University at Buffalo
Department of


Art & Design

Art History

Visual Studies

A Conference on Failure in the Arts | Feb 12, CFA 112

February 8, 2010  by: Dom

Who: Colin Beatty, Karen Lewis, Gary Nickard, Craig Smith, Ben Van Dyke, & Gayle Young,
Where: The CFA 112 (Screening Room)
When: Friday, February 12

10:30AM Panel Discussion
12:00 PM Lunch Break
1:30 Keynote Presentation

In a culture seemingly enthralled by the mythology of Horatio Alger and Cinderella stories, “failure” has become a dirty word.  The American Dream is predicated upon “success” in all things especially in the realms of business and celebrity.  The arts are not immune to this obsessive pursuit and since the “boom years” of the 1990’s, many artists have adopted a business model for their practice and have embraced ambition and careerism as a central tenant of their art.

What do radioactivity, stainless steel and penicillin all have in common?  They were discovered as a consequence of accident and the failure of the original planned outcome.  In the world of science it is well recognized that monumental disasters can lead to unbelievably important discoveries. Science is based upon the idea of the experiment – and intrinsic to the experiment is the possibility of failure!  If success was to always be expected scientists wouldn’t use the term experiment – they would call it “engineering.” Yet in the arts why is there no similar embrace of not only the possibility of failure, but also its enormous potential as a creative act?

It takes a creative and critical mind to see the possibilities of something wonderful in failure.  In the past avant-garde and conceptual Artists have embraced the possibility of error and failure – examples range from Jean Tinguley’s self-destructing sculptures to Bruce Nauman’s futile attempts to levitate off the floor of his studio.

Can failure be embraced as a creative act?  Why is failure considered unsuccessful in the first place and how can it be transformed into something meaningful? Can an unforeseen mishap or even an unmitigated disaster be a radical departure from the predictable outcome and lead to a moment of extraordinary discovery?  In this light success seems more to be conformity with expectations and the banality of the “tried and true.”

This conference will feature a keynote presentation by:

Karen Lewis, an Assistant Professor of Architecture at The Ohio State University whose design research examines the intersection of graphic and infrastructural systems. Recent projects include Stock Exchange, an analysis, exhibition and proposal for the Bluegrass Stockyard, the largest stockyard East of the Mississippi River; Yellowtown, an examination of the relationship between signage, urban development and race; and Start / Gap, which visualizes human trafficking patterns and proposes ways to interrupt this exchange. Most recently, Professor Lewis was awarded the ACSA New Faculty Teaching Award. In 2006 Professor Lewis began a professional practice, Influx Studio, with Jason Kentner, Professor of Landscape Architecture at the Ohio State University. Influx Studio has been recognized in several international competitions. Their proposal, Memory Trail, was selected as one of five final designs for the Flight 93 9/11 Memorial in Somerset, PA. 110% Juice, a collaborative design for an off-shore wind farm in Cape Cod, was recognized by the Boston Society of Architects. This past fall, their proposal for The Bronx Grand Concourse Intersections competition, Inner Space, was exhibited at the Architecture Center in New York. Karen Lewis holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Architecture from Wellesley College and a Master of Architecture degree from the Harvard Graduate School of Design.

The panelists will include:

Colin Beatty is an artist and healthcare consultant; Currently, Colin is in the US Healthcare Provider Practice for PricewaterhouseCoopers’ and is based in Boston. Colin obtained his M.B.A. from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, additionally holds a Maters degree in Fine Arts from Stanford University, an EMT certification from UCLA medical, was a studio participant of the Whitney Independent Study Program in New York, and has been an exhibiting artist of a range of media including painting, sculpture, installation, ongoing participation in works organized by Craig Smith, and more recently, self production of parafictional performance work in such venues as banking institutions, government healthcare agencies, and national regulatory groups.

Gary Nickard explores the space between visual art and literature while engaging such diverse topics as science, philosophy, psychoanalysis and various historical knowledge systems. He works in photography, installation and various time-based media as well as electronic music. He joined the UB Art Department in 1995. He received a Bachelor of Arts (1978), Master of Arts Humanities (1982), and a Master of Fine Arts (1986), Master of Arts (2004) and Doctor of Philosophy (2006) in Comparative Literature, all from the University at Buffalo. His prior professional experience includes stints as Executive Director / Curator of CEPA Gallery Buffalo, NY (81-88), Associate Curator, Alternative Museum, New York, NY (88-90), Director, Burden Gallery Aperture Foundation, New York, NY (90-91) and Director of Programs / Curator, Artists Space, New York, NY (92-94). He has published a number of critical essays in Afterimage, Exposure and Border Crossings Magazines (among others) and has done editorial work for Aperture Magazine.

Craig Smith is a London-based media artist whose art and research focuses on the process, aesthetics, and ethics of human-to-human interactivity in contemporary art. Smith’s practice includes the production of photography, performance art, video, writing and lectures. He has been featured at an international range of venues including the PS1,MOMA Contemporary Art Institute, The Tate Modern, The George Eastman House, The Hudson River Museum and galleries including Galerie Schuster Photo (Berlin), RARE Art (New York), The Kent Gallery and White Columns (New York). Smith’s practice and research has been supported through foundation awards, grants, fellowships and residencies. His work is also supported through close collaborations with a group of artists including the performance group C (with Lilah Freedland and Matthew Bakkom) and SmithBeatty(with Colin Beatty).

Benjamin Van Dyke received his MFA from the University of Michigan in 2006 and between 1997 and 2003, he worked as an Art Director in Western Michigan. Since running like hell from the advertising industry in 2003, he has been involved in more than 40 typography and Design exhibitions in North America, Europe, and Asia. In 2006, Van Dyke was awarded a Fulbright fellowship to The Netherlands. During this time, he was an Artist-in-Residence at NLXL in The Hague and worked on design projects for clients such as the European Space Agency, DOK Architecten, Weiden + Kennedy Amsterdam, PTT, Holland NS, The Koorenhuis, KPN, and The Roderick Danstheater.  Following his work in The Netherlands, Van Dyke was invited to join the Visual Studies faculty at The State University of New York at Buffalo, where he is Head of the Graphic Design program.

Gayle Young began in the late 1970s to present concerts as a composer/performer, playing microtonal music on two acoustic instruments of her own design. She has also been involved in soundscape — a term parallel to ‘landscape’ which brings attention to sonic surroundings — and has used pre-recorded and audio in her work. She often discusses the intentions of her music with audiences, and has written many articles on her own work and that of other artists, addressing issues related to contemporary sound arts. Young wrote the biography of Hugh Le Caine (1914-1977), an early inventor of electronic music instruments, and created an oral history of the early years of electronic music while undertaking research for this book.  She has collaborated with visual artist Reinhard Retizenstein on several sound installations, and continues her activity as composer, performer and writer, speculating most recently about limits imposed by cultural constructs such as language on the imagination. She is the publisher of Musicworks Magazine.

202 Center for the Arts, North Campus
Buffalo, New York 14260-6010
(716) 645-6878
(716) 645-6970 fax
  • Like us on Facebook
  • Follow us on Twitter
  • Follow us on Vimeo
  • Follow us on Instagram