Neal Harrington

How long have you been teaching at Tech?

This is my eighteenth year. [The art department] is a lot bigger. We have a nicer facility. When I started, we had 50 majors and now we have over 200. We were in Browning hall and I taught in the basement for six years. Then we got this building. So, it’s improved. It’s steadily improved.

Why did you choose Tech?

Tech chose me. I was a graduate student at Wichita State in Kansas. They had an advertisement for a one-year replacement. That’s about as good as you’ll get when you have no teaching experience. A tenure track job wants three years outside of graduate school and I didn’t have any. I applied, and I interviewed. I’ll be honest with you, they could have showed me anything and I would’ve been like, “this is awesome.” Really wasn’t. The school seemed neat, but the facilities were terrible. They were absolutely horrible. Just being honest. Compared to what I have here. I had one press that I taught all levels of printmaking on. It’s improved exponentially in eighteen years. But, yeah, I had a little 18”x24” press and I taught all levels and it was not a great press. I had to stand there and help every single person run each edition through to make sure it lined up and turned out good, but I was overjoyed to have a gig.

What lead you to teaching?

Boy, I have no idea. I never liked school. Ever and I’m still in school. In fact, in my high school yearbook–I was always into art but I never thought there would be a career in it–it quotes me as saying I didn’t want to go to college for art because those professors just want you to draw like them and I want to do my own thing. So now I laugh because I am one of those professors and I realize it’s not that you want them to draw like you, you want them to draw well and draw better and be more accurate and take criticism with an open mind which most eighteen years do not. Sometimes they will. It’s just ironic. So, my teaching career is the definition of irony. It just is. I’m fortunate. It’s the best job I’ve had.

What are your base classes you teach every year, if you have them?

I’ve taught everything in 2D, just about. Intro to Drawing, Illustration, Figure Drawing, all levels of Printmaking, Color Theory, Color Design, Experiencing Art, 3D design. I also run the gallery here. So, I’m the gallery director. A moniker I gave myself. Tech never had a gallery. In fact, the senior shows, they used to have to construct the walls in Tomlinson in the ballroom. They would build these walls in there and that was the gallery space. Once we got this gallery, they needed someone to run it and one of my many jobs in the past was I worked at a gallery as security and head sculptor washer. They have a multi million dollar sculpture collection at Wichita State. Basically, I had a golf cart and a garden hose and a brush and it was a great summer gig. I drove around and washed sculptures. It got real interesting when you were washing figurative sculptures. I’m glad people didn’t have cell phones then because whenever you’re washing them, people would laugh. You try to be quick with the figurative ones. But, I run the gallery here. So I started off as gallery coordinator and one day I have myself a promotion and started calling myself gallery director and it stuck. Now I’m called Professor of Art and Gallery Director.

What lead you to choose your field of study?

It was what I was interested in. That was all I was ever good at. My family was blue collar. It is hard when you go into art everyone from your friends to your girlfriend, in my case, or significant others to relatives everyone tries to talk you out of it because, in my family, it was known as a real bad career move. I thought, well, I could go do something else and fail or I could go do this and fail but at least I tried. So, I tried. That’s been the story of my life. I also married an artist and she’s professor at the University of the Ozarks. Everyone told us in grad school you’re both not going to get jobs. One of you needs to get a degree in K-12 teaching. So, we were like, just try and it worked. It wasn’t seamless but we’re now both tenured full professors at colleges 20 minutes apart. It’s like the American dream. It’s difficult to go home and tell your parents that you’re going to go to college for art, you know? They were not happy.

 

What drew me to printmaking, I was a painter, but what I liked about printmaking was there was such a diversity of technique. With painting you either paint or draw or mix them. Printmaking you can do monotype, relief, lithography, italio, embossment, silk screen. Printmaking is such an umbrella term and that excited me because I thought, to be a good painting, you just need to teach yourself. You just do it. Printmaking you do need a bit of instruction. So, I tease my colleague, who’s a painter. I say, they sell paintings made by elephants. They’re not making a print. They’ll have zoo paintings with elephants and sell it but they’re not making a print. I just like that it’s a bit more technical and more difficult to get the outcome you want but you can learn it. I didn’t even know what printmaking was even into my second year of college. My first degree was painting and I switched to printmaking in graduate school.

What is your most embarrassing teaching story?

Oh my gosh. There’s so many. I got a million of them. I would say that probably one I tell a lot that is funny is when my son- so, like I said, it wasn’t seamless getting a full-time job. My wife got the full-time job first. I was one and done. I became an adjunct doing the same job. She got the job up the road at the Ozarks full time and we decided to have a child because she was tenure tracked which is a more permanent gig. And so, we did. We had a son and I was Mr. Mom during the day and it was very tiring. We would high five and we would switch off. I’d tag her in to go teach which was like a break. Anyway, I had to dress up for something and my son was ill. Rotavirus which was like, going out both ends. My wife wasn’t home. I had to change him. My wife comes home, and I explain to her he’s had this thing and she’s like “okay, gotta go.” I had an interview or something. I had a tie and I was dressed up. All through class I smell baby poo. I’m like, looking at my hands and everything. I’m like, well I cleaned up pretty good. So, I go home and I’m telling her that story and she goes, “yeah, I noticed when you came home right on the back of your arm there’s a little smear of baby poo.” I had my sleeve rolled up. You don’t see it. It just goes everywhere. I had a smear of it and I hoped no one noticed. That’s just one of many.

