enjoyed it. Art was the only thing that I looked forward to in my schoolwork and that is why I decided to become a studio arts major.
Have you always been interested in arts?
My grandpa was an artist on the East Coast. I grew up around art and would go to my grandpa’s openings when I was a kid. So art was always at the back of my mind. But I never seriously thought about doing anything with it, so it is more like I stumbled into it.
What is it about art that fascinates you?
What I like about it as opposed to other fields of study is that it is more open-ended. You can get something through asking a question or being ambivalent. It is less explicit than writing. Also making artwork is more approachable—it is not like “this is my claim, this is my critique, this is my essay.” There is more room for people to understand things in their own ways. It is more like asking questions, drawing connections and fostering empathy rather than offering solutions.
Could you describe a piece of work that you recently made?
When I was asked to respond to the inauguration, I started to think about how Levi’s jeans are quintessentially American. And I tried to connect this idea with an unfounded nostalgia or image of what America should be. It is a worn out idea because it is a rejection of multiculturalism and it is a rejection of minorities who have been swept under the rug. That idea has been worn to its breaking point. Likewise, these jeans are literally pants that I used to wear. I am interested in how this process where jeans can be used as a metaphor for a used-over-and-over-again political ideology that rejects so many people.
Why are there different layers of silk on top of the jeans?
The silk has its faded red, white and blue colors, which I think are a very obvious reference to the US. It also represents a weird contradiction because silk is usually used in a formal way. As the jean is worn but is also preserved in this aesthetic way, [it mirrors] a political ideology getting romanticized. Trump’s supporters are so romantic about the idea of building a wall. Taking a step back, there is no empathy in this idea. But this idea gets romanticized, and I am trying to evoke that feeling.
Do you think empathy is very important to an artist?
Yes. I also think that it is important from time to time to not be super confrontational in your work. I do not want someone on the right who looks at my work to feel threatened, although I am not sympathetic towards right-wing supporters and my work is a critique of right-wing ideology.
The reason why I am making art is to walk this line of being formal and engaging with politics. A lot of art that does not engage with politics right now—it’s like, what is the point? There is so much at stake. Artists and people in any field have an obligation to be somewhat of an agitator, trying to make their community a little better.
My interview with Kevin ended with him telling me that he plans to go to graduate school to pursue an MFA and that he might become a teacher of some kind in the future. It made me think again about the promise that the arts hold for generations after generations of people. It also made me think one more time about my doodlings, and how they, in retrospect, become significant in ways that I have never imagined.