Karla Stinger-Stein / Core Studies

Karla Stinger Stein, Watkins College of Art

Name the one place in Nashville you go for inspiration or rejuvenation.
Outside for a simple walk. I do this in Shelby Park. I’ll also go to the Willie Nelson Fortune Teller machine next to the Dukes of Hazzard Museum and pay a dollar to await instructions.

What advice do you most often give yourself or other artists?
My advice to any young artist is not to wait for inspiration but to go find it. Cultivate a ritual of working so that finding inspiration becomes routine.

Why does art matter?
Art matters because it prompts within ourselves unanticipated questions, questions we may have never considered. It also allows us to consider those questions on our own terms without being told how to think.

Which is your favorite course to teach at Watkins?
Research in Studio Practice. In that course, I get to see students transform during their first year at Watkins.


Activities like observational drawing allow us to discover how much we underutilize our senses, in this case sight.

Which one quality do you think the world needs more from artists?
A keen sense of perception. For instance, I often hear students say they can’t draw. However, if you can write your name you can draw. Drawing, like handwriting, is a learned skill. The faculty that allows us to write the alphabet, or “write what we say,” is the same one that allows us to draw the observable world, or “write what we see.” Through drawing we confront just how little we actually see.

Which artist, historic or contemporary, from any discipline, couldn’t you live without?
Before I ever saw Colombian artist Doris Salcedo’s work, I saw an interview she gave. It helped me realize that the limitations I felt in developing my art career were in fact my greatest sources of knowledge. Being a professional in the art world is as much about making work as it is about participating in the art world community; and this community is not without prejudice. As an older woman undertaking an advanced degree in midlife, I have held my own set of fears in relation to this circle. My peers in school were much younger than I. I worried I appeared old and outdated to them, questioning if I would ever be taken seriously in a sphere where sex appeal matters despite our best efforts to the contrary. When I was exposed to Doris Salcedo’s ideas I found a new way of thinking about my fears. As an artist who identifies with a third-world heritage, she says, “I know what being excluded is. I have experienced racism. I have a thick accent. I am dark. I am female. I am from Colombia. I have the wrong passport. So, that gives me a huge, huge, huge range of experience.” Because of this interview, I look at qualities I felt previously held me back and see them as a source of power.

What do your parents think about your being an artist?
My parents think being an artist is the greatest thing. I was lucky in that I was always encouraged to make art. The only pushback I got from my family was when I made sculptures instead of paintings for my thesis. Go figure.

When do you know a piece is finished?
I am always full of self-doubt the moment I stop working on a piece. I become focused on its flaws. My remedy for this self -doubt is to look at the works of other artists in person. When you look at art in books or online you see a “polished” and “perfected” version. Art in real life is dirtier, less exalted, and therefore more. Seeing work in person helps me shift away from idealization and step toward appreciation of what I have to offer.

Biggest myth about being an artist?
That great art comes from genius. Genius is a byproduct of learning, practice, focus, commitment, hard work, honesty, and a demand for excellence. I see merit in evoking a self-directed sense of security within the young artist. I show students how the work of professional artists and designers tackle the same concepts they are pursuing. This way they know that in art, there is no “one” way.

Karla Stinger-Stein is an artist and founder of Photosynthesis Projects. Working across a range of media,Stinger-Stein makes site-sensitive work to address ecological vulnerability in the era of the Anthropocene. This includes transforming waste into building materials to support native plants for threatened wildlife habitat. She holds an MFA from Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York. She has participated in group exhibitions at the New Museum’s IDEAS CITY Festival; the Dumbo Arts Festival; the Schuylkill Center for Environmental Art in Philadelphia, PA; Elizabeth Foundation for the Arts, New York; Lafayette College; Pratt Institute, New York; the University of Massachusetts; and the Banana Factory in Pennsylvania. She has also participated in the GO! Brooklyn Museum Open Studio Project.Stinger-Stein has received grants from the University of Massachusetts Arts Council and the University of Massachusetts Art and Art History Department. She is formerly the director of development at the Hunterdon Museum of Art in Clinton, New Jersey; and the gallery director for the Student Union Art Gallery at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.