RMCAD professor shares how women artists can break barriers

In recognition of International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month, we are joining the pledge to #BreakTheBias and join the celebration of women creatives by highlighting one of our remarkable RMCAD professors – Shayna Cohn.

Cohn has been a part of the RMCAD community for more than seven years and received her BFA from the College of Wooster in Ohio and her MFA from Washington University in St. Louis. She shared a little about her journey and what she hopes will inspire the next generation of women artists to be fearless and unapologetic.

What inspired you to pursue art and art education?
Art has always been a calling for me. I don’t remember a time when I didn’t make art. It was something I always went back to as meditation and as a way to explore things I was curious about. Teaching art was a natural fit and complemented the creative path I sought. I considered teaching K-12 art for a while, but I found that I connected more with college students.

Where do you find inspiration? Music? Books? Travel?
Yes, to all of the above. One of the most inspirational things I’ve found is the mental space of traveling. You don’t necessarily have to be somewhere new to access this, although it does help. Practice looking, really looking at your surroundings. Deep observation and curiosity have led to my biggest breakthroughs. Essentially, embody Charles Baudelaire’s “Flaneur” if you will. Also, long showers are a great place to think.

What message do you try to convey in your art?
My studio practice is focused on creating sustained curiosity zones by evoking heightened phenomena found in the natural world, often using man-made and manufactured materials. I often look to spaces that seek to “transport” the viewer and strategies to create a sense of tangible ambiance, utilizing dramatic lighting, emotive soundtracks and highly choreographed contexts. Light-sensitive materials create curious and complex contexts in which elements glow, shine, shimmer and scatter light. My hope is that my work offers viewers a sense of delight and perhaps humor in the melodramatic staging of objects that are overdetermined to perform.

What women artists inspired you? And inspire you today?
There are so many to choose from. One of my favorite artists is Niki de Saint Phalle. Her work spanned modality and theme, but was always evocative and groundbreaking, and certainly has strong currents of female power, playfulness and potency.

Pipilotti Rist is another artist whose work I adore. Rist evokes sensuality and playfulness in her work while engaging with and often subverting the tropes of femininity.

Laurie Anderson is an all-time favorite. Anderson’s work conjures the poetry of the banal and everyday perplexities of the human experience. Anderson’s work is currently on display at the Hirshhorn Museum in D.C. I also highly recommend checking out her recently released Norton Lecture series through Harvard’s Mahindra Humanities Center.

How do you recommend supporting your favorite women creatives?
By advocating for universal childcare and wage transparency. And of course, by sharing and supporting the creative practices of women, amplifying their voices and ideas.

What women-owned businesses would you recommend checking out?
Queer artists Therin and Frankie have recently launched their venture “Rainbow Dome“, which is an inclusive and non-binary roller-skating pop-up! “The Aviary” is a women-owned plant shop and event space, check out their markets featuring many women creators.

The theme this year for IWD is #BreakTheBias, what does this mean to you?
Empowering women to demand that their contributions and worth be seen as equal to that of men in the home, school and work settings.

How would you challenge the next generation to #BreakTheBias with art/design?
Lip service is easy, it would be great to see more women in executive and CEO positions in a larger percentage of companies domestically and globally. According to Catalyst, as of February 2022, women currently hold 31 CEO positions in companies in the S&P 500, or only about 6% of CEO positions in the U.S. We need to figure out ways for women to gain access to the executive pipeline and to sustain upward trajectories more closely to their male counterparts.

What does the next generation of female artists look like in your eyes?
Fearless, unapologetic and asking for raises.

To learn more about Shayna Cohn and her work, please visit her website or follow along on Instagram. You can also visit her most recent installation, Sparkle Cave at Meow Wolf Denver’s Convergence Station (images featured below). Read more about the other professors’ artwork featured at Meow Wolf.

To get involved locally for International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month, check out a few of the following events and exhibitions happening in Denver, showcasing women creatives.

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