Art has a different meaning to each person, based on perception and experience, and whether the person is an artist or admirer.
“Art communicates and expresses,” said Jacob Cotton, professor of art at Northeastern State University. “It says things that, at times, we are either too frightened or too shy to say. It speaks ideas and emotions that at times we cannot find the words for. It gives us a true identity by saying the things about ourselves that we either wouldn’t or couldn’t know how to say about ourselves. In a way, its one of society’s ways of being honest.”
Art first helped Cotton distinguish himself among siblings.
“Well, art was my way of standing out as a kid in a large family, so I’ve been creating since early childhood. I would say, however, that it didn’t become a serious endeavor until my time between high school and college,” he said.
He grew up in Walker, La., and graduated from Walker High School.
“I grew up in South Louisiana, which has a very rich and diverse culture,” he said. “This meant that I had exposure to numerous cultural heritages which each brought their own aesthetic nuances. This also meant that the area was very supportive of expression and thus all of the arts, including music, theater, and of course, cooking.”
According to Cotton, art teachers are sometimes mentors, and other times they’re examples of how not to encourage students.
“I had a high school art teacher who gave me a D, and told me to stop trying,” said Cotton. “In the athletic realm, they call that ‘bulletin board material,’ because it just motivates someone to try harder to prove them wrong. I swore from then on that I would work hard and that as a teacher, I would never tell someone to stop trying, because with a lot of hard work, anything is possible. After all, I made a D in high school art and am now in charge of a university art program and teach award-winning students.”
After high school, Cotton went on to earn a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Studio Art 2D and Printmaking/Drawing from Louisiana Tech University, as well as a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Communication Design from Louisiana Tech University. He earned his Master of Fine Arts in Communication Design from Louisiana Tech University.
In addition to teaching, he is also the art program and gallery coordinator at NSU. He moved to Tahlequah in 2010.
“Art will tell future generations who we were, in all of our greatness and darkness. It will show our love of all things and our hate of it, as well,” Cotton said. “It will show that, as a society, we were willing to be free and truly expressive, and that social norms and antiquated standards could not prevent the human need to express itself.”
Cotton was attracted to NSU by the quality of student work.
“First, it was the outstanding student work produced in the studio courses and foundation-level courses,” said Cotton. “It was obvious those kids were getting what was needed to succeed by the instructors of those courses, so I figured it wouldn’t be too difficult for me to come in and push them in the upper-level design courses.”
Typography and illustration are his favorite courses to teach.
“Typography has so much theory involved, far more than one might expect, because it deals so much with the basic idea of communication through simplified aesthetics,” he said. “My heart is in Intaglio printmaking. Currently, NSU doesn’t have the facilities and equipment to allow for acid etching, so my work has been restricted to charcoal and graphite drawings and screen printing.”
In the past, he’s enjoyed working with a method of Intaglio called “deep etching,” a process that calls for a plate to be submerged in acid, but instead of being submerged for minutes as seen in the more typical processes, the plate is submerged for days.
“Our gallery is primarily used as a working lab for teaching students the proper methods for framing, hanging and preparing exhibitions in our Senior Capstone Course,” said Cotton. “As such, most of the shows on exhibit in our gallery are a result of their hard work in this course and showcase some of their best work created through their time at NSU, and the exhibition is completely prepared by them.”
Cotton has earned many awards and takes pride in those of his students.
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