Humans at Sam: Michael Henderson

Art is multidimensional, though not always in a physical sense. Art comes in many forms and its subject matter is unlimited, but most pieces share at least one trait: they manifest from the unsatisfiable urge to bring an idea to life. This form of expression was how Art Department Chair and an Associate Professor, Michael Henderson, began and continues his career.

Henderson was fortunate enough to discover his interests early in his life, and he chose to develop those talents as he journeyed through school.

“I came of age in the 1970s when there were a lot of people my age who felt that they were different and were looking for alternatives to the dominant idea of growing up and making money,” Henderson said. “I was always very creative. I liked to write and make art, so when I first started school I was trying to decide between the two.”

He made his decision with the help of several of his high school and college teachers.

“I was very influenced by a professor who was a writer, and he used art as a way to tell stories, so that sort of convinced me to choose art,” he said. “I had two teachers in graduate school that were very influential, one of whom mentored me as an artist, and the other convinced me that I would make a good teacher.”

Henderson earned a graduate degree in painting and drawing at the University of North Texas, and later applied for the Whitney Independent Study Program at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, where 15 participants utilized an art studio for a year and were taught and visited by other artists.

For seven years after the program, he remained in New York to work in museums and galleries, which gave him the experience he now teaches in his Museum and Gallery Practices class.

He moved back to Dallas in 1986 and started teaching, and around that time he began using video and digital media in his art, a skill that landed him a job teaching and developing a degree program for computer animation at SHSU in 2001.

“The History of Animation is an online class that is pretty much what it sounds like,” Henderson said. “We study animation from the early experiments of Walt Disney, and how a lot of the animation in the 20s, 30s and 40s really depicted African Americans and other ethnic minorities in very offensive ways, then we also look at propaganda-related animation created during war times, and we go all the way up to current day special effects and CGI.”

Even after experimenting with different mediums, when it comes to creating and teaching art, he prefers drawing and painting.

“It’s because you’re teaching the students to create something,” Henderson said. “It’s not like you’re giving them a test – there’s no correct answer.”

But no matter what he teaches, the challenge and the goal remain the same.

“It’s hard to get students to open up to new ideas and to let go of the things they already know,” he stated. “I hope that I can give students the confidence and inspiration to follow their dreams.”

In addition to teaching, this is Henderson’s fourth year as the chair of the Department of Art, which encompasses Studio Art, Photography, Graphic Design, Computer Animation, and Art History. Specifically, his tasks include coordinating all the classes and creating a schedule, overseeing faculty search committees and making recommendations to the dean, supervising staff, interacting with the community, writing grants to provide departmental programs and art education. But one of the things Henderson and the department emphasize is community engagement.

“As chair, I aspire to be the servant-leader model of managing the department,” Henderson said. “We’re offering summer camps for middle and high school kids, and we promote involvement through our website, social media, calendars, and we send out press releases about each of our exhibits.”

Work aside, Henderson keeps up with his own creativity and projects. He has worked with multiple mediums, starting with painting, then three-dimensional pieces and videos, and finally he moved back into painting.

“Since I’ve become chair I’ve done less art, but I still make time to do some,” he stated. “The pieces are smaller, so I can finish them without having to spend an extended amount of time on one.”

Some of his favorite works are the pieces he is currently working on because he continues to explore and have fun with them.

“I started using tunnel imagery in my work, and it has become more abstract,” he said. “I started using the image of the tunnel because of its association with the unconscious and the idea of mortality, but I don’t want to subscribe any particular meaning to it. I want my audience to kind of come up with that for themselves.”

Henderson doesn’t lie about the challenges that come with making a living in art, but he encourages students to pursue their dreams despite the obstacles.

“I believe that everyone is creative and that anyone who wants to make art, can,” he stated. “The art world is very competitive, and it is very hard to make a living off of it. Things like graphic design and computer animation are really where you can get jobs, but those are also very competitive, so talent and hard work are essential.”

Through art, teaching and administration, Henderson has learned that the fun and the challenges go hand in hand, but the work and dedication put into these positions pays off in the end.

“I actually get to be really creative in my role as chair in terms of trying to make things happen in the department,” Henderson said. “The faculty and staff here are some wonderful people to work with, and it’s good to keep in mind that everything we do is for the benefit of the students, and that’s something we’re really proud of.”

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