Interview with Sarah Freiburg, Art Educator & Artist

Interview with Sarah Freiburg, Art Educator & Artist

Professional & Academic Perspectives of Art

Inspired by her high school art teacher, Chicago-land native Sarah Freiburg has become an art educator. Meanwhile, she continues to create art and to develop her portfolio, and has had some success marketing her pieces in numerous local showings.

She started her art education at Western Illinois University, and mid-way transferred to University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) to complete a bachelor of fine arts degree in education. Sarah eventually plans to return to school to earn a graduate degree in art.

Major influences in her painting and drawing work include artists such as Robert Rauschenberg, Ida Applebroog and Edward Munch.

"One common myth about the art profession is that it is extremely difficult to make a living selling artwork. I think it depends on the type of artist that you are. It is always smart to have something to fall back on if selling artwork doesn't work out," she tells "Be specific about what you are going to do with your art degree and how you are going to make a living doing it. Have a plan!"

You & Your Career

Tell us about your career in art. How did your career unfold to allow you to advance to where you are today?

My career is still unfolding. I was inspired to pursue a career in art education by my high school art teacher. It was only about three years ago that I finished my schooling and went on to start my career as an art educator. I continue to make art and develop my portfolio in my spare time. I hope to one day exhibit my work on a regular basis, as well as go back to graduate school.

What area of art do you specialize in?

While I was in college I took a variety of art courses which exposed me to many different mediums: drawing, painting, sculpture, photography, digital media and printmaking. Overall, I would say that I am most comfortable painting and drawing.

When did your interest in art begin?

From as long ago as I can remember!

What unique challenges and rewards come from working as an art teacher?

One of the most unique challenges about being an art teacher is working with 150 personality types a day, most of whom have never taken any art at all in grammar school. You really have to adapt your curriculum to meet a variety of different skill levels. Another unique challenge about being an art teacher is developing a rubric, or a method for judging art --which project gets an A who gets a D -- that sort of thing. You really have to decide what you're looking for. For me it's all about effort (and some ability) and how a student uses the time spent in my class. For many students, independent work time is just not structured enough.

Tell us about your experience with art shows. How did you go about getting a showing?

I really haven't had anything big yet, like the Museum of Contemporary Art or the galleries in downtown Chicago. I have shown at a number of places around my community. I have also organized a couple of art shows as well. For now I am keeping it local as I get my portfolio finished, organized and ready to go to market.

What similarities and differences have you found in your various artistic endeavors?

I have found similarity in the artwork that I make. There is a reoccurring style that has become evident in all of the work I create. I suppose that when you have been an artist for awhile you tend to develop a particular style of working; it's like handwriting, personalized. One of the differences that I often see in the art business is the people. I am always amazed by the different artist-like personalities that I come across. I guess that is why artwork can be so very different from piece to piece.

Who are the biggest inspirations for your career?

My high school art teacher, for one; I was also inspired by my aunt, who was a teacher for 30 years. I suppose I was just inspired to do something different in high school, something that involved using my creativity. There are also artists that have been influential in my work, including Robert Rauschenberg, Ida Applebroog and Edward Munch. I also had a few great professors in college.

What are some of your personal and/or professional goals for the future?

I want to put finish documenting and developing my portfolio and go on to graduate school. I would like to continue teaching throughout these career moves, although I am tempted to open my own gallery/bar/lounge in the future. The venue would be a combination of artistic acts accompanied by cocktails.

Describe a typical week of work for you. What exactly do you do?

It's always different. I try to make a point of having things like that. There are a few routines though. I work at the school until 3:30 p.m. doing a variety of school/work related tasks such as preparing for new lessons. After school, on Mondays I take piano lessons, Wednesdays I take yoga. Some days I make art, others I watch television or read (I'm really into books these days). I suppose I would spend more time making art if I had a studio. Usually I just use the dining room or living room, which can be problematic because there is always a lot of clean up involved.

What are the tools of the trade that you use the most?

Poly-Crylic Varnish. I love it, and so does my work. A good pen is a must as well; I have one on me at all times during work.

Education Information & Advice

Tell us about your art education.

I went to Western Illinois University. I loved the art department there, and the whole away-from-home college environment, for about two years. I felt that it would be more beneficial for me to be closer to Chicago, so I transferred to University of Illinois-Chicago (UIC), and finished my education for a bachelor of fine arts in education degree.

