As a college freshman at the University of Mobile, Philip Counselman knew he wanted to work with his hands. Majoring in art offered him a way to create, to express ideas visually, to impact others.
Today, Counselman continues to create, express ideas and impact others – particularly students at the University of Mobile. He teaches art at his alma mater and is chair of the Department of Visual Arts in the Alabama School of the Arts.
We talked with him about creativity, teaching art, and his newest project – boatbuilding.
Q: What is your background?
A: This is my 14th year at the University of Mobile, and I am an alumnus of the college. I have a Bachelor of Arts in art from UM, a Bachelor of Fine Art from the University of South Alabama and a Master of Fine Art from the University of North Carolina. My main concentrations in college were painting, sculpture and printmaking.
I knew when I started college I wanted to work with my hands, so art seemed like a natural fit for me. Initially, I was interested in painting landscapes and works that were more conceptual or abstract, but over the years my works have evolved to include a lot of different mediums such as wood, ceramics and printmaking. I believe young artists should experiment with different mediums; this not only increases your skill set but gives you more freedom to express your ideas.
Q: How did your understanding of art grow during your college years?
A: I believe all artists are trying to make sense of the world in their own way – this is a visual interpretation. It is something that is constant, essentially creating your own world that is imbued with your own unique perspective. During graduate school, my artwork became more 3-dimensional, allowing me to more easily express some of the ideas I had during that time period. My graduate thesis was based on the hurdles and obstructions in the life of a young artist; my own challenging experiences. Basically, it was a microcosm composed of wooden sculptures that resembled an obstacle course.
Q: What is your favorite class to teach?
A: I teach drawing and ceramics. Ceramics is my favorite course. I love seeing students get excited about creating something they can use on a daily basis that is functional but also an original work of art.
Q: We say UM is a place where students can “Know and Be Known.” What does that mean to you?
A: The University of Mobile is a place to learn new skills and seek God’s will in your life. That is a very powerful call, and you can see this take shape in students’ works and, ultimately, in their career path. Our faculty and staff know you personally and want to help you achieve your goals.
In our program, we focus on giving students individual attention with a faculty who really care about your creative works and your future as a professional artist. Degree options include a Bachelor of Arts in art, Bachelor of Fine Arts in studio art or graphic design, and a graphic design certificate for students enrolled in degree areas other than art.
Q: What are some of your interests outside the classroom?
A: Really, my profession is my hobby, and I feel very privileged to be able to teach art and be around creative people. Outside of the different mediums I work with at UM, I also enjoy wooden boatbuilding. Currently, I am working on a 20-foot dory. Boatbuilding is a long process that can take years to complete. I like to think this is a testament to my patience as an artist (but freely admit I am not always patient). Boatbuilding is also a great way to connect with people in the community, something I also feel is important and enjoyable.