How does one embark on the next stage?
For Don Wilkison, Scientist Emeritus with the US Geological Survey and author of “Occurrence and Distribution of Nitrate and Selected Pesticides in Ground Water in Missouri, 1986–94” and “Water Quality in the Blue River Basin, Kansas City Metropolitan Area, Missouri and Kansas, July 1998–October 2004,” among other hydrological reports, that step was Artist INC.
Does The Art come from?
I think art comes from the work, from working
People had recommended Artist INC for years,” Wilkison recalls. “And I was reluctant, just like many people are. In fact, people often ask me about [Artist INC] and at the same time they say they’re reluctant. People don’t understand what it is. And also, they are so fixated on the question of where the art comes from. They think it comes from a magical place and they don’t want to disturb where it comes from and somehow Artist INC would do that. That’s the fear. But I think art comes from the work, from working.”
Wilkison has made art almost as long as he’s been a scientist
From science to propaganda to public engagement
Wilkison has made art almost as long as he’s been a scientist, as the “Minister of Information,” AKA M.O.I., a moniker that hints at the breadth of his backgrounds and interests, from science to propaganda to public engagement. As a research scientist, Wilkison had plenty of experience structuring projects and writing grant applications—chasing funding. In 2012, he won the first of two Rocket Grants and mounted his first solo show, at Leedy-Voulkos Gallery. But as he made the transition from full-time scientist to full-time artist, he decided to level up other areas of his professional art practice through Artist INC. He found the experience so valuable that within a year he was back again, for Artist INC Advance.
to level up
of his professional art practice through Artist INC
I realized I had to push myself to get out of my comfort zone.
Anytime you do that it’s good, and Artist INC does that. That alone is worth it. You go in and you say: this is what you want to do. And you see that you’re not in a vacuum, your practice is not in a vacuum, there are other artists with different ideas. So what mechanisms are you going to use, how are you going to get there. It helps you understand that failure’s okay.”
“The other artists in the program came from all different places. I loved that. It was my favorite part. It was the most diverse group I’ve ever been part of, artists from every background and they all worked. Learning to ask for help—I learned that. I’m still not good at it but I learned that. It made me more intentional.”
We’re all constrained by time, money, energy.
Rethinking your practice
“We’re all constrained by time / money / energy to make the work. You are always having to rethink your practice. If this is what you want to do and you need funding to do it then how are you going to do it? You have to be intentional and continually find ways to do it or expand my practice. I’ve always worked and I feel like there’s no excuse for not working. Having no money is no excuse, so how are you going to do it. It’s up to you to figure that out. And sometimes you have a great idea and sometimes you don’t get the funding so you just have to figure the time isn’t right or you have to rework the idea.”
I feel like there’s no excuse for not working.
As much civil servant as artist, Don Wilkison’s work is informed by his scientist’s background. As m.o.i. aka The Minister of Information, he works in a variety of approaches and media, including collaborative public installations and interventions, experimental film, photography, print making, and sculpture.
A lot of the art world is so...
“and you almost have to do that in your practice; you have to do that branding. For years I felt like I was on the outside but when I was on the Charlotte Street Foundation Troost residency I realized that people saw me as an insider, because I’d had two Rocket Grants and a curatorial grant and been a juror. But here I am thinking I’m an outsider because I don’t have gallery representation. So there are perceptions.”
You have to do
“Artist INC is not some magic bullet that helps you be a successful artist. Not that there’s nothing wrong with making money. You should make work and be successful...
To me success is keeping the “project” moving forward. That means I’m moving forward with essentially my life. My idea of what I want to do. I don’t separate art-making from my life. I don’t see the point of that. So I just want to keep that going forward. Sometimes that looks more successful than other times but as long as I’m going forward. Sometimes I do get stumped. But the thing to do is keep working in some way.”