CLEMSON — Valerie Zimany has been named chair of the art department at Clemson University.
An associate professor of art and a nationally known ceramics artist, Zimany had served as the interim chair since May 2017.
“As an outstanding artist/educator and academic administrator, Professor Zimany will be a dynamic leader for the department of visual art,” said Richard E. Goodstein, dean of the College of Architecture, Arts and Humanities. “Her commitment to arts education, career preparation for her students and diversity will be a great asset to the college and university.”
Zimany first arrived at Clemson in 2010 as the ceramics area coordinator and lead faculty member in ceramics.
Since then, Zimany has made it a top priority to provide more opportunities for Clemson University students to explore art and their own creative potentials.
“The arts are a way to cultivate creativity and critical thinking and develop resilient students and workers,” said Zimany, a two-time Fulbright Scholar and Japanese Government Scholar.
She believes an education in visual art creates an opportunity for personal growth and professional flexibility in a fast-changing global economy, whether a student is a major or non-major.
“You can’t automate creativity,” Zimany said.
The appeal of art
Over the course of an academic year, as many as 500 students take classes in the department of art at Clemson, and students from 56 different academic majors across all seven colleges have participated in the art minor. In addition, about 100 undergraduate and graduate majors are pursuing degrees.
“There is a broad demographic of students across the university with an interest in art,” Zimany said. “We’d like to find ways to expand that access in our academic programs.”
Currently, the department offers two nationally accredited degree programs: a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree with concentrations in ceramics, drawing, painting, photography, printmaking and sculpture; and a Master of Fine Arts in the same concentrations.
“What we can provide for our students is something that has a small, quality art school feel to it with an intense individual studio practice,” Zimany said. “But we’re also able to draw upon the resources of a comprehensive research university.”
In addition to studio classes, the department offers art history and also oversees internships and three innovative, ongoing Creative Inquiry projects that provide professional experience in the arts.
Through Clemson Curates, students gain practical experience in planning and installing exhibitions at Lee Gallery and also at Sikes Hall, the Brooks Center and Strode Hall.
Atelier InSite allows students from across the university to directly participate in the process of bringing public art to Clemson.
“It allows Clemson students the opportunity to leave a lasting cultural mark on campus,” Zimany said.
Every new building on campus has a public art component. Atelier InSite students make recommendations on new art projects and supervise every facet of their installation. Recent public art projects include “Foundation,” an installation at Lee Hall by artists Volkan Alkanoglu and Matthew Au.
In 2014, Zimany initiated the Community Supported Art program, or CSArt.
“It operates like a community-supported agricultural share, where you buy a share of a farm and then at some point you show up and get a crop of local produce. In the Community Supported Art project, what the shareholder receives is a ‘crop’ of fresh, Clemson student artwork,” Zimany said.
The Clemson program is modeled after a concept begun more than 20 years ago at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, and is the first CSArt program originating in an undergraduate setting at a research university.
The CSArt bounty arrives as a crate filled with limited-edition works created by Clemson students. The shares have sold out for six seasons straight.
Each shareholder in 2017-18 received the same professionally juried selection of art, which included three ceramic pieces, two prints and a photograph.
Participating students received experience in communications, social media, sales, packaging and web design – skills they will need as independent artists or to work for a nonprofit, museum or gallery, Zimany said.
Zimany has been encouraged that top university administrators, including Goodstein, Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost Robert H. Jones and President James P. Clements have been CSArt subscribers.
Exploring East and West
In addition to teaching and leading the art department, Zimany remains active as a professional artist, exhibiting nationally and internationally. Her work is in multiple public and private collections including the Icheon World Ceramic Museum, the American Museum of Ceramic Art and the National Museum of Slovenia.
Zimany spent much of her 20s in Japan, training in traditional and modern ceramics.
She earned an MFA in crafts/ceramics from Kanazawa College of Art in Kanazawa, Japan, after earning a BFA in crafts/ceramics and art education from the University of the Arts in Philadelphia.
Her recent work explores intersections between her American background and the culture she came to know during her extended education in Japan.
“I visually examine relationships between the East and West, nature and technology, and intimate and public worlds,” Zimany said.
“My recent work explores curiosity about hanazume – or ‘packed florals’ – a pattern that incorporates Asian and European botanical patterns into the traditional wares of the region of Japan where I lived,” Zimany said.
“Digital manufacturing tools have created a resurgence in dense, delicate or improbable decorative patterns and forms,” she said. “In my work, details of precisely rendered 3D-printed objects become hazed through the intensive and repetitious process of press-molding by hand. I find the conversion of visual information into digital content intriguing, not for creating perfect replicas, but as an avenue to consider flaws in translating our perceptions and memories.”
Zimany aims to adapt traditional arts practices at Clemson by bringing new technologies into the ceramics studio. She hopes the “inclusive and engaged” research environment at Clemson will allow her to collaborate with other disciplines that are successfully merging digital tools and creative output.
Zimany seeks to expose students and the larger community to ways new technologies are being used in studio art education.
As department chair, Zimany would like to see the visual arts play a larger role in promoting positive dialogue across campus – a primary goal of the university’s strategic plan.
“I see art as a lens through which we can expand the discourse on campus to examine contemporary concerns,” Zimany said.
Art can spark discussions about the environment or race relations, she said. For example, Todd Anderson, a Clemson professor, documents vanishing glaciers in his woodcut prints. And professor Andrea Feeser, who published a history of indigo trade and its effects on colonial South Carolina, addresses land use and race relations in the past and present.
Zimany believes Lee Gallery, the department’s primary exhibition space, can be a crucial player in promoting discussion. “A museum or gallery might be one of the last places where people run into others of diverse background and experiences,” she said.
“We’re looking at new programs that will allow us to expand and connect with more Clemson students,” Zimany said.
One of Zimany’s hopes is to expand the Lee Gallery’s visiting artist series.
“I truly appreciate the art faculty for their confidence that I will be a worthy advocate for them and our students,” Zimany said. “I also appreciate the support of Dean Goodstein and his strong advocacy for the arts at Clemson.”
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