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A weekly look at creativity, arts, and culture in southwest Michigan, hosted by Zinta Aistars.Fridays in Morning Edition at 7:50am and at 4:20pm during All Things Considered.

Art Beat: Art and problem-solving

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Courtesy of the artist
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Don VanAuken
"Kalamazoo River," a lino cut by Don VanAuken

His surrounding environment has always had a profound effect on Don VanAuken’s art. It often incorporates local wildlife and plants. He’s an art professor at Olivet College and has also taught at Kellogg Community College and Kalamazoo Community College using a problem-solving approach to art, It teaches critical thinking and self-motivation as well as artistic skills. VanAuken works in several mediums – painting, printmaking, lithographs, woodcutting.

A conversation with Don VanAuken

“As a student, I was always more toward the illustration and painting end,” VanAuken says. “I was in grad school when I attended Ohio University, where they have a fantastic printmaking program. I was still a painting major, but the more access I had to some of those tools and techniques and some of the professors there, it opened up my toolbox of different mediums.”

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Olivet College/Audrey C. Helfrich
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Don VanAuken
Don VanAuken

As an educator at a small college, VanAuken found that he would teach many different kinds of art, sometimes learning alongside his students as their interests expanded his, and solving the problems posed by different mediums together. He says that problem-solving process can be beneficial not only to his art students, but students in any major.

“You may not be an arts major or a painting major, but it’s one of those things where I will show you tools or techniques to approach a problem. It’s problem-solving. So much of visual art is that.”

VanAuken says he often feeds off the world around him, whether at home near Marshall, Michigan, where he lives in the country, or at recent residency in Maine.

“In 2021, I had the opportunity to go to the Golden Apple Artist Residency,” he says. “It was a two-week residency in a small inlet in what they call Down East Maine, 30 miles from Canada. There’s just you and the lobster boats and some moose. I immersed myself in the seaside, the national parks out there, and just walking across these large rocks, and every day coming out and having my cup of coffee and taking my sketchpad and watercolor pad with me.”

Don VanAuken graduated from Kendall College of Art and Design with a BFA in Illustration in 1997. He later received his MFA in painting from Ohio University in 2007. He has shown his work at regional, national, and international exhibitions, and it has been included in more than 45 public and private collections. VanAuken’s artwork, including some pieces he created at the Maine residency, is on exhibit at the Eighth Annual Group Exhibition through January 27, 2023, at Ninth Wave Studio in downtown Kalamazoo.

Listen to WMUK's Art Beat every Friday at 7:50 a.m. and 4:20 p.m.

Zinta Aistars is our resident book expert. She started interviewing authors and artists for our Arts & More program in 2011.
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