We had the good fortune of connecting with Johnny Kerr and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Johnny, how has your work-life balance changed over time?
My work-life balance has drastically changed over the years as I went from working as a professional graphic designer (up until the Great Recession when I had to switch careers to keep my family afloat) to an arts educator, all while my family was growing and life circumstances changing. As an educator with a demanding job, the lines between work and life have blurred some. On one hand, my experiences teaching and interacting with my students inform my approach to art while on the other hand, my art-making also impacts my pedagogy. Additionally, working a full-time job that does not result in art-making (I’m facilitating an environment where my students are making art, but I don’t get to make art myself during work hours) means that I must carve out time in my personal life to keep moving forward as an artist. I’ve learned not to wait until I can find the time. Instead, I fight for that time. I sacrifice things I’d like to be doing but are ultimately less important to me than living a creative life. I invite my family into that process so that they know me better as a husband and father, and so that my children will grow up knowing what passion and hard work look like. I must admit, in full disclosure, that my family life does at times pull me away from art-making, and vise-versa. It requires a constant, daily effort to find a healthy balance.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
I am thankful to have discovered early on that trying to “make it” as an artist, in the typical sense of the term, was not for me. While some may dismiss this as me giving up or not having what it takes, I did learn in a very real way what making art for a living does to my artistic process and creative energy. I found myself in my mid-twenties as a graphic designer making art every day for other people and, while I did enjoy the challenges and expressions in that career, I went almost four years without making a single piece of art for myself. I was creatively tapped out. When I transitioned into teaching as a career, I not only experienced less stress and more financial stability for my family, but more artistic freedom for myself. I came alive and made more progress as an artist than ever before. I found that when I stopped trying to be successful and just focused on making art based on my curiosity I began finding success. I think this speaks volumes about the importance of authenticity. Once I no longer had to worry about my art being accessible or sell-able, people became more interested in the art I was making. After only a few years studying photography (which was a new medium to me at the time) I was getting international attention without soliciting it. Today, I’m focused on making the best art I can make. I post what I make to social media and my website. I enter local art shows to build community and experience other artists. I have my head in the long game. I have no interest in five minutes of fame. I have an interest in spending the rest of my life making better art. If I “make it” then it will be on the merit of my work and not my ability to brand myself or appeal to short-lived cultural moments.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
Depending on the day of the week and time of the month, I would start with the heart of my art community, downtown Phoenix. There are so many galleries down there with heart who are wonderful at bringing artists and art enthusiasts together. I would, throughout the week hit up some of my favorite breakfast spots (breakfast food is the best kind of food) such as Vovomeena, Ollie Vaughns, Colados, Matt’s Big Breakfast, and others. I would take them for ice cream at Novel Ice Cream at Third Space, go exploring at Hawk Salvage on Grand, and maybe check out some vintage Mid-century Modern treasures at Mod Desert on Grand Avenue in my home town, old town Peoria. Time permitting, I’d spend some slow time up North in the pines and maybe get in some kayaking on Watson Lake in Prescott. Since every good vacation needs a good slow-down recovery, perhaps we’d end the week at my place browsing through my collection of art and photography books while listening to selections from my record collection and drinking Añejo Old Fashioneds (I make a mean one).
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
I owe many thanks to several small creative communities who have consistently inspired, challenged, and supported me in my efforts to live an artful life. First of all, my wife, who is not only a talented artist herself but a trusted critic and encourager. I’m thankful to my parents who never gave me the “there’s no future in art” talk, but rather encouraged me to keep making. In recent years I’ve consistently gathered with a small group of artists including Andrés Gonzalez, Mónica Villarreal, John David Yanke, and Joseph Podlesnik to engage in discussion, critique, inspiration, libation, and general merriment. Last, but not least, I’m grateful to my ever-evolving spiritual community called Creative Collective in old town Peoria where we frequently engage in thoughtful contemplation, inspiration, collaboration, service, and expression.