What is your biggest pet peeve in the classroom besides cell phone usage?

Yeah, well, when I explain them, everyone has them, it’s a three-hour long class. I have children, but you’ll never see me talking on it in the classroom. You can set it to silence, you can text, I don’t care. My classes are like a lab. I demonstrate a technique, you work on it. I come around and make sure it’s going well and offer input. So, it’s three hours long. My kid might have a problem, something could be wrong, I need to get a text but if you’re going to talk on your phone, I want you to go out of the classroom. There’s a hallway, there’s a stairway and I appreciate that. I really, other than that, I’m a pretty laid-back teacher but that still bothers me. I’ll walk up to people and say, “can you please take that outside the classroom?” I can’t control the world but I can control the classroom. But, no, they can listen to music, they can play games, they can text, I don’t care as long as they’re getting their stuff done and they listen when I make announcements. Phones are horrible but they’re wonderful. They’re such a blessing and curse.

Did you consider yourself a good student in college?

No. I was terrible. What I do notice, is over eighteen years, I’ve noticed consistently that people are okay with not finishing things. I was not the best student but I finished things. I even show that in my drawing classes. I have my sketchbooks from high school. They’re not good but the drawings are done it’s not just like a head. It’s a whole body and a background. That must’ve been odd because now I see people’s sketchbooks and they’re just little bits because everyone’s attention is so short nowadays. But, I wasn’t a good student. I skipped plenty of classes. I didn’t take things seriously. I never got an A in a drawing class until graduate school. As I tell my figure drawing class I still have my sketchbook from the first drawing class I took at college. It tells me what I need to improve but it says “why didn’t I see your sketchbook at midterm” and I ask “why do you think? I didn’t turn it in.” That’s why. I’m telling people I’m a good example what you can achieve if you focus. I met a girl that I fell in love with. I thought now am I gonna buy a car, get a house, and have children if I don’t get these things in order. It helps that she was a really good student and by watching her example, I was able to get better. No, I was not a good student at all. I did get things done. I was an average student. I knew how many days I could skip. I would do the least amount of work hoping for the highest amount of payoff and was upset when I couldn’t get it. I mean, I have the whole alphabet on my transcripts, man. I have W’s, F’s, incompletes that I never finished that turned into F’s. I’ve got everything. I feel that brings something to teaching is that I understand.

Who inspires you the most?

I would say my grandfather and my mother. They both passed in recent years. My mom passed a little less than a year ago so I’m still dealing with that. She was my hero. I never saw her sitting down. Though she was a secretary, she worked multiple jobs. She just was hardworking. I would say she was artsy. She was more craftsy. She would do things for the fun of it. Like she wouldn’t charge people. She would do amazing things she worked on for months, weeks, years, she’d give it to friends just because she liked to do it. She liked to be a busy person. I never saw her loafing. If she was sitting down she was doing something and that is inspiring to me. I’ve had friends tell me, you’re always doing something. I just feel like I have to do something. My mother and my grandfather are my biggest heroes and my wife too. That goes without saying something. She has to be married to me. My hat’s off to her.

Who’s your favorite artist?

I’ll give you a famous one and one not a lot of people have heard of. The famous one would be Van Gogh. I’m a big Van Gogh fan. Just really love everything he did. A non-famous one, or a mildly famous artist is a guy named Lynd Ward. He did these wordless novels in relief. He would create these novels and you just go through and they’re open to interpretation and they have a theme and the more you look at it, the more times you can kinda see, “oh okay.” The title of the story gives you clues but these are relief pieces that are amazing. He did these in the 1920s. In fact, his most famous is “God’s Man” about an artist that kinda makes a deal with the devil to become famous. That came out when the stock market crashed, and he still sold a bunch of them. That’s how good he was. He’s my biggest hero. Then a ton of comic book guys. Mostly the covers. I was always disappointed, I’d buy a comic book for the cover and that’s not what went on in the story. So, I made it my goal to become a comic book cover artist. come to find out that’s the most sought-after position because it gets paid the most and also, you’re just doing the covers. You don’t have to do the labor of the panel by panel narrative. Those guys that just do covers. They’re the big names. My art is kinda like a cover. Like a comic cover.

Are you a dog or a cat person or a no pet person? Why?

Well, I’m gonna say I’m a cat person because we had a cat who was like our first kid and I loved him. He lived for 16 years and we ended up getting two cats after that and they don’t like me at all. I don’t know why. These cats are like terrified of me. I don’t know why. Now, I’m just anti-any pet because they make me upset because all I do is deal with their litter box droppings and they love everyone else and I deal with the litter box. I feed them in the morning, I deal with their litter box and they give me no attention. So, I would I say I’m a cat person still. Once these cats kick it, I’ll still try again but I got about a ten more year wait.

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