Dordt College News

Jake Van Wyk moves to full time artist

June 24, 2014

Art Professor Jake Van Wyk definitely was not interested in teaching as a college student. He wanted to do art—all of it: drawing, painting, printmaking, sculpture, ceramics, photography.

Today he admits that his short attention span and drive might have had something to do with wanting to work in every medium. His energy helped him create many pieces of art, but also do a host of other things, such as reconstructing a historic barn, wrestling, and caring for sheep, goats, and horses.

Van Wyk attributes at least part of his drive to his immigrant background. He spent much of his childhood reading and drawing. And he learned how to work.

“We were expected to work circles around our peers and always be busy with our hands,” he says of his family. That expectation taught him to work fast and turned him into a prolific artist. He estimates that he’s made hundreds of prints, dozens of paintings, thousands of pots, and several large sculptures.

Van Wyk describes his mantra as “Always bite off more than you can chew” and “make the next thing better than the last thing.”

Despite not wanting to teach, Van Wyk has spent most of his career teaching art. In college, a professor asked him to help fire the kiln; he soon took over the firing and began helping in the studio. He was hooked even before a fellow student told him he had a gift for teaching. Except for a stint in printing and graphic design, he’s been in the classroom ever since he left graduate school.

“Dordt’s program was a perfect fit for me,” he says. It allowed him to teach a variety of media and grow as an artist. In addition to preparing several individual shows, he has been commissioned to create three large art works on campus.

Van Wyk believes art history plays a valuable role in teaching art. It helps him demonstrate how to work in different media and gives students a foundation that makes them better applied artists and designers. One of his greatest challenges, but also most satisfying experiences, has been teaching the fine arts section of the Core Introduction to the Arts course at Dordt.

“It’s a wonderful challenge to excite students who may come in suspicious of art to begin to develop appreciation and even enthusiasm for art, even if it is car design,” he says. He believes his efforts were part of tending God’s garden.

In his own work, Van Wyk says he wants to create something that’s never been seen before. He’s not interested in creating “nice things” but pieces that grab the viewer and lead to dialogue between the artwork and the viewer.

Van Wyk says being at Dordt also helped him clarify his Christian understanding of doing art, in part thanks to the collaborative efforts encouraged and developed within the broader faculty and the department.

“I’ve come to understand that collaboration with other artists and feedback from a wide range of people during the process is what enriches the whole experience and widens the circle of artistic enrichment,” he says.

Van Wyk is not retiring so that he can do less work, but more.

“I’ve been blessed with a lot of energy,” he says. “I hope I can create some significant artwork in the years ahead.”

Sally Jongsma

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