An attitude of curiosity combined with open mindedness to discover new ways of thinking is crucial not just while studying, but in life. JaNae Contag , Faculty , The Illinois Institute of Art — Schaumburg
What would you say is the defining moment in your life when you knew you were destined to be a creative professional?
Even though I grew up in a family of creatives—my dad is a Landscape Architect and my mom is an Interior Designer—I didn’t realize I wanted to be a creative professional until I was almost finished with college. I had always excelled in my art classes, but was conflicted about whether or not I could use my skills in a professional context; the business side of art always freaked me out. I had two very supportive college art professors who mentored me in thinking about the next steps in making visual production a career. Our conversations inspired me to both make work professionally and teach with intent.
How do you weave your professional background into the classroom experience to provide an industry veteran's sense of realities / challenges . opportunities of the profession?
As the owner of a photography and video production studio in Chicago, I encounter challenges and opportunities for problem-solving in my day-to-day work that I share with my students. Whether during class discussions or on field trips, I integrate project simulations that reflect the studio and on-location problems encountered by a working professional photographer. In any project, it’s like a “Choose Your Own Adventure!” book. The combined decisions the photographer must make regarding location, time of day, the relationship of the camera to the light, and then shaping light and framing composition can completely alter the affect of the image.
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 like giving my students an assignment in which I give them a single instrumental audio track, without the name of the artist or the year it was made. They must identify the mood of the piece, sketch possible approaches to their shoot, including a lighting set-up, and then execute a short series of photographs that best exemplify the sonic quality of the audio, while defending their visual decisions in critique.
My approach in teaching asks students to not only consider making photographs that look good, but to be able to create meaningful imagery.
What role does collaboration play in students' success, especially when students from other programs contribute to the same project?
In most production fields, there is the expectation that collaboration across disciplines happens frequently! The collaborative process is a space to bounce ideas amongst multiple perspectives, while learning from students studying other creative industries. My students in the Digital Photography program, as well as in the Digital Film & Video Production department have gotten to collaborate with Fashion Design students, Visual Effects & Motion Graphics students, and Audio Production students to create editorial magazines, lookbook videos, and promotional campaigns.
ln 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?
Strive to keep learning. It is important to recognize that you’ll never have everything figured out! That is a good thing. An attitude of curiosity, combined with an open mindedness to discover new ways of thinking, or new ways of orchestrating any creative work, is crucial not just while studying, but in life.
Is there anything else you'd like us to know about you, your experience, or your role as a faculty member at The Art Institutes?
In addition to making art, music, and commercial work, additional projects I am working on include a full-length documentary about the former Chicago Mayor Harold Washington, a podcast in collaboration with Forgotten Chicago called Unfolding Six Points about Chicago’s cultural histories, and an audio-visual interactive live music show with Chicago musicians Black’s Backbone and Harmonie Phoenix.
What is the inspiration for your artwork?
I am fascinated by the built environment, especially retail history and shopping culture in America. My film project, Giving Up the Ghost, documents the interiors of declining malls across the Midwest, with a slow moving camera. My photographic work appropriates images and complicates a viewer’s relationship with consuming advertising visuals and material goods.
Another current project undergoing production is a full-length solo synth pop album in which I am collaborating with other artists, musicians, cinematographers, photographers, and songwriters to create social critique with tracks that are danceable and fun! My singer/songwriter pseudonym is NAE.
www.janaecontag.com (My Artist Website)
www.concreteav.com (My Commercial Photography Business)
www.naemusic.com (My Music Website)