Jenn Wiggs, who works out of Orr Street Studios, is interested in the unseen and gravitates toward the abstract. She paints while listening to jazz, she says, because it is music’s form of abstraction, and that parallel provides inspiration. Her colorful contemporary paintings line the walls of her studio.
Wiggs says she wasn’t serious about art until college. There, first at Indiana University Bloomington and then at Washington University, her classes influenced her aspirations and set her life on a trajectory of producing art. “She’s one of the most dedicated artists I’ve ever met,” says Orr Street Studios Director Ivy Case. “I think if you’d cut her, then she’d bleed art. It’s in her bones. It’s in her blood.”
Wiggs spoke with Vox about her teaching, her paintings and the valuable lessons we can learn from art.
When did you become interested in art?
I took some lessons as a kid, but I didn’t get serious until college. For basic design, I had a guy named William Itter, who is an amazing artist and professor. That class changed my life instantly. I knew I was an artist, I knew this was what I was going to do, and I got really serious about it. I realized that if I were going to do that, then I had to make changes in how I lived my life. I couldn’t just stay out and drink beer and party with all my party-loving friends.
Why did you choose painting as your main medium?
If I were good at three-dimensional art, then I would have known by now. I had to take a sculpture class as a grad student, and that was hard. I don’t think in a three-dimensional way. I don’t feel like you make those choices; those choices are made for you. You don’t really choose what you make. It comes to you from someplace else, and you just go with it.
Describe your workshop, Jenn’s Schoolhouse of Big Ideas.
It was a four-week session beginning in May, and the concept for that goes back to old days in the schoolhouse where you’d have kids of all different ages, and they’d all be doing math. But it would all be at different levels, from second graders all the way through high school. I’d have a lesson about line, and there would be beginner, intermediate and advanced things you could do.
How has teaching changed you as an artist?
Teaching broadens me. When you’ve sat through a lot of classes and you’ve seen a lot of different approaches, in a sense, it channels your energies into a certain way of creating. It shifts you away from things you found that were unhelpful or that you found limiting. Teaching has made me appreciate a lot of different perspectives from students and their interests.
What can art teach us about ourselves?
Our normal lives have a lot of dust on them. Art blows that dust off. It can allow you to visit deeper ideas about how you feel about things. Art can ask questions, and questions are a great place to begin instead of taking things at face value. A lot of our lives can be superficial. It’s good to be reminded of bigger things. ￼