July 14, 2011
The Texas Tech buttons are being mailed all over the country to prospective students.
While many of international artist Jonathan Whitfill’s projects are strategically planned much like a scientific experiment, his recent work, The Button Project, began as a collaborative decision with two friends to use their talents and just have some fun.
Recently commissioned by Texas Tech, The Button Project stemmed from the purchase of a 3-inch button making machine by Whitfill and two other Texas Tech alumni, Matt Weaver and Chad Plunkett.
“It made good sense to all of us to have fun, make some art, and, possibly, make a bit of money at the venture,” Whitfill said. “We made a couple hundred individual art collage buttons and had a show on the First Friday Art Trail.”
Whitfill said he and his friends were surprised at how popular the buttons were at the art trail, a monthly display of local art supported by the City of Lubbock. They were especially surprised when Cory Chandler, a unit supervisor in the Texas Tech Office of Undergraduate Admissions and Recruitment, approached them about producing buttons for the school. This project is called the Texas Tech Button Project.
The purpose of the project is to create unique designs and manufacture buttons for Texas Tech recruiting efforts.
"Things progressed from there, and now our buttons, and a little bit about the project and its founders, have been mailed all over the country to prospective students,” Whitfill said.
Chandler said the buttons have received positive feedback so far.
Whitfill considers himself a very process-oriented artist, his practice almost like the scientific method.
“We were looking for something that would stand out from the clutter of recruiting pieces that high school students typically receive from universities,” Chandler said. “We thought that the buttons seemed like a great fit because they packaged together many of our key messages — discussing Texas Tech's arts programs, cool faculty and graduate outcomes — while at the same time providing something meaningful to students that would hopefully serve as a conversation piece to spark grassroots buzz.”
Whitfill understands what prospective Texas Tech students look for through experiences in his day job at Estacado High School. The instinctive assumption is that Whitfill teaches art. However, for the past three years, Whitfill has served as the school’s freshman integrated physics and chemistry (IPC) teacher.
“I’m in the unique position that my job and my career are not necessarily in the same field,” Whitfill said. “I volunteer to teach IPC because every grade school student loves science, and I try to give them some of that passion back before they go on to more difficult scientific concepts. I'm very passionate in class, and the students pick up on the fact that I still love science, and that they should find that eagerness to learn science again also.”
Whitfill does not view his job as a teacher and his artistic career to be as different as people may initially think.
“I am a very process-oriented artist, which means, essentially, that what I am doing in the studio is just as much my art, as what object might be produced or art piece that is in a gallery,” Whitfill said. “My artwork comes from a particular practice that I have refined in the studio over the years, and my ideas have been developing even longer from my personal observations. So in that regard, my artistic practice is much like the scientific method.”
He describes his art process much like an experiment.
Each experiment has specific variables that are changed while others are controlled, Whitfill said. As the world changes, so do the observations and the experimental process. This leads to a new type of work or product.
“I have been observant of the world around me, made educated guesses as to what type of work I want to create, and then I experiment,” Whitfill said.
Whitfill, who received his Masters of Fine Arts from Texas Tech in 2006, said his experience at the university was instrumental in allowing opportunities for his development as a student and educator, but most importantly as a learner.
“My favorite experience as a student was a sculpture class I took in Junction, Texas, about five or six summers ago,” he said.
There, he experienced firsthand what he referred to as a “tremendous asset” for Texas Tech and the art department.
“Junction offers a place where creativity is abundant and where the typical classroom setting is stripped away to reveal a natural setting with a real sense of community with your peers and professors,” Whitfill said.
Two weeks at Junction taught him more than a year’s worth of development in art and a few life lessons.
“One of the most important decisions that I made in Junction dealt with expectations and perception,” Whitfill said. “Everyone has expectations for you, and all perceptions are shaded to complement each individual reality. Knowing these two things allows for complete freedom in your life. I learned not to change my life for something as trivial and unknown as my perception of other people's expectations.”
Inspired by his experiences at Texas Tech, Whitfill continues to pursue many forms of art and creativity.
The Button Project, responsible for creating more than 350 buttons thus far, was
recently invited to a week-long residency in Memphis, Tenn., later this summer and
hopes to stamp out 1,500 buttons during the week, Whitfill said.
He often exhibits his art nationally and has had an international showing. Two of his sculptures, commissioned by Southern California artist group, Earthbound Moon, are currently on display in Chicago. Other projects by Whitfill include five solo exhibitions, nearly 40 group exhibits and about 20 juried competitions. Images of many of these projects can be found at Whitfill’s website.
As much as he enjoys his artwork and working with high school students, Whitfill misses the higher-level intellectual pursuit he found at Texas Tech.
“I used to love walking through campus knowing the diligent work and mental concentration going on in the buildings that I passed,” Whitfill said. “There is a scholarly atmosphere at Texas Tech that can be taken for granted when you are taking classes.”
The J.T. & Margaret Talkington College of Visual & Performing Arts at Texas Tech offers a diverse array of programs and courses in art, music, theatre and dance.
The college seeks to prepare students who will be leaders in the profession by employing the highest standards in performance, teaching, research, and artistic and creative vision.
The college includes the:Twitter