When John Jennings, a State University of New York professor of visual studies, travels to the University of South Dakota as a visiting artist and lecturer, it will be his first trip to the state.
Jennings, who specializes in African American stereotypes in visual media, will be on campus Feb. 6-9. He will lead a workshop Feb. 7 at 2 p.m. in the drawing studio of the Warren M. Lee Center for the Fine Arts as well as visit with students in classes throughout the week.
“I’m always surprised anybody wants to hear what I have to say,” Jennings said about the invite to South Dakota.
Jennings wears several hats in the art industry including graphic designer, illustrator and author among other things, but said he focuses on research into different types and forms of masculinity, especially in super heroes, comics and hip-hop.
“A lot of this stuff was very connected to this hyper-masculine or hyper-sexuality of black men,” Jennings said. “When I first started, I didn’t know a lot about the culture or about the history of stereotypes, so that became very fascinating and I started studying it.”
Associate professor of art Cory Knedler said Jennings’ visit to campus presents a unique opportunity for students working in the graphic design field, a field Knedler said has grown in the past five years. He said Jennings’ background in research in African American visual culture gives students an exclusive chance to experience other backgrounds.
“There is nobody else on this campus or in this region that has this specialty in research that he has, and that’s a whole other avenue that our students might not have been exposed to or ever heard about,” Knedler said.
Jennings’ visit as an artist isn’t just sparking interest in the art department. Knedler said diversity has become a key issue for USD, and Jennings’ visit will help to further the university’s efforts.
“If we are serious about programming and moving forward with getting our campus more diversified, then every department needs to do their part in finding out what could help their department move forward,” Knedler said. “It doesn’t have to be the university diversity office who is directing us to move in this direction.”
During his visit to USD, Jennings said he will address many of the issues plaguing the competitive graphic design world.
“We’re taught that you go to school, you get a job, but I’m thinking, ‘go to school to make a job,'” Jennings said.
The designer said rough economic times coupled with an over-crowded field make getting a job difficult. Jennings said he wants to remind students of what art is really about in a world where it’s easy to be taken advantage of.
“I just want to make sure they’re true to themselves,” he said. “Be true to what you want to do, believe in yourself and create art. I’m very passionate about students not being used by the clients or by corporations. People want to pay the lowest dollar for what they get, especially for artists.”
Junior and graphic design major Joe Schaeffer will take part in several aspects of Jennings’ visit, including Jennings’ critique of his work. He said visiting artists help students see how artists function in their genre.
“I’m very interested in the artists’ process, how they get their work to the way it is,” Schaeffer said. “I’m also interested in the way they work with people and how they interact with others.”
During his visit Jennings will also participate in the 2012 Stilwell Student Awards Exhibition as a juror. Students’ artwork for the exhibition will be on display in the John A. Day Gallery Feb. 10-28.
Reach reporter Josie Clarey at