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Battling the Norm Without a Niche

June 13, 2017

This article was written by Samantha Malott and published in the Moscow-Pullman Daily News on Tuesday, June 13, 2017. Read the original article here.

Jonathan Matteson's niche is that he doesn't have one. And that's the way he likes it.

Currently in the Master of Fine Arts program at the University of Idaho, Matteson is fully embracing the interdisciplinary aspect of the program, along with his roles as an instructor and artist.

How he got to this place in life though, he said, is "an odd, odd tale."

Matteson, now 40 and residing in Pullman with his family, said he lived all over the country as he grew up. His parents both played music and were involved in the academic world.

"Performance-based stuff was always a part of our lives, and so was higher education," he said. "But they were gypsies and moved us all over the place."

As a freshman in high school, Matteson decided to drop out because he "hated" it, instead opting for a computer science degree. Later in life though he would receive his GED and graduate in the top 10 of his class at Washington State University with a bachelor's degree in fine arts and a minor in art history.

Matteson said after a few years in the computer science field, he found himself working his way up the ranks in the horticulture world, working specifically with marketing efforts for nurseries.

"I loved solving creative puzzles," he said.

At that time social media was really taking off, he said, and "next thing I knew, I was giving talks as a consultant about how to use this new technology."

Those talks around the country made him realize how much he loved teaching, but he wasn't teaching what he wanted to be.

"It was almost like marketing was too easy I had an edge. As where speaking about art is something I will never be able to fully get an edge in," he said.

Matteson said he had also grown tired of purely creating work to manipulate customers, to bring out their impulsive side. With art, he said, he is able to make people think differently, bring out new thoughts and as a teacher, show students how the work they do affects others.

So Matteson got back into playing music, primarily the bass, becoming a sort of "hired gun" for bands as they performed at various venues across the country. Some of his most memorable performances were as part of a bluegrass/folk band who would play at prisons, festivals or addiction recovery groups.

"It was really interesting to play for those kinds of groups where they are starving for that kind of stuff," he said. "It is the therapy aspect of it. We totally felt it was changing our lives, as well."

Over time, Matteson began to intermingle his artwork among music, physical creations and digital pieces.

"I call myself a visual recording artist so I can edit both space and time," he said.

A lot of Matteson's work is system-based, such as using the underlying rhythm of a song to create the groundwork for a piece of art.

As he continued to expand his creative horizons, Matteson found the value that brought to his role as a teacher.

"I want to understand them (different art styles and methods) all so I can teach them with integrity," he said. "Any technique I don't know or want to get better at, I get into."

More than how to create a piece of art or design work, Matteson wants his students to understand their roles in society as an artist, both in the emotions their work evokes and the messages they send.

Matteson said the art world tends to focus on the elite, but there is a group that focuses on the poor, "and that is where I reach out to."

"You feel that tension in America," he said. "I'm battling with that as an artist, as to how much I can give away and how much I can sell but I try to do 50/50."

He recently donated a piece of artwork to Pullman Regional Hospital, and said he has tried to donate pieces to similar organizations in every city he has lived.

Additionally, Matteson said, there is something political about making digital art - the form he is working in the most lately.

"I gave it away because I believe in public ownership not a sale to a private owner," he said. "That's what is happening with digital work. Anyone can own and share it.

"I'm challenging other artists by that, I hope."

Matteson doesn't care which route his students take, whether they enter the more corporate-focused world or the fine art realm, so long as they understand both sides and appreciate the role each plays in society.

About the University of Idaho

The University of Idaho, home of the Vandals, is Idaho’s land-grant, national research university. From its residential campus in Moscow, U of I serves the state of Idaho through educational centers in Boise, Coeur d’Alene and Idaho Falls, a research and Extension center in Twin Falls, plus Extension offices in 42 counties. Home to more than 11,000 students statewide, U of I is a leader in student-centered learning and excels at interdisciplinary research, service to businesses and communities, and in advancing diversity, citizenship and global outreach. U of I competes in the Big Sky Conference and Sun Belt Conference. Learn more: