Simon Knuth

Fine Art (BA)

What would you say has been the most surprising thing you learned at Columbia?
I think the most surprising thing I’ve learned at Columbia is that I’m capable of so much more than I ever thought, I just needed the right people and resources to unlock my potential. I came to Columbia as a transfer student after coming to the realization that I wanted to go into art, but with a limited previous practice consisting essentially of drawing and watercolor or acrylic painting. I can now proudly say that I’ve become proficient in a wide variety of new mediums that I would never have discovered before I came here including jewelry, printmaking, oil painting, woodworking, and many more. I owe this all to the faculty and staff here who taught me these new skills, critiqued my work, and pushed me further, as well as the facilities that allowed me to access resources I never would have had otherwise. While none of this would have been possible without the help of others, I do also owe something to myself here: I approached Columbia with an open mind, ready to take on any opportunity, course or project that came my way to help build my practice. I think this is perhaps the most important skill to have coming into Columbia- all the rest will follow.

What experiences or courses at Columbia do you feel have been most beneficial?
I’m torn between two incredible experiences I’ve had at Columbia, so I’ll talk briefly about both. The first is studying abroad- if you have the opportunity to spend a semester, or even just a break, travelling and taking courses elsewhere, absolutely do so. I spent the fall semester of my junior year studying at Flinders University in Adelaide, South Australia and it was one of the greatest adventures of my life. Between experiencing another culture, becoming friends with people from all over the world, and travelling in a beautiful place that has since drastically changed, it was an experience I wouldn’t trade for anything. The other experience I want to talk about is becoming a student worker in the Printmaking Facility. I began working there in the spring of my junior year, the same time that I was taking my first printmaking class. I learned the ins and outs of the job from a group of seniors who almost all graduated at the end of the year, leaving me as one of the more experienced student workers in the shop this last fall. Introducing people to the shop, training new workers, and sustaining a community and culture in Printmaking was one of the most rewarding experiences of my senior year. I also have to give a shout-out to Chris Flynn, an absolute master of his craft, amazing teacher and mentor, without whom the Printmaking Facility wouldn’t run at all.

What are your plans for after graduation?
This is a question I’ve been grappling with since COVID-19 flipped the world upside down. Since my childhood I’ve been in love with Chicago’s museums, and I was hoping to find a job in the design or exhibitions department of one of them following graduation. However, none of our museums are currently open and they probably won’t be until midsummer at the earliest. Right now I’m hoping to find work doing freelance graphic design or commissioned artwork to pay the bills until the city re-opens. In the meantime, I’ll be updating my resume, writing cover letters, and sending out applications to make sure I’m in the best place possible when things start to pick back up. The silver lining of graduating in quarantine is that I’ll have a ton of free time to work on all this plus side projects, including some long-abandoned art pieces and a Dungeons and Dragons campaign.

Do you have any advice for current students?
As soon as campus reopens, get into the facilities! Your tuition at Columbia is paying for the upkeep and staffing of our world-class facilities, and if you spend four years here without making good use of them you’re leaving a lot of money on the table and missing out on some incredible opportunities. Even if there isn’t a facility that seems to directly pertain to your area of study, consider taking an elective that uses the fabrication facility, or maybe find a way that you can incorporate the tools at the makerspace into a class project. Not only are all the resources there for your use, but so is the expertise of the staff. We have some incredible people working in and operating facilities all over campus who are happy to share their advice and experience with anyone who asks for it. Most facilities you only need to get certified in once to gain access for the rest of your time at Columbia, so the sooner you start the better! Our facilities and the staff that run them are one of our greatest strengths as a school - don’t let them go to waste.