Tara Blackwell, 1999
Bio: Tara Blackwell ’99 is a visual artist living and working in Connecticut and New York. Raised in a household filled with artists, it is only natural that Tara was drawn to the arts from a young age. Her background in Advertising from Emerson College serves as inspiration for her playful pop art evoking a strong sense of nostalgia for viewers. By recreating familiar logos and packaging into a visual narrative of her youth, she transports us back to our own– offering us a touchstone to childhood joy. Exploring vintage imagery with subversive wit and whimsy, Tara transforms symbols of the past into a contemporary artistic vision.
What’s the most memorable experience you had at Emerson that helped shape you professionally?:
My most memorable experience was actually when I first stepped foot on Emerson’s campus. As a creative, I often felt like I didn’t quite fit in in high school. When it came time to apply for college, I remember going on tours and feeling the same way. When I visited Emerson, I felt I had finally found my people and where I belonged. At Emerson, I had a space to explore my interests through multiple creative outlets and leadership opportunities. One notable experience was taking on the challenge of co-chairing EBONI during a time when the organization had become defunct. Through our e-boards’ combined efforts in marketing, outreach and programming, not only did we re-establish ourselves as a recognized student club, we were awarded “Organization of the Year.” That experience showed me what I was capable of achieving and really set the tone for how I approach my professional goals today.
In your work as an educator, what are some timeless pieces of advice you’ve shared with students?:
I have spoken to many students who feel like everyone else has it all figured out except for them. They are anxious about making a decision on a college major or career path because they don’t want to make the “wrong” choice, believing that what they decide now will be a life-long, irreversible decision. Although I validate these feelings (of course, these are important decisions) I also want students to understand that this is an ongoing journey that extends far beyond college. All we can do is start walking in a certain direction. Have a goal in mind but be open to those chance events that will inevitably occur. Those twists and turns will lead to things that couldn’t be planned for or imagined. You will meet people, discover new interests, be presented with opportunities which will continually contribute to your professional development. Have a plan, but be ready for and welcome the unexpected.
What sparked your desire to pursue a career in the visual arts? As an emerging artist, what are some things you’ve learned so far about the field?:
When I hear a child say that she wants to be an “artist” when she “grows up” my response is always “you already are!” I think being an artist is part of one’s identity on a level deeper than a professional title. Writers, performance artists, and visual artists often recall being drawn to their craft in early childhood. The arts have always been a big part of my life growing up, so my desire has been there for as long as I remember. As an adult, I realized that if I wanted to be a “working artist” I needed to make a serious, proactive decision which involved risk, sacrifice and a ridiculous amount of hard work. Having a good mentor and spending time with other artists has been instrumental to my development. I’ve learned to be open to criticism while maintaining confidence. Artists need to be resilient and keep moving forward despite moments of insecurity. Hard work will lead to accomplishments, but never become complacent. Constantly think about how you can do better, achieve more, push harder and you (and your work) will continue to evolve. I am still learning, but I recognize my growth so far and am excited about the future possibilities.
What does representation for women mean to you as an artist?:
Being a visual artist can be a solitary experience when long hours are spent in the studio producing art. Personally, I am fortunate to be part of a wonderful circle of women artists, however, I know that many artists view one another as competition instead of community. Historically, women have been underrepresented and undervalued in the art world, so women artists especially need to be supporters and advocates for one another. Progress has been made but, as with many professions, we need to keep pushing the status quo to ensure that we are recognized and valued. There is power in coming together and I am excited to see more exhibits for women, by women.
What advice would you offer a student looking to expand their professional brand in the field of visual art?:
It is important to have a strong, consistent online presence while also cultivating and maintaining in-person connections. All visual artists should have a clean, professional website site which includes samples of their work, a bio, CV, and artist statement. Additionally, utilizing Instagram and other online platforms is key to engaging with collectors, galleries, and other artists. If you are using social media, be sure your account is solely focused on your art and not cluttered with unrelated content. These platforms provide the perfect opportunity to showcase your work, announce upcoming exhibits, and promote your creative brand. Post regularly and actively interact with others to increase your visibility. Although online networking is extremely helpful for artists, remember that it is essential to still physically get out of the studio to connect with people. Attend gallery receptions, art fairs, open studios, and other events. When you make a new connection, be sure to get their business card/contact information to follow up. Keep in mind that your current peer group will become your professional network in the near future. Support one another and continue to stay connected and engaged with your Emerson community.