How did you choose the school(s) you attended?

I wanted to go away for the first two years of college and Western is a great school. UIC was all about location; it was a state school in the city.

In retrospect, what do you know now that you wish you knew before you pursued your art education? I wish I would have known what UIC was going to be like before I transferred there. The people were not all that friendly, and it had the commuter school vibe.

What factors should prospective art students consider when choosing a school? Are there different considerations for those who know they want to specialize in a certain area/artistic medium?

I think you should consider the price of a school; sometimes a state school has just as decent of an art department as an expensive private school. But if you have a specific area that you want to specialize in and the only school that offers the program is an expensive one, you should go for it.

What are considered some of the most respected and prestigious art schools, departments or programs?

For the visual arts in Chicago there is Columbia College and School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and Southern Illinois University in Carbondale has a great ceramics program. Of course, there are other schools outside of Illinois, but I did not spend too much time looking!

Does school choice make a difference in landing a good job?

It didn't really seem to affect me. For education, they are concerned about where you do your student teaching and if that experience is going to be useful for the type of environment you are interviewing for.

How can prospective art students assess their skill and aptitude?

Just keep making art. I went through some of my earlier artwork just the other day and I was amazed at how far I have come in terms of developing my skills and style. The best way to assess your skills is to keep making art and to keep looking at how your style changes. It is also good to get out and look at new art. I was just at the Around the Coyote Arts Festival in Chicago and it was so inspiring to see such different styles and ideas, and to secretly compare how my work fits in with the whole scheme of things.

What can students applying to art schools/programs do to increase their chances of being accepted?

Have an impressive portfolio. Include artwork that you make outside of school. Have your art teacher review and critique the contents of your portfolio. A truly good teacher will be honest about your strong and weak areas in order to help you develop as an artist.

How available are student internships and other hands-on art experiences?

I had art related jobs throughout college. If you cannot find an internship right away, try to gain employment in an art-related business. That way, you increase your connections --that is how I found my job!

In what ways could the art education system be changed to better serve society?

It really should be funded better throughout all high schools!

Job Information & Advice

What are the best ways to land a job in the art field? Or is it more common to be self-employed?

It's all about who you know. Most of the people who I know, including myself, have found jobs because they knew somebody in the field. I am quite fond of the whole self-employment thing; it is pretty common in my neighborhood.

What is the current job market in the field? Five-year forecast?

I am really not sure. On the education side, I know there are a lot of English teachers looking for work and not enough positions for them. I guess it's different for every subject area.

How can the reality of a career as an artist differ from typical expectations?

That you can actually have an art-related career!

What are some common myths about the art profession?

One common myth about the art profession is that it is extremely difficult to make a living selling artwork. I think it depends on the type of artist that you are. It is always smart to have something to fall back on if selling artwork doesn't work out.

Are there specialty computer software programs for the art field? If so, what are they and what do they do?

I am most familiar with Photoshop, which is used as a method of creating digital-based artwork.

How has the Internet affected the art profession?

You have access to more visual resources.

What are some of the contributions art makes to society?

Art enriches everyday life. Think about how boring it would be to go to work in an all white room, or go to a restaurant in an all white room or go anywhere with nothing artistic about the environment. Art is another way of communicating ideas, stories and culture. Before the masses were educated, they used to interpret parts of the Bible though songs and visual art. Also, advertising...need I say more?

Can you offer art tips for novices?

There are a lot of artists who spend a bunch of time sketching out preliminary drawings of their work before it goes on canvas. I tried all of that; sometimes it's necessary, sometimes it is completely useless. I say let it all pour out of you from the moment, and that's when you will find your true style.

What challenges will be addressed by the art industry in the next five years?

You always have to watch when computers replace people, like in the illustration business.

What other advice can you give to prospective students thinking about an education and career in art?

Be specific about what you are going to do with your art degree and how you are going to make a living doing it. Have a plan!

Is there anything else you can tell us about yourself, your career, or the art profession that would be interesting or helpful to others?

I tend to be humorous about my approach to life and career, but seriously, it is very important to find out what you like to do and make it happen. Life is just too darn short to spend any kind of time in a career that you dislike.

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