To be an artist in a sea of business majors at Tulane can be a lonely thing. To be an artist sacrificing your art for a ***more practical*** major can be a difficult and uncertain path. But the art world here in New Orleans is a thriving community, and even on Tulane’s campus, we are lucky enough to have shows in the Newcomb Gallery by artists such as Mickalene Thomas: incredible woman and rockstar of the art world.
In case you’re unfamiliar with her work, Thomas created the cover art for Solange’s True EP, did this famous portrait of Michelle Obama, and is shown in museums and galleries all over the world, including but not limited to: the permanent collection at the MoMA, the Smithsonian American Art Museum, The Whitney American Art Museum and Yale University’s Art Gallery. That’s right. In this one, particular context, Tulane has something in common with Yale.
Thomas actually spoke at Tulane at the opening of her show, Waiting on a Prime Time Star on Jan. 18, 2017. Thomas’s multimedia works focus on the relationship of the subject to the artist; even though women are her subjects, she subverts the traditional role of the subject as an object by making comfortable, familiar spaces for them to pose in.
One woman asked if, between her BFA from Pratt Institute and her MFA from Yale, Thomas felt that she had ever had to fight to make the kind of art she wanted to make in her classes. She continued by asking if Thomas created her art because she saw classical art as lacking the things Thomas thought art should have.
I assume the woman asked this because of the radically contemporary mix of mediums and themes in Thomas’s work, and I was curious too. Extremely successful artists are often viewed as being divided from actual institutions of art. They work to fulfill the romantic idea of the pioneering, eccentric artist locked away in the studio, creating things no one has ever thought of before.
Thomas’s answer to the woman’s question was surprising. Without a beat, Thomas replied with a resounding “no.” Rather, her work was and continues to be an expansion on classical art. Other artists would claim to have gotten to the top all by themselves, but Thomas was clear that she saw herself as standing on the shoulders of giants.