Profile: GVSU student shares passion for visual studies

Arie Nienhuis

The Grand Valley State University art department is filled with talented, creative students all working hard to improve their craft and hone their skills. This dedication and drive is certainly evident in the work of student Emily McKenna.

McKenna has been involved and interested in art since her childhood, and she is currently seeking to pursue art professionally as a career. Initially, she began her studies with a focus in art education, but she has since turned her focus to a broader picture in the world of professional art.

“For a long time, I wanted to be a high school art teacher; the art world was my sanctuary, and I wanted to share the love of (art) and how expressive it can be,” McKenna said. “But as I’ve studied at Grand Valley, I decided to focus on being an artist and see where it takes me.”

McKenna’s focus is visual studies, an area that emphasizes fields such as exhibition, curation and video production. However, McKenna constantly finds herself exploring different mediums of art, allowing her creativity to flow freely.

“I do a lot of different stuff,” McKenna said. “I’ve been working with jewelry lately, and that’s been a big interest of mine. But when you’re doing video work or performance work, it’s totally different. It’s about having ideas like, ‘That would be really cool,’ or, ‘That would make a cool statement.’”  

Meghan Moe Beitiks, visiting professor of visual studies and foundations, took notice of McKenna’s talent and drive. Beitiks believes that McKenna displays both a clear set of goals and a diverse range of interests.

“Emily has a very clear vision of what’s important to her and what she wants to explore in her work, which is difficult for young artists to develop,” Beitiks said. “I’ve had her in two different courses, and in both of those courses she was able to move forward in a way that was aesthetically well-executed and considered.”

Beitiks sees McKenna as having a very distinct understanding of her own values and goals when it comes to art. Currently, McKenna finds herself incorporating elements of social activism into her work as well as inspiration from other art in general.

“I didn’t overtly try to become involved in making feminist art, but that is what I’ve been focused on recently,” McKenna said. “There are a lot of amazing feminist artists that I’ve been inspired by, like Kiki Smith and Judy Chicago. I’m also just inspired by the art community in general.”

McKenna continues to work on her craft and hopes to be able to express herself professionally as she moves beyond college. She shared a few words of advice for students and other young artists who share a similar goal.

“Do what you love,” McKenna said. “I know it sounds cheesy, but it’s true. If you want to take an art class, don’t be afrai. Go out there and do it.”