BYU’s Conceptually Grounded Art Program Attracts Czech Grad
Recent BFA graduate Sára Kasanová Bown says she cannot view the world the same way after studying art at BYU
Sára Kasanová Bown stands in front of her art (light blue photo, bottom right) at a group show "Et Tu, Art Brute?" in Andrew Edwin Gallery in New York City
March 15, 2018
When Sára Kasanová Bown learned aboutFrida Kahlo as a teenager, she was fascinated by the vulnerability embedded in her work. Kahlo seemed to travel to another dimension through her art in a way that helped her cope with the challenges of her tumultuous life, and Bown felt that art could enrich her life as well. But Bown didn’t know any artists and thought that an exploration like Kahlo’s was a thing of the past. Although naturally drawn to art – and a dabbler in drawing and painting – Bown had no ambitions to become an artist because she didn’t realize she could be one.
A New Perspective
After finishing school in her native Czech Republic in 2012, Bown moved to Utah, where she showed her fiancé one of her paintings for the first time. “You should study art at BYU” was his reaction. Bown brushed off the suggestion, thinking that art was limited to illustration, and she had “no interest in illustration whatsoever.”
As Bown began taking general courses at BYU she realized that she was, however, interested in psychology and various fields within the humanities. So when Jonathan Frioux,an adjunct faculty member andRISD alum, told her about BYU’s conceptually grounded art program and encouraged her to apply, she did. Despite not having any formal background in art, Bown was accepted.
“What changed [the art program] for me is that it was very philosophical. It was about ideas … I was really drawn to the fact that it was very conceptual.”
Sára Kasanová Bown
“What changed it for me is that it was very philosophical. It was about ideas and you had to think about things a lot,” Bown said. “I was really drawn to the fact that it was very conceptual, even though I didn’t know what that word meant at the time.”
Although Bown began the art program thinking she would paint, a new genre class from Associate ProfessorDaniel Everett expanded her understanding of art and revealed possibilities in video, sound, installation and performance. As she learned more about contemporary art, Bown shifted her focus to newer genres and has since worked primarily with video.
An advanced studio class from ProfessorPeter Everett helped Bown further develop her artistic voice. As students read and discussed the writings of philosophers such asMartin Heidegger, Bown said she could not view the world the same way afterward. Everett also served as a teacher and mentor who encouraged Bown to be honest in her artwork and pursue ideas that were meaningful to her. “He doesn’t care so much what we make as he does whether our art is a genuine exploration of our core theme and interests,” Bown said.
Most recently Bown has explored the idea of nothingness. “I’m really interested in the moments where you just zone out,” she said. “Where you just sit and feel your soul and leave cognitive processes aside.” This is counter to western culture, where people are always gathering and evaluating information, Bown explained. In an attempt to create spaces void of information, Bown has used neutral colors, clouds and empty landscapes with an atmospheric quality.
In September, after Bown shared with Associate ProfessorCollin Bradforda photo she made between cloud layers on a flight to the Czech Republic, Bradford encouraged her to pursue similar work for her final show. When Bown pointed out that she wasn’t planning to fly in the coming months, Bradford suggested she rent a helicopter.
Under Bradford’s close mentorship, Bown further developed the idea for her final show and wrote a proposal for a Film and Digital Media grant to charter a helicopter. She was awarded more money than she had requested and was able to film above the Great Salt Lake on two different days for a total of three hours. Bown’s final show, “Partially Present,” took place in December.
Life After the Art Program After graduating last semester, Bown and her husband returned to the Czech Republic. Bown currently teaches English, Czech, art, art history and social justice at a non-profit school based on the democratic model. The social justice course Bown teaches covers a broad range of topics discussed in the art program, including tolerance toward people with various beliefs and perspectives, as well as ecology and the impact of humankind on the planet. “I try to mimic the setup of open discussions we had in the art program and try to help the students answer their own questions and figure things out on their own,” Bown said. “I feel like the Art Department was really good about that.” Bown intends to leverage her teaching experience as she applies to some of the best graduate programs in the Czech Republic. She hopes to pursue video art at the Film and TV School of the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague, the fifth oldest film school in the world, and to combine video with installations as she did in her final show at BYU.