Nicole Tricky Burns


Be interesting and others will be interested in you and what you do. Nicole "Tricky" Burns , Instructor , The Art Institute of Phoenix
How do you weave your professional background into the classroom experience to provide an industry veteran's sense of the realities / challenges / opportunities of the profession?

I have been a working artist for 18 years, and to me it is more about who I am than something I do. I create because I have ideas that I am passionate about, and because I find beauty and profundity in the world that I want to share with others. I teach because I love learning and I want to inspire others. I pursued art academically through my study of philosophy and art history because I wanted to know more about what I seemed to intuitively understand. All of my knowledge and experience informs everything I do, and I bring it all with me every day to inform and inspire my students. I am truly interdisciplinary and in my classroom my students get all of me. They get the thinker, the artist, the student, and the teacher. 

Is there a class assignment that exemplifies your approach to teaching and mentoring? Similarly, how does your approach inspire each student to push themselves beyond their own perceived limits?

I think all of my assignments reflect my approach to teaching. I present my students with a lot of information through every means available—fine works of art, films, activities, lectures—that can be both humorous and sincere. Then I create research projects that allow them to express and engage with this new material in a way that speaks to them and encourages them to do or think about something they never considered prior to that moment. I don’t expect that they will learn everything I have to give them, but I love that what they do learn, they will know forever. 

What role does collaboration contribute to students' success, especially when students from other programs contribute to the same project?

In my humanities classes, it’s all about conversation. Every time someone speaks in my class they are collaborating. They're contributing to a conversation that will only happen once in exactly that way because all their words, experiences, and frames of reference inform one another. Even if the material is the same, every class is different. No two conversations are the same. 

When we do group projects in class you can see the energy evolve with the excitement and engagement of each participant. At first it can be like pulling teeth just getting them out of their chairs, they’re tired, or distracted, or they want their autonomy and they don’t want to be put on the spot to perform in a group activity, but 10 or 20 minutes later, I am hard pressed to get them to do anything else.    

In your opinion, what is the single most important thing you impart to your students to help them succeed in your class and in the real world? Alternatively, what is the most critical advice you would offer any student as he/she embarks on a creative career?

I encourage all of my students to follow what excites their interest. You will never know what you don’t know unless you are open to what is unfamiliar or even uncomfortable, but that is precisely where the new ideas come from. I truly believe that the best thing anyone can do for themselves in any career is to be interested in who they are and what they do in life. If you want to do or make anything that grabs the attention of others, the best thing you can do is tend to your own interest and attention in a thoughtful way. Be interesting, and others will be interested in you and what you do.

What was the inspiration for your artwork?

I am largely inspired by being. I think everything is interesting and this can run a huge gamut from the simple shopping cart abandoned in the urban landscape to the books I’ve read or conversations I’ve had with others.

Please explain what we are seeing in your photograph.

Whether in painting, sculpture, or photographs, I am trying to capture the essence of some moment, experience, or idea. Sometimes they are funny, sometimes odd, sometimes just an impression, fuzzy and abstract.

How can people find out more about you and your artwork?