Today’s Feature, May 9-10, 2007: Monica M. Wiedel

January 18, 2008 at 6:16 pm (Today's Feature)

There are many words I can use to describe Monica Wiedel, but the one that sticks in my mind is passionate. She’s passionate about her own work, her work as an educator, about making the art community a more “positive and empowering force” and passionate about bringing more attention to the sometimes forgotten world of public art. It is this drive and devotion that is making her a prominent figure in the world of art appreciation. Wiedel uses everything from paint to pencil shavings to express her feelings of love, loss and change. She’s about as honest and open as they come and it rings true in her answers. Her XXQs are a bold expression of one woman’s belief in change through art but I think she can explain it best.

XXQs: Monica Wiedel (PEV): How and when did you first get involved in art?

Monica Wiedel (MW): I can’t say exactly when I first got involved in art, but I can say that I’ve always been a creative thinker and a very self-reflective person. From a young age I remember trying to tie dandelions together to string them up in my playhouse, and pressing objects into the wet sand in my sandbox because I loved the textures I could create. Playing with play dough and making collages from mom’s catalogues were just a way of life for me. My version of tinkering in the garage alongside dad was using old optic wires to make sculptures and mobiles. As I got older, I turned to a sketchbook/journal combo to record my thoughts in word and image, though I still experimented with any medium that came my way. By high school, I had many creative outlets to help me process my world (pottery, watercolors, and photography, etc.). I’ve always felt a great sense of satisfaction creating things with my own two hands, especially when a strong emotional connection exists with some aspect of the art.

PEV: As an art educator, how has working with kids affected or inspired your art?

MW: For me, my work as an educator is separate from my work as an artist. It is certainly joyful to watch the “light bulbs go off” for my students and I take great pride in my program development. But the process I use to develop highly successful programs is quite linear. This is nothing like what my personal experience is when I create art. Art classes are orchestrated so that my students can perform at their personal best. The makings of a great program are separate, in my mind, from my work as an artist. For my students to achieve, these must be distinctly separate. As an educator, it’s about my students. With my artwork, it’s only about me.

PEV: You hear all the time that public schools are cutting funding for art classes. How does that make you feel?

MW: Public school funding for the arts is about priorities. The priorities of our democracy are reflected in the battle for dollars. Historically, and especially during wartimes, the arts lose funding to math, reading, and science programs, perhaps with the fear of other nations accelerating in war-related technology and engineering. During peaceful times, the purse strings are more willing to afford the arts for leisure and entertainment. I’m not saying that I agree with this approach, to the contrary. But I think it’s a fact. To many people, the arts are a frill over the fireplace or on the refrigerator, despite the fact that creative ingenuity and innovative problem solving is what truly powers nations.

PEV: What is your advice for kids who want to get involved in art?

MW: Kids should follow their drive in whatever direction it takes them. No one should feel limited in what they long to do. That being said, I believe it’s our so-called limitations that push us to be creative and force us to succeed. Whatever the circumstance, there’s never a shortage of readily-available materials to make art with. No one needs formal art training to get involved in art-making – just an internal drive and ‘stuff’.

PEV: Explain your creative process.

MW: I wish I could explain my creative process! It varies depending on the work I do. Sometimes I sketch beforehand, sometimes my approach is a meditative automatic drawing, and sometimes I have a concept in mind that I want to illustrate in abstract terms. Sometimes I have a more guided goal that I reflect on before hitting the canvas, and other times I have a specific task in a commission context. There are days that I am inspired by a found object or material, which sparks me to create. I don’t have a set procedure to make my art – and I love the freedom and flexibility I have because of it.

PEV: What has been the hardest part for breaking into the art community?

MW: I wouldn’t say I’ve ever broken into the art community. I do my thing and sometimes people notice. I don’t know that people really do “break into” the art community; it’s more that they work for years to establish a strong body of work that becomes recognizable and meaningful to the larger art community. I hope that people can identify with my work on some level, but it’s not something for me to get hung up on. My energy is better spent thinking about my art, not whether or not people accept me.

PEV: Which city, outside of the US, has the best environment for artists? Also, do you find one in particular place that works best for you?

MW: I can’t really say with city is best for artists. Art is made everywhere. I make art in Maryland because this is where I live, but it doesn’t mean this is the best (or worst) place to do it – just happens to be the place for me at this time. I can’t even say that political climate determines the best artistic environment because poignant art can be born out of civil unrest. From my perspective, any environment can be ideal for an artist.

PEV: You have shown work in paint and sculpture. What is your preferred medium to work with?

MW: I can’t decide between 2D and 3D – one isn’t better than the other to me. That’s a big no-no as far a building a consistent body of work, but I don’t care. I love making all kinds of art.

PEV: What do you say to the people that don’t quite “get” abstract art?

