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Visiting painter Dana Schutz offers advice to art students

Dana Schutz worked with painting students in the fall. Photo: Wayne Armstrong

New York-based painter Dana Schutz has become one of America’s best-known young artists by embracing — and painting — the often-strange ideas that come into her head. In one series of paintings she portrays people eating themselves; in another she imagines an Earth with only two people left: a man named Frank and a woman who observes and paints him.

In fall 2012, art students at the University of Denver got the opportunity to learn from Schutz in person as she visited campus as part of the Hamilton Collaborative Visiting Artist program, funded by Frederic and Jane Hamilton. Schutz was in Denver twice in the fall — in conjunction with exhibits of her work at the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver and the Denver Art Museum — and she spoke to and led workshops with DU students both times.

“She could talk to each student, no matter what level they were at, and find something to say,” says Deborah Howard, associate professor of drawing and painting. “She was amazing. I was really inspired as a teacher.”

The class bonded, Howard says, over an assignment Schutz gave during her first visit, in September: Paint a self-portrait of yourself as a dog. Schutz critiqued the results during her second visit, in November.

“The paintings ended up being autobiographical in a way that could not have happened if someone just gave them the assignment to do a self-portrait and talk about what you feel,” Howard says. “It gave them a real vehicle to do it in an indirect way. It was a great assignment, and I’m going to use it again.”

Thanks to Schutz’s encouragement, senior art major Ryan Hatfield is now applying to graduate schools in New York. He says Schutz brought a fresh eye to his portfolio and let him know the strengths of his work, as well as the areas in which he needs to improve.

“I expected that kind of snooty artist, but that’s not what Dana was at all,” he says. “She was one of the most down-to-earth people I’ve ever met. Extremely friendly, willing to joke with you — immediately your friend.”

To art students trying to find their way to a career as an artist, Schutz has some simple advice.

“You just have to work really hard and throw everything into it,” she says. “That sounds so banal and cheerleader-y, but it’s really true. It’s really hard to be an artist, and even if you do work really hard, there’s no guarantee about anything. There’s no advice you can give someone that things will somehow work out, but you can talk to people about how they can make art a big part of their life.”

If the Face Had Wheels, a 10-year survey of work by Dana Schutz, is on display at the Denver Art Museum through Jan. 13. Visit for more information.









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