John Coltrane once said that he wanted to be a force for good, and even now, as both an artist and a professor of photography at Columbia College Chicago (where he’s taught since 1998), Bey adheres to that credo. He feels compelled “to make work that pushes the rigor of the craft and art form forward,” he says, “but always doing that by making work that I believe matters.” He adds: “As I’ve continued teaching, I’ve come to realize that my own experiences, my own continuing to rethink and challenge myself through my own practice, is the most valuable thing I have to offer my students, to give them a sense of what it means to think and function as an artist, day after day, year after year.”
For Bey, that means tuning into an inner voice, and engaging whatever subjects carry the deepest meaning. “Young artists now are so inundated with images coming at them from every direction,” he says. “I tell them, ‘You can assume that if what you are making work about matters to you, it will matter to someone else.’”
“Dawoud Bey: An American Project” opens at the Whitney Museum of American Art on April 17 and runs through October 3. For visiting information here, see here.