MW: When someone looks at an abstract painting, if their reaction is “I don’t get it”, I compare that to what my experience might be like looking at computer codes or ancient hieroglyphs. It would be confusing without any prior knowledge on the subject. Not all art is intended to give immediate satisfaction, especially with no prior understanding of abstract art. I don’t apologize for anyone being confused when they look at my paintings. My art isn’t for anybody’s instant gratification but my own. I don’t mean to sound like I have an elitist attitude, but there are layers of meaning, history, and/or process that a person may not see based on one immediate impression. Not all artists care if a viewer “gets it”. Not all art is made for an audience. Some audiences might appreciate my artwork, but it is not made for an audience’s benefit.

PEV: If you could sit down for dinner with one artist, alive or deceased, who would it be? Why?

MW: Pablo Picasso played such a huge role in modern art and profoundly influenced art as we know it today. I would love to have a conversation with him. Another great person to meet would be Julia Margaret Cameron who was a 19th century photographer. She made fine art prints without regard to conventional photography and evoked the strong emotional qualities of those she photographed. She also wrote influential works on the topic of creativity and was the grandmother of Virginia Woolf, another timely, out-spoken female thinker. I’m sure the conversations would be memorable!

PEV: What is one thing people would be surprised to hear about you?

MW: Hmm. Would it be surprising to learn that I love to travel? Not many people know that I love rap music and canoeing (though not at the same time). How about that I love to eat frozen Reeses Pieces? There’s a little-known fact. It may be surprising to learn that one of my favorite painting comparisons is Le Grande Odalisque by Ingres in 1814 and the Manet interpretation that followed as Olympia about fifty years later. Who knew?

PEV: What do you do when you hit that “brick wall” and feel like a project isn’t working right?

MW: I pick up a different painting or put it on hold. Sometimes I have to live with a painting for a few days, even weeks, before I am ready to go back to it. That’s one of the benefits of working on multiple projects.

PEV: How did feel the first time you walked into a gallery and saw your paintings displayed?

MW: It’s exciting to see my work up, but it’s also nerve-wracking. Sometimes I feel sick because it’s like my guts are hanging out for all to see and comment on. I don’t expect that will ever go away, but showing my work is a very rewarding aspect of being an artist.

PEV: What was it like when you realized that you can make a living off doing what you love?

MW: Is that what I’m doing?

PEV: What is a normal day like for you?

MW: I can’t recall feeling like any day is normal! Who knows what ‘normal’ should be, right? (I’m laughing!) My routine depends on the season, really. Most days I’m up at 7a.m. with my coffee and out the door to teach. If I’m not consulting with Irvine or teaching at an art center after my day job, then I head home to fix dinner and spend time with my fiancé. When the mood strikes me, I sketch or paint until I’m ready for bed. I often have projects that I’m working on, so I’m constantly making contacts and recording new ideas for proposals. I enjoy the fast pace of multiple projects, so my routine is always varied. I love that about what I do.

PEV: A lot of artists listen to music when they work. Do you?

MW: I used to listen to music while painting, but not so much anymore. I’m strongly affected by music, so I find it can alter the original intent of my paintings. It can really influence my work, which is makes my painting less pure in a way. Does that make sense? I know it sounds ridiculous, but it’s true.

PEV: Do you prefer to do a work for someone else (a commissioned piece) or a piece that will serve as a decoration for your house?

MW: Well, firstly, I don’t make paintings to “serve as decoration for my house”! I’m nauseated by the notion that this could be the sole purpose anyone makes art, dare I call that approach to it ‘art’. Many of my paintings are painful to create and they are never displayed (to anyone) once made. In some cases they are even painted over or destroyed. Commissions are important because I like to build partners in the community and empower individuals to make art through collaborative projects. Obviously it helps to have my name and work visible, too. But any work I do as an educator or as a commissioned artist is on a COMPLETELY different plane than my personal artwork as a mixed-media painter/sculptor. My commissions reflect the needs of particular group of people or neighborhood. My personal artwork is about me with no restrictions or boundaries.

PEV: What do you do when you are not working?

MW: I spend as much time as possible with my loved ones. I also work with the non-profit organization known as Irvine Nature Center to help them spread their important mission of environmental education within the community. I love to garden and journal, too.

PEV: Is there one theme or aspect behind your work you find yourself always looking to?

MW: Change is an over-whelming theme for me. Change, with all its consequences, is definitely a recurring theme.

PEV: So, what is next for Monica and

MW: My life is devoted to four things: my family, my art, my passion for conservation, and my quest to help educate a more conscientious crop of citizens for the next generation. These are all critically important to me, my way of life, and how I approach making art. is a very small piece of what I hope to accomplish in the coming years. I’ve barely scratched the surface. To find out more on Monica, check out:


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