“Be ready to fail. Make sure you go far enough out of your comfort zone that you are destined to fail.”
Chris Thompson, curator of the Burlington City Arts Gallery, spoke with an assurance attainable only by personal experience as he educated the current MFA students about the potential in the degree they are working toward. After twenty years of employment in the business world as a technology manager, Chris Thompson quit his job and, with the encouragement of his family, became a full-time artist.
“I had no idea what being an artist was,” he admitted. That is where he insisted that the students had a serious advantage. “An MFA teaches how to interact in the art world,” he said, and understanding the capability of such knowledge was an extraordinary thing.
A fantastic and captivating speaker, Chris Thompson detailed his interest in combining technology with art to create unique pieces of work. He is fascinated with patterns and how cultural mediums have underlying rules that are more structured than they seem. As curator at the Burlington City Arts Gallery, Chris has managed showcases featuring Combat Paper (2009) and the JDK Kite Project (2011).
Speaking as part of the Emergent Landscape Speaker Series for the Champlain College MFAs in Emergent Media, Chris Thompson expressed the different things he had learned since becoming an active part of the art world.
“Natural talent will give you a head-start but it won’t win the race.”
“Know the unspoken rules.”
“Cultivate your idiosyncrasies and play to your strengths.”
“Risk-taking and failure are essential.”
He offered excellent advice to those pursuing a future in art: talent is appreciated, but hard work has to be a large part of the equation. It is crucial to be aware of all personal strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and obstacles in order to accomplish all goals.
Perhaps most obscure to everyone is the idea of failure, especially the notion that one should embrace it in order to succeed. But the MFA candidates present would do well to stand strong in the face of disappointment, because, as Chris Thompson insisted: “Long hours of work mean that eventually you are probably going to make a really interesting mistake. Experience the resistance of the medium, [because] bugs are often some of the most interesting things I do.”
“I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the very last person we heard from was Chris Thompson,” said MFA student Andrea Olson, “who has led a life, not the usual kind. He definitely did not go from A to B like most people, which I think kind of represents what an Emergent Media student is.”
For more information about the MFA in Emergent Media, go to http://mfa.champlain.edu/