Meet Wendell Arneson: Professor, Exhibiting Artist and Melby Lecturer

 "I have the best job in the world," professor of art Wendell Arneson said, when asked what he likes most about working at St. Olaf. "As an artist, working at a liberal arts college means that I am working in a place committed to the intersection of ideas. Since art is all about this sort of communication and questioning with the world around us, that is especially valuable."

Arneson proves in his worth ethic and commitment to education that this intersection of questioning and communication with art is indeed important to him as an artist. Not only is he a teacher (of courses ranging from color theory to painting to drawing), but this year he is a featured exhibitor at the Flaten Art Museum here at St. Olaf College. He is also the featured Melby lecturer this fall – a distinction given to a professor who emulates all of the characteristics of a dedicated and refined St. Olaf instructor.

Balancing all of this may seem daunting to the average person, but Arneson looks at is all as a chance to continue growing in his art and his original viewpoint that has become so pertinent to his artistic reflections. Being at St. Olaf is, perhaps, what makes this all possible. "St. Olaf supports all of the arts in a way most other small, liberal arts colleges do not," Arneson said. "Not only am I supported as an artist and teacher, but students are supported as well."

It is these same students that give Arneson so much of the drive he says he needs to work on his art. He is sure his colleagues feel the same way. "Students here have an energy," Arneson said. "There is a reciprocal cycle of enthusiasm and commitment between students and faculty that elevates us all to create our most passionate artwork." Being an educator is no easy task, as Arneson notes, but he understand the importance of giving back in order to fully understand oneself fully.

This desire to give back and reach out led to what is perhaps Arneson's greatest inspiration today. Arneson's two daughters are adopted from China and Vietnam, and both the adoption experience and the everyday interaction Arneson has with his daughters is credited to being extremely important to his current viewpoint and the artwork that he has created over the years. "Whether directly or indirectly, my family is in everything that I make," he says. "They help me to become more socially, politically, globally and spiritually inspired on a regular basis."

His daughters also consume most of his time outside of his work as an artist and educator. Both he and his wife, when not professionally active, are deeply devoted to their roles as parents. Arneson says he has attended far more school events than one could count, and has, over the years, coached plenty of sports teams, including softball, tennis and basketball. He says he has learned to treasure every moment with his family. "When we adopted one of my daughters," explains Arneson, "I was given the advice that 'this too shall pass.'" This has since become a bit of a family motto. "I cherish the good times, because they will soon fall to new and different experiences, but I also do not let myself worry over the bad times, because they too will quickly be thing of the past," he explains.

This year will certainly be one of those years that Arneson will want to treasure, at least from a professional standpoint. For the past month and a half, a large collection of Arneson's works have been on display in Dittman Center at the Flaten Art Museum. For Arneson, the chance to exhibit his work on campus provides an interesting and different learning experience for students. "Faculty exhibits on campus act as a teaching tool for students in such a way that they can see that their professors are practicing the same things they are preaching in class," he explains. "It provides access for students and other faculty to interact with one another in a collaborative conversation about art."

The exhibit, "Back and Forth: A Retrospective," closes this Sunday. Arneson also must tackle the daunting role of Her Campus St. Olaf Campus Celebrity this week when he takes to the stage as this fall's featured Melby Lecturer. Twice a year, one distinguished faculty member from St. Olaf is asked to give a speech about their experience both within and outside the classroom, and how this experience can translate into advice for students, faculty, alumni and community members. His speech, entitled "Remember to Remember," aims to inspire within others, especially those less familiar with art, an understanding of visual art and creativity. "The lecture revolves around the idea of memory, as does so much of my art," Arneson said. "I believe that we all need to honor memory, from toys to chocolate chip cookies to loved ones long passed, because memories transcend time and space to give us a sense of self."

Arneson delivered the speech this past week to a large supportive audience in Viking Theater. St. Olaf students who have a chance to interact with Arneson in any way, be it in listening to him speak at a podium, offer critique in a classroom, or by simply delving into contemplation about his art will understand his passion for what he does. He hopes to instill this in others as well. "My advice for St. Olaf students is to stay awake!" he says. "Tune into the things you find exciting and interesting, be it Biology, Greek Literature, throwing a clay pot, or singing a beautiful aria. Get passionate!"

*Photo credit to St. Olaf College