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Justin Sorensen ‘07

Major: Fine arts: studio artsJustin Sorensen. "Strawberry Fields" sculpture of strawberries, zinc.
Transfer Institution/Additional Education: Kutztown University, Bucknell University, Rhode Island School of Design
Current Position: Art instructor, Williston State College
Current City: Williston, North Dakota
Website: justinsorensen.us

Justin Sorensen remembers his first thoughts about higher education.
“I wasn’t actually planning on going to college after high school...I ended up getting a full time job working in a factory.” With his friends away at college and nothing to do during the day, he decided to take a class at JCC. That class set him on the path to where he is now: a professional artist and art instructor at Williston State College.

Justin was always interested in art and photography, but it wasn’t until he took a drawing class at JCC with Yu Kanazawa, director of visual and performing arts, that he realized how vast opportunities in the art world could be. Kanazawa recognized Justin’s potential, and encouraged Justin to devote himself to art and explore his options.

“He [Kanazawa] really opened my eyes to what you can do with that degree and exposed me to a world that I had no idea existed. He played a big role in that. I owe a lot to him.”

One particular conversation with Kanazawa has stayed with Justin and continues to influence his work. “[Kanazawa] asked me why I’m doing this, and by that I mean, what’s my reason for making art...I gave him some reason about wanting to have exhibitions, and it’s a pretty shallow and superficial reason, and he looked at me again, and he said I need to go deeper. And I said that I’d also like to have a book written about my work or something, and he said again, you have to go deeper.”

As Justin developed his skills and continued his studies, he kept the conversation he had with Kanazawa close and followed his advice. He dug deeper.

Justin Sorensen. Selected WorkContactPDF(c) 2008-2015 Justin Sorensen. "The Transfiguration" gold leaf on rock, 2011.Kanazawa’s words made Justin “ferociously critical” of his work and the reasons for making it. “I started to realize that art wasn’t just located in the studio...I started to see that there was as much significance in the moments when I wasn’t really making anything, or those moments leading up to the art. So that’s become more important to me as I’ve been developing as an artist, just those moments between.”

Justin’s current art depicts stunning representations of transience, and an appreciation for the journey, not just the outcome. “I’m trying to make objects or events that we directly experience as inhabiting a body that is moving through the world...that’s basically what life itself is.” His works cover a wide range of physical techniques, from hyperrealistic still life to performances and multi-dimensional pieces.

Justin Sorensen. "One Year Performance (The Souls of My Shoes)" performance documentation, 2013.

One such piece is his One Year Performance (The Souls of My Shoes), in which he walked around for one year with a stone in his shoe. “It was a piece about endurance and seeing how far I could go with something.” Unable to wear that single pair of shoes every day for a year, he questioned his success. “I don’t know if I failed or if it’s a work about perseverance and keeping with it, even though you’re not going to fully reach your goal.”

Justin is currently developing the art program at Williston State. He is concentrating on showing his students how a reason for art overcomes its stereotypical definition - again, digging deeper.

“The perspective that I'm seeing among students seems to prioritize a product of some kind. In other words, art has to be painting or drawing...When you tell them that art can be other things - things which don't necessarily prioritize skill, but emphasize concept - they tend to dismiss it and say that it isn't art. It's fascinating because it is within everyone's reach to make art.”

Justin notes the change between his first reasons for making art and his goal now. “I hope that people can walk away from my work feeling a little less alone in the world…I don’t know if I’m really interested in having books written about me anymore, or being collected by museums or anything like that. I think it’s just trying to make those connections or those relationships.”

For Justin, it all comes back to Prof. Kanazawa’s original mantra to dig deeper. It’s a lesson that Justin endeavors to teach to his own students now. Dig deeper. Always dig deeper.

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