Nurturing Creativity, Pursuing Passions, and Art: An Interview with Dr. Sam Stocker

Read our Faculty Spotlight Interview with Dr. Sam Stocker

Dr. Sam Stocker teaching a class at iCLA.

Dr. Sam Stocker’s Course List (Academic Year 2022)

・History of Art
・Art Appreciation
・Art Portfolio
・Graphic Design Studio
・Workshop: Graphic Design I
・Workshop: Graphic Design II
・Workshop: Painting and Sculpting I
・Workshop: Painting and Sculpting II
・Seminar (Interdisciplinary Arts)

We asked Dr. Stocker about his specialization and advice for students interested in Visual Arts:

Q: What sparked your passion for Art?

Stocker: I was making paintings since I was a kid, but I didn’t really get into art until I was about 18. I did it in school, but I didn’t ever think of it as being something career-wise. I ended up going to a college with an art department. I was about 18, but during that time, I was looking at art and going to art galleries in London. I think when you’re that age, you’re still exploring a bit about what you’re interested in. I had a death in the family, and I made the artwork about my experience of remembering that person. I do think from that point in time, I felt like an artist. I was definitely making work about something that was important.

The next point was when I was about 25. I graduated from my university where I studied art and I was feeling despondent about art at that time because I had been working at a gallery in London. I enjoyed making art a lot but working in the gallery wasn’t, and it was driving me down. I got a second wind because I ended up working with children. I remember, for instance, I was living in Scotland at the time, and the snow affected the train, so I was two hours late to a class. When I entered the room, the children erupted going “Yay!” That enthusiasm was something that made me change my mind from being a graphic designer and try to work being a teacher more. I ended up doing that kind of freelance work for about 10 years before I came to Japan.

Q: Please tell me about your area of specialization.

Stocker: When I was doing my Ph.D., it was in painting. I was also doing other things but painting was something that was always happening. If I was making a big installation, artwork, or sculpture, there would be painting that would help me to think about that. I think painting is the thing I would keep on going back to.

I’d like to say that being creative is my specialty, though I’m not sure if it is completely true. When I’ve got time, I do painting, filmmaking, writing, and performance. I also used to be in a band for a little while.

Q: What do you find most enjoyable in the creative field?

Stocker: I think it’s the sense of adventure where there isn’t really a right or wrong. A problem in art is people are telling [others] they’re doing something wrong, and they tend to do that when people are just starting out. I don’t like that very much.

People say that they don’t understand contemporary art, but I think it’s at the healthiest stage it’s ever been because everything is allowed to some extent. It’s not that everything is art, but everything is possibly art and everything could possibly be allowed in the gallery. I can say that there are some types of artwork that I’m not particularly interested in, but I don’t look down on them. I think there should be something in the world that isn’t so clearly defined by borders.

Q: What attracted you to study and teach Art in Japan?

Dr. Sam Stocker assisting an iCLA student on her sculpting project.

Stocker: I was working as a community artist for about 7 or 8 years in Scotland. In 2008, a friend of mine who I had been studying with during my undergraduate, invited me and another friend to come and do an art project in Japan because he was working for an art residency. At that time, I was mainly teaching, but I was able to come here and do a 2-month art project in a small park in Tokyo. During this time I became fascinated with Japanese architecture, especially the traditional kind.
Initially, the idea was that I would come here, get funding, and then I would do my Master’s degree. I don’t think I thought of it much beyond that. When I got to Tokyo I started doing quite a lot of artwork and I was in the studio quite a lot, and that led me to meet somebody that worked in an art academy – a vocational college for art. I ended up teaching in a college environment as a part-time teacher. It was my intention to come here to start a Master’s degree, but it kind of developed and it became possible to do a Ph.D. too.

Q: What advantages are there to working in the Art field in Japan?

Stocker: For students, Japan has a commercial art scene that is possible to get involved with through paying to exhibit, if you are making commercial work that is good. But there are also other opportunities to exhibit in art festivals such as the Nakanojo Biennale. These kinds of festivals are extensive in Japan. The gallery scene in Japan is extensive so if a person looks they should be able to find an area that interests them. But I also have friends who have been working for famous artists and that has been good for them to develop their network. Network is very important to artistic success. For people who are more interested in manga, animation, and gaming there are also options, but it’s a highly competitive field and there are many people studying visual art full-time.

Q: How would you describe your class style?

Stocker: I like to imagine I’m quite laid back and friendly, but I also have to give students work to do. I think there is probably a little bit more work than people expect in the classes. There are readings that students have to do and visual note-taking, things like that. But I want it to be as inclusive as possible. I want people to be involved in things.

Q: Looking at the artwork and sculptures in the Gala – there were so many people and so many different styles. I think that it’s great that you nurture everyone’s creativity.

Stocker: I think that is a difficult thing, to try to find something that doesn’t stifle people. My feeling is that creativity is one of the most important things that I can help students to learn. In an art setting, you’re able to do things creatively, have them go wrong, and repair them. I think that is quite an important lesson of any life – you can actually repair things, it’s not the end of the world if something goes wrong.

Student project from Dr. Sam Stocker's class.
Student’s Work in iCLA’s Winter Gala 2022’s Art Exhibition
Student project from Dr. Sam Stocker's class.
Student’s Work in iCLA’s Winter Gala 2022’s Art Exhibition

Q: What is your tip for students who want to pursue a career in Art?

Stocker: The idea of natural skill in anything often determines the people that are interested in a subject, but natural talent is not enough by itself for any kind of creativity. If we use sport as an example, there are no famous or successful sportspeople who didn’t have to train and nurture their talent. Persistence, resilience, and adaptability may be some of the most valuable characteristics you adopt as you move forward.

For students who are interested in any of the creative industries it will be very important to do internships in the field that you are interested in, and it’s best to try to do that while you are a student. It really gets difficult to work and do internships. But an internship will open your eyes to the reality of the creative industry. Things that, to be honest, are very difficult to learn from a book or a classroom. You may be making a few cups of coffee but try to be as positive as you can about what they ask you to do as the internship could help set up your career, or at least it will help you to decide what you want that career to be.

Find the thing that ignites you and try to follow it. Sometimes, people do art only because they think it’s an easy way, and it isn’t (laugh). There really aren’t many people in the art world – graphic design, fashion, manga, or computer game making – that have made it there by being lazy. The saying, “if you find the thing that you love doing, you’ll never work another day in your life”, it’s a little bit like that, even though art can be frustrating and exhibitions are really stressful. Work hard, put the hours in, and enjoy yourself. Because if you don’t, I can guarantee there are thousands of people behind you that will.

Dr. Sam Stocker’s Faculty Profile