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The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

Senior Art Spotlight: Ariana Zaia

Photo of Ariana Zaia ’16 studying abroad in Italy. Photo courtesy of Nicole Smith.

Every week, The Mac Weekly sits down with a senior arts major. This week we caught up with studio art major and psychology minor Ariana Zaia. She hails from Austin, Texas. We talked portraiture, Zumba, and post-grad plans.

Photo of Ariana Zaia ’16 studying abroad in Italy. Photo courtesy of Nicole Smith.
Photo of Ariana Zaia ’16 studying abroad in Italy. Photo courtesy of Nicole Smith.
What kinds of art do you do?

It depends on what classes I’m taking. I’ve been dabbling in a lot of things and trying to find a focus. Right now, I’m taking ceramics and painting, which are two mediums I really enjoy. I also like to draw portraits.

How did you first get interested in art?

Art’s been something I’ve always done. As a child, I was constantly drawing or making something. My grandpa’s a professional painter and there are several other artists in my family, so I was surrounded by people who had an appreciation for art when I was growing up. Also, I went to a Waldorf school and they incorporate art into every subject.

What do you most enjoy about making art?

The most fulfilling thing is when you get into a zone and time passes really quickly and you don’t want to do anything else. There’s a certain focus you achieve when you work on a piece of art that you’re really invested in. It doesn’t always happen, but when it does it’s really worth it.

What is your creative process like when you make art?

Some people go in knowing exactly what they want to create, but I’m more flexible in my process. I start out with a general idea of what I’m doing and why I’m doing it, but I don’t know exactly what my piece is going to look like. I make decisions as I go.
What I like about the creative process is the sense of fulfillment you get when something is finished. There comes a point in making a portrait where I feel like I’ve captured a person’s essence. With ceramics, there’s a certain point where you can’t do anything else; once you glaze and fire it, it’s done. In that way, working with ceramics is a very different experience from painting because you can keep working on a painting for as long as you want. With painting, you have to be really sensitive towards when to stop, so I find it more challenging.

How are you involved in art at Mac or elsewhere?

I work in the art department office and the gallery. I really like working the gallery openings because you get to meet the artist and discuss the work with people. I also volunteer at Courageous HeARTS, which is an open studio for youth from ages ten to 18. It gives kids a space where they can explore their creative side in a judgement-free zone. They have a youth advisory board, which is mostly made up of high school kids. Right now they are working with Guerrilla Girls, an anonymous group of female artists, to develop a community project that the other kids who come into the studio can help with if they so choose.
Courageous HeARTS was started by a woman who survived the collapse of the 35W bridge. It was a very traumatizing experience for her and she found healing through painting. She felt that art has a lot of potential to heal, empower and strengthen people. She wanted to make art more available to people, especially to teens who may be going through a difficult time in life.

Did you study abroad?

Yes, I studied abroad in Florence, Italy. I attended SACI, an international studio art center. I took a jewelry design class, an archaeological conservation course, an illustration course and a course in contemporary European art. I really enjoyed the jewelry design class and I think I might end up pursuing that more after graduation. The contemporary European art course was influential too because we looked at and talked about so many different art pieces. Now when I walk into a contemporary art gallery, I can recognize much of the artwork and artists, which is pretty exciting for me.
The most memorable part of studying abroad was just being surrounded by other studio art majors. Here at Macalester, there might be only one or two majors in a studio art class, which is fine. But being at a school where basically everyone was an art major was a very different experience. It also made me thankful that I didn’t just go to an art school because although students at art schools have a leg up with the amount of work they’ve produced, I’m glad that I’ve gotten a well-rounded education.

Are you involved in anything else at Mac?

I used to be very involved in ¡Adelante!, which is a Latino student organization, although this semester I’m just focusing on art.

What are your interests and hobbies besides art?

I’m into dance. I do Zumba and I try to take at least one dance class a semester. Besides that, I’m interested in psychology. I came to Mac thinking that I was not going to major in art and I pursued a psychology major because I wanted to work with people. But I wasn’t enjoying psychology and I was stressed about the idea of completing the major, so I made the decision to do what I really love to do and be an art major instead. That brought a big sense of relief to me because it made me much more excited about my education. I had almost finished a psych minor at that point though, so I decided to complete it.

How are psychology and art related?

To me, doing both art and psychology makes so much sense. Art is all about expression, emotion and the human experience, which is exactly what psychology is about. They intersect at so many levels. For example, occupational therapy often involves art because the creation of art involves so much of your fine-motor skills.

What are your thoughts for the future?

I’m interested in moving to New Mexico, because I definitely feel more culturally connected with the Southwest and I’d like to return there. Santa Fe has a deep appreciation for the arts and I have some connections there, so as of now that is where I am hoping to go. Immigration issues are very important to me and there’s a lot of opportunities in the border states to work with organizations that use art to process some of these issues and help people understand them. I also want to continue taking classes and figure out if I want to go to graduate school.

What are some of you fondest memories from Mac?

Some of my favorite memories include just working in the art office and talking to the people who come through. I like talking to Kristi Fackel, who is the art department coordinator. She was a handwork teacher at a Waldorf school so we talk about Waldorf education, as well as things happening in the art department. We’re both sort of “jacks of all trades, masters of none,” so I think we are able to connect well on that level. I really appreciate having someone in my daily life who is understanding of the desire to explore lots of different things.

What advice would you give to someone thinking about majoring in studio art?

Don’t allow your academic coursework to push aside the time you want to spend on your studio work. Academic work often has stricter deadlines than studio work, so people feel like they have to prioritize academics. It’s important to value your studio time as much or even more than academic work.

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