Illuminating the Creative Mindset of Heather Sweeney

Image Taken from Muzique Magazine

by: Makenna Karas

For many young artists, this world is not one they ever truly feel supported by. Undergraduates in creative fields are notoriously mocked for pursuing “useless degrees” instead of selling their souls to capitalism with a nine-to-five. But what’s not said enough is that we need our painters, writers, and filmmakers just as much as we need our doctors and engineers. We need brilliant art before we need anything else, for it helps us to understand ourselves and the world around us in ways we may never have been able to grasp on our own. Artists see the world in a different kind of way that often sheds light upon social issues and personal revelation, provoking change and illuminating the raw experiences of life that unite humanity. Without our artists, we live in a bleak world devoid of soul. So, in an effort to illuminate the importance and the process of creative work, I met with artist, poet, and teacher Heather Sweeney to discuss her perspective on the role art plays in our lives. 

When did you first become interested in art? 

“I have been interested in art my entire life. My mother is an artist and I grew up going to museums and gallery openings. We were always exposed to art from a young age, so I would say that I can’t remember a time when I didn’t engage with it.”  

What medium did you start with? 

“I started with drawing when I was young, along with water coloring and painting. In high school, I used to draw and replicate album covers. I also really loved graffiti art, and I still do. But I would say that I really got interested in art when I was about fifteen.”

Did you decide as an undergraduate that you wanted to pursue a career in art?

“When I was an undergraduate, I majored in journalism and minored in English, so I am a writer as well. I write poetry and work within that medium a lot. For me, art is more about the body and writing is more about the mind, and so it pulls me in certain days. Some days I will be writing and my brain will need a break, so I will go work on my art.”

What made you want to teach college kids about contemporary art, specifically your class “Creativity and Communication in the Arts”? 

 “That’s a great question. I’ve taken our class in a lot of different directions, but I really wanted to focus on contemporary art, performance art, and movement because I feel like not a lot of folks are exposed to that and I think it can be very invigorating and exciting. I just love it, so I wanted to share my passion for it.”

Growing up with a passion for art, were you urged to do something more “practical” with your life? 

“Yeah, there was some pushback from a lot of people. I think that some think of it as a pipedream. I feel like there is kind of this stereotype about artists that they are going to be poor or that they are going to live a certain lifestyle, which is not the case. There are a lot of avenues for artists now. Think of social media and the exposure those platforms have granted to contemporary artists who would have never been seen. I also know a lot of artists who have “regular jobs” who still work on or sell their art. I think that is more common now as well.”

What advice would you give to young adults trying to break into the art scene? 

“I am not a famous artist, but I enjoy doing it. So I would say that if you enjoy doing it, just keep doing it. I was just in a group show in North Park where I got to display my work so I would say to enter some of those. When I was young I thought ‘I’m gonna move to New York and have my own gallery show and be famous’, and I feel like that kept me motivated but wasn’t the most realistic. Take some small steps in your own community and build your way up from there. Start with a group show or even create your own show. I think the small steps are necessary to gain exposure for your work.”

You have a MFA in writing, what made you want to pursue teaching? 

 “So, I have an MFA in writing and poetics. I wanted to do that, not necessarily to teach but to have some time and space to focus on my writing. Shortly after, I published two poetry books that were a product of that time I devoted to my work. I love visual art, but I am a poet as well. I feel like there is a balance and I want to do both. So that degree helped me get grounded and focus on it.”

How has your approach to creativity changed over the years? 

“I feel like I have always just gone with the moment, as if there is a feeling of momentum in my creative work. A lot of writers will write everyday from five to seven in the morning but that doesn’t work for me. When something strikes me or I have a line pop up in my head, I will write it down and go from there. Often scribbling on the backs of receipts or in the notes section of my phone, I stay in the moment with it and I don’t force it. I think it is more authentic and natural that way.”

Do you have a favorite artist or type of art?

“I love Mark Bradshaw and José Parlá. I also love abstract impressionism from the 90s from artists like Franz Klein, along with art from the 1920s by Leonora Kerington. I enjoy contemporary art that employs graffitti and language. I also really love performance art.”

Would you say that your love for contemporary art stems from the social critique it has to offer and the relevance it has to our daily lives? 

“For sure. I think it’s about the present moment and the future. I love exploring the question of what you see in this world, or what you see but choose to ignore. Or, how you move through the world. I think those are important questions to ask.”

If you would like to check out Sweeney’s various types of work, you can visit her personal website at  https://www.heathercsweeney.com. She also works as the director of the Creative Mind Academy, a brand new summer program for high school students that focuses on creativity as the core. Beginning in summer of 2022, it’s intention will be to help upcoming students launch their college careers, allowing them to stay on campus for the summer and take two classes. To learn more about the Creative Mind Academy visit https://cma.sdsu.edu

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