On May 14, UW–Madison will celebrate its Spring 2022 Commencement. We reached out to a few of our students who are graduating from programs in the School of Education to learn about their favorite UW–Madison memories and future plans. Following is a Q&A with Elizabeth Sheeler, who is graduating with a master of fine arts degree focused on 4-D art.
Where are you from, and what brought you to UW–Madison?
I was born and raised in Fayetteville, Arkansas, which is where I got my undergraduate degree. I came to graduate school at UW–Madison because of great funding opportunities, and it is a great research-based institution with amazing faculty. Getting to live somewhere with lots of snow was a bonus!
Why did you decide to pursue graduate study?
I pursued graduate school for a couple of reasons. First I wanted to get my MFA so that I can teach art at the university level. And second, I felt I was just starting to figure out what direction and medium I was interested in for my practice toward the end of my undergraduate career. I also did not feel like I could talk about my work very successfully and knew attending graduate school would give me a safe place to play, grow, learn, and solidify my practice in ways that I could not outside of academia. I wanted a three-year program to have ample time to devote to my practice, allowing me to take risks and have the space to fail and try again!
Tell us about your artwork. Your focus is on 4-D art — how would you describe this?
My concentration is in 4D, which focuses more on time-based and social practice media forms.
As I sit here hearing the faucet drip, the rough carpet underfoot, the cold air currents in the room, having an awareness of an enclosed space around me, and tasting peppermint in my mouth, I start to form a picture. We are surrounded by many sensory clues every day that can help us understand our environment if we allow them to.
Approximately 80 percent of the information we receive is through our vision. My practice is a reflection of my new positionality in life as a Blind individual. I create interactive spaces where participants are forced to encounter their own perception of the space and confront the way they choose to engage with their surroundings. By being immersed with a mostly non-visual experience, participants are asked to re-learn. Participants gather information in a variety of ways to help stimulate their visual memory and build a clear mental picture.
“Blind” is just another descriptor to me, and not a negative one that I need to hide or reject. Many people try to understand and connect with me but do not have experience with blindness. Increasing participants’ awareness through interaction increases their understanding. Viewers begin to understand where to begin outside their own experience and generate an informed choice on my lived experience. I am not my blindness just as a sighted individual is not their vision.
"My practice is a reflection of my new positionality in life as a Blind individual. I create interactive spaces where participants are forced to encounter their own perception of the space and confront the way they choose to engage with their surroundings."
What was your most meaningful experience at UW–Madison?
I have had many meaningful experiences at UW. For instance, eating lunch together as a class every week in Michael Peterson’s performance class, and learning how to blow glass with Ian Schmidt and Kagen Dunn. However, my most meaningful experience was learning with my third-year cohort! It has been so wonderful growing with them over the last three years. I might be partial, but we have the best cohort with such amazing artists, always encouraging one another, helping each other when needed, giving great advice, and most of all walking through the life of grad school together. I can’t thank them enough and am excited to see what’s in all of their futures.
What class or professor had the greatest impact on you, and why?
There were several professors that really influenced me during my time at UW. My experience would have not been the same without all the time and energy my committee poured into me. I am very thankful for Michael Peterson for his ongoing encouragement; Laurie Beth Clark for teaching me how to ask the bigger questions in my work; Fred Stonehouse for the conversations we had and his creative inspiration; Faisal Abdu’Allah for all his knowledge and research advice; and Helen Lee for her willingness to jump in during my third year and for her support, professional development advice, and encouragement.
What advice would you give to incoming students?
School is like learning to ride a bike. It’s one time out of very few times in our lives when we are expected to fail. It’s a time we can take big risks and it’s ok. School is so short and goes by so fast. So be sure to get on your bike, work hard, and stay focused — you will reach your end goal. Allow for mistakes. Don’t be upset when they happen but instead embrace them and learn from them. Get back on your bike and try again.
What’s next for you? What are your plans for the future?
I am applying and plan to teach as an art instructor at a university specifically focusing on 4D. Though my plans are not solidified yet, I am excited to see where my next adventure lands me!
What is your favorite “hidden gem” on campus or in Madison?
One hidden gem in Madison is actually not just one place. Twice a year, Madison holds a Gallery Night. There is a giant map of locations, and individuals can go gallery hopping enjoying a fun night of art!