San Jacinto College South art professor, Martin Wnuk, inspires his students’ creativity both personally and professionally. Photo credit: Andrea Vasquez, San Jacinto College marketing department.
Faculty Spotlight on Martin Wnuk: Art is what you make it
Andrea Vasquez-- September 7, 2011
HOUSTON — The term “starving artist” is one that all parents foresee the minute their child expresses their desire to pursue a career in the arts. For San Jacinto College (SJC) art professor Martin Wnuk, seeing students flourish in his art classes is a reward in itself.
“When you take an art class it should be a life changing experience,” said Wnuk. “The major reason people stop doing art is because of fear – fear of failure. I don’t give my students the opportunity to feel that anxiety because we work fast; they don’t have time to work and be anxious at the same time.”
Originally from Pennsylvania, Wnuk earned an associate degree in graphic design from the State University of New York, and then went on to Syracuse University where he received his Bachelor of Fine Arts in Painting. After teaching art for two years at Blodgett Junior High in Syracuse, New York, he enrolled in graduate school at Arizona State University where he taught drawing and painting courses while earning his Master of Fine Arts in Studio Art. Upon leaving Arizona State, Wnuk was offered a position as an associate professor of art at the University of Nebraska at Kearney in which he was asked to create their graphic design department.
In 1985, he accepted a position at the University of Houston - Clear Lake where he taught graphic design for 15 years, helping also to computerize the whole department, preparing it for the digital design wave to come. Yet, his heart was still in fine art. In 2000, he handed in his resignation to continue with his fine art opportunities. However, in 2005 the education door was opened once more when SJC offered him an adjunct faculty position. For the last six years, Wnuk has been inspiring and motivating his students in the art area he has always been most passionate about.
“Being able to see that progression within my students is really the most rewarding thing for me,” he said. “I learn as much from them as they learn from me. As a teacher, you get to explore your own artistic ideas by giving them a project and seeing all the different points of view they come up with.”
Unlike most professional areas, the arts continue to be one of the most competitive areas to break into. Whether it’s painting, acting, dancing, photography, or music, Wnuk says that if the personal drive isn’t there, the chances of doing something professionally associated within that area are slim. “When you’re in any of the arts, failure, disappointment, and rejection are a big part of it. I teach my classes with the understanding that doing art is probably one of the most competitive things that you could do in the world. I push them very hard, and the results are very good,” he said.
It’s easy to see what Wnuk’s students gain from his teaching and experience. He has shown in exhibitions in New York, Massachusetts, California, Nebraska, Texas, as well as a few solo exhibitions in Arizona, and now has some of his work continuously on display at the Avis Frank Gallery in Galveston, his guidance in discovering their own artistic voice is definitely welcomed.
“Imagine that they’re like a bunch of popcorn in a pot,” said Wnuk. “You put on some heat, pressure, shake them up a bit, then right around midterm they start to pop; they really find themselves as artists. It’s very possible to teach an art class in a very uncreative way, and sadly, many students get used to that. So when they’re actually in a class that exercises their creativity, it’s a revolution to them.”
In a report by the National Endowment for the Arts, nearly two million Americans identified an artist occupation as their primary job, whose aggregate income totals about $70 billion a year. Designers, which include graphic designers, fashion designers, and interior designers, are the single largest group of artists, followed by actors, dancers, musicians, and announcers. When comparing artists within the civilian labor force and other traditional professional occupations, 54 percent of artists have a bachelor’s degree or higher, with a median full-time annual income of $45,200. In terms of artist populations, Texas ranked third in the top 15 artist-heavy states, with a population of 120,916 artists.
About San Jacinto College
Surrounded by monuments of history, industries and maritime enterprises of today, and the space age of tomorrow, San Jacinto College has been serving the citizens of East Harris County, Texas, for 50 years. The College is committed to the goals and aspirations of a diverse population of more than 29,000 students in over 140 degree and certificate options, including university transfer and career-track choices. Students also benefit from the College’s job training programs, renowned for meeting the needs of growing industries in the region. San Jacinto College. Your Goals. Your College.
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