Dawn Holder, an associate professor of fine arts in our ceramics program area, is among our new faculty members arriving on campus this fall. She comes to Indianapolis from Arkansas, where she previously taught at the University of the Ozarks.
Holder, a sculptor and installation artist, brings a distinct combination of experience and expertise in ceramics, photography, and mixed media sculpture. She has received numerous awards and grants, and her work has been shown in galleries and museums across the country, including the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, D.C.
Holder answers questions about her work and teaching style in this installment of our "Five Questions" Q&A series, in which we ask various faculty members for sage advice and insight into their creative disciplines.
HERRON: What do you enjoy most about teaching college-level art?
DAWN HOLDER: I love processes like brainstorming and problem-solving. Each day in class I work alongside students to build their technical knowledge, refine their ideas, and open new lines of inquiry. I like to challenge students to experiment, as well as to think deeply about how to express meaning through the material, process, and form.
Helping each student articulate their creative goals and bring them to life is very rewarding. At the college level, there is time to help students build knowledge, confidence, and critical thinking skills that can set in motion a life-long creative trajectory, and it's thrilling to be a part of that process.
HERRON: You've made art about man-versus-nature issues like invasive zebra mussels, monoculture lawns, and urban sprawl. What compelled you to address these issues, which are intertwined with climate change and human consumption?
HOLDER: From an early age, I was taught to consider the impact that humans have on the world. As kids, my siblings and I weren't fined for swearing, instead, we had to put a quarter in the jar if we left the lights on in a room we weren't using. This environmental consciousness, however, didn't begin to filter into my artwork until I moved from Atlanta to Providence for graduate school.
The distinct change in my lived environment, from sprawling suburban to compact urban, prompted me to consider patterns of land use and the cultural, social, political, and economic factors that shape how we live in and relate to our surroundings. Now, my ideas are often sparked by the specific environments in which I live and work, and they are then deepened and refined through research. Reading about the history of the landscape, climate change, the Anthropocene, and environmental and social justice also influences my work. As a newcomer to the Midwest, I'm curious to see how my work shifts now that I'm living and working in Indianapolis.
HERRON: Do you have a favorite series of your own work? If so, which one is it? If not, what is your favorite part of the art-making process?
HOLDER: It's hard to choose a favorite, but my "Grass Variations" series has been a rewarding and long-running project for about 10 years. These porcelain grass installations have taught me a lot about myself as an artist and have led to many interesting conversations and opportunities. Creating this work helped me embrace failure as an inevitable part of the creative process, as well as to value perseverance, patience, and labor.
One of my favorite parts of the art-making process comes after all the parts are made — arranging, composing, and installing the work. I have a vision for many of my installation-based pieces and make sketches or small mockups, but don't see the finished piece until I build it in the gallery. As each of the parts finds its place as a part of the whole, a flood of exhilaration ensues.