The following is a story that ran in the Jan. 3, 2023 edition of the Beaumont Enterprise.
Artist and writer Andy Coughlan got an early Christmas present last month after learning that one of his stories in the Beaumont Enterprise’s weekly Art of Living section had received the top award in the Los Angeles Press Club’s annual National Arts and Entertainment Journalism Awards.
Coughlan didn’t even notice the award when he first looked through the results. “I entered four different things and saw I was a finalist in two categories,” he recalled. It wasn’t until a short while later he revisited the award site and realized he’d won the “Arts feature over 1,000 words” category.
“It was actually quite a nice surprise,” Coughlan said, and he now has a trophy sitting amongst other art and journalism awards.
But for Coughlan, the real reward was in the telling of the story itself and the bond that was strengthened with his story subject — local ceramic artist Linnis Blanton.
When Coughlan sat down with Blanton at his studio to discuss the work in his show “Sacred Space: The Artistic Vision of Linnis Blanton,” it wasn’t their first meeting, nor was it the first story Coughlan has written on Blanton.
But the new ceramic work had taken a creative twist and a more deeply personal turn than that which Coughlan had written about previously.
As a teller of Blanton’s artistic process story, Coughlan was uniquely poised to not only share the facts of Blanton’s creative journey, but also the spirit of it.
“One of the things I think is really satisfying, especially as an artist myself, is getting to meet and really know the artists,” Coughlan said.
He learned that Blanton’s new creative direction had come after fellow ceramicist David Cargill commented that “his pots looked better on the inside than the out,” Coughlan noted.
In the story, Blanton shared that it was an observation he’d always somehow known, but didn’t fully embrace exploring until Cargill said the words aloud.
From there, he began cutting his pots after their construction, literally turning them inside out. In so doing, he created what Coughlan described as a kind of “sculptural landscape,” reminiscent of the canyons found in Arizona and New Mexico.
The formations fit nicely with Blanton’s desire to explore his Native American heritage in his work.
“The great joy is to really get to the artist’s process. And if you’re smart and you ask the right questions, people really open up to you. They’ll tell you the most interesting things,” Coughlan said.
That depth and intimacy, he believes, is what made the piece stand out to the judges, as well as the photographs he made to accompany the story.
The judge specifically commented on the photos, which Coughlan said weren’t part of the judging, reflected how being a well-rounded journalist can add to the depth and impact of one’s stories — something Coughlan said, “I’m always telling my students”at Lamar University.
The photos included images of Blanton at work — something the artist suggested in addition to a portrait and pictures of finished work.
“I told him,‘if it turns out, I’d like to acquire it,’” Coughlan said.
The piece did turn out, and now sits in Coughlan’s home in Beaumont.
For him, that’s the best trophy for a story well done.
“That piece is even more meaningful to me, because it was done as we were talking and relating to each other,” Coughlan said.
As the pot was being formed, turned in upon itself and then reformed, so was the bond between the two artists in the roles of writer and subject, transforming.
Being able to relate that process to a larger audience through the written story format is somewhat of a dream come true for Coughlan.
“I used to watch art shows as a kid, and I would get annoyed with them and how they would use these high-falutin words,” he said, adding that the spirit of the work was lost amid the meant-to-impress jargon used to discuss it.
“I always had a dream to have a show that was written in a way that makes it accessible to everyone,” Coughlan noted, adding that having his story on Blanton take home a national prize “is kind of a validation of being able to do that.”
And it fits with Coughlan’s grander plan to spread the word about Southeast