Q and A: Mr. Allen, Art, Location, and Inspiration

Q and A: Mr. Allen, Art, Location, and Inspiration

Olivia Kucsik

If you’ve taken art at Capital City, you’ve probably crossed paths with Mr. Allen.

Justin Allen, an art teacher at CCHS has taught art for 7 years in the JC School District. Currently, he teaches Intro to Art, Painting I, and Drawing I/II. Before he taught at Capital City, he instructed at Simonsen Ninth Grade Center, and previous to that he taught high school-aged students at a studio school in New York City.

Below is conversation about his personal art endeavors and experiences as a teacher.

You make art and obviously, you teach art, so when and how did your interest of the subject begin? Was there a person, perhaps a teacher that influenced you?

“I was always interested in art from an early age. I did have some great teachers along the way. When I went to JCHS I had Jay Bob Estes and Jim Haslag. Later, when I was in New York earning my masters I had some gifted teachers too. When you encounter someone who takes what they do seriously, in this case art, that makes an impression and inspires you to do likewise.”

When did art go from a hobby to a profession?

“I suppose when I was earning my MFA in painting during open studio events, I started to have people interested in showing and selling my art. Also, when I started teaching art I would consider that part and parcel of being a professional artist.”

What is your favorite piece of art you’ve ever created?

“It’s a little painting of a green plastic trash can that is turned over on its side with sunlight shining through the plastic.  It was one of my first oil paintings but still I think one of my most successful.”

What’s your favorite piece you’ve seen a student create? Why?

“There are too many that I like to pick just one. When students are inventive and they put a lot of care into their work, those are my favorites.”

In your paintings, you capture common items with great detail. What is your inspiration behind what you create?

“Just seeing the beauty in the commonplace or taken for granted. It’s kind of like an enigma because it’s so nothing but still beautiful. And then you, the artist can lavish great attention to it in the rendering and it can elevate the moment.”

You’ve taught students in New York, and of course now in Missouri. What differences do you see in the art that your students produce? Do you think that location influences the art you create, or is it influenced by the individual?

“In New York the students I taught were very serious about getting into good art schools. That was the business model of the studio school where I was teaching. The students worked very hard, long hours to create their work and it showed. New York City is an intense place where people are highly motivated. So in that kind of way, place influences the art work that people produce. The individual of course is channeling the energy of a place and shaping that into art. So there is always an interplay between place and the individuals who are experiencing it and making art.”

Do you think any student can be a good artist? If so, how does someone start? What’s your best piece of advice?

“Yes I think any student can be a good artist. If they have inspiration and need to express it with art. That’s the place to start. And artists don’t have to make realistic art for it to be good. My best piece of advice would simply be to notice things that capture your attention and see if you can turn it into art somehow.”