ArtTalk: MU student Ryan Johnson discusses artistic process, inspirations

Monday, November 26, 2012 | 6:00 a.m. CST

This article is a part of ArtTalk, a new Missourian project inviting people from the arts community to tell us what’s cooking around town. To submit something you're excited about and open the eyes of the community to local art, fill out the form at the bottom of this story. Find past submissions here.

Here's the latest in the series, written by MU journalism student Karen Rodriguez, pictured below.

Rodriguez is the author of the arts blog, "lets-be-ART-iculate." Her question-and-answer post with MU fine arts student Ryan Johnson was originally posted there, along with a video to accompany it.

Q: How do you feel when you are in your element? When you are creating something?

A: I guess I would say that there is this kind of “in the zone” feeling when I am 100 percent focused on my work. But, to be honest I sometimes find that feeling to be somewhat elusive. Sometimes I have a really hard time blocking everything else in my life out and when that happens it can be fairly frustrating. But when I do manage to drown everything out and give my work all of my attention it really is an incredible feeling; and of course it affects the quality of the work I am doing. I guess that is something that I am still working on developing.

Q: Do you ever have that effect where you never feel like a piece is done? Or do you feel like you are almost always satisfied?

A: That’s a tough one. There are times when I can honestly say that a piece is finished and that there is nothing else that I feel the need to do to it. And there are a few times when I just am never quite satisfied with the work but feel the need to move on. And I would never really chalk up those instances as failures. There are some of my older works that I would like to revisit and improve upon, but I think that I will do that through repetition of the imagery or subject matter in an entirely new piece. It's kind of like feeling full at the end of a meal. Sometimes you just hit that perfectly contented feeling, but other times you might exhaust yourself until you just need to walk away from the meal before you hate yourself.

Q: Did you always know that you were going to be an artist?

A: Most certainly not. I suppose that I’ve known for a very, very long time that art would always hold a special place in my heart; but my decision to make art my career, and essentially my life, was a fairly recent one. In middle school and early high school when anyone asked me what I was going to be when I grew up I would have said that I was going to be a cartoonist. I wanted to make cartoons and comic books and things of that nature. I think I drew someone from the TV show Dragon Ball Z every day throughout my entire middle school education. Anyway, when I started college I was a biology pre-med major. That only lasted a semester though. I took an elective art class and then I was hooked all over again and decided that that was all I wanted to do.

Q: As an artist what is the most satisfying feeling? I mean why do you do it?

A: I suppose that this goes back to a few of the things that I mentioned earlier. I do it simply because I enjoy it and in some essences, I need it. I feel most satisfied when I am “in the zone” as I mentioned earlier and when I finish a work feeling completely satisfied with it. It all goes back to that “feeling full” metaphor that I used earlier. I work for essentially the same reasons that I eat and I can walk away from a meal or an artwork in all of the same ways. But I always feel the best when I walk away completely and perfectly contented.

Q: Who is your favorite artist, and why are they your favorite?

A: Esao Andrews. His work completely blows me away each and every time that I see it. His work is so… perfectly strange and captivating. Not to mention beautiful. There really is nothing quite like it. Each and every one of them have an awesome story-telling element to them and that is the element of his work that I would like to emulate the most in my own. I completely urge anybody to do a quick Google search of his work and prepare to have their mind blown. I know that I am every time that I see his stuff. I love it. I wouldn’t be making the work that I make if I had never seen his work. It has definitely had the greatest effect on me. I even was lucky enough to meet him last spring when he visited campus to give a presentation, and it was amazing to hear him talk about his life and work and the things that brought him to his work. And on top of it all, he is just a really cool guy.

Have something from Columbia’s arts and culture scene that you’d like to share with the rest of the community? Become a part of ArtTalk.

The rules? There aren’t many. Describe works of art, places, events, workshops, exhibits or anything else arts-related. The only restriction is that you can't share your own work. To submit, fill out the form below or email the same information to us at

This invitation is part of the Missourian's partnership with the Public Insight Network. Read more about that here.

Questions? Contact Joy Mayer, the Missourian's director of community outreach, at or 573-882-8182.

Like what you see here? Become a member.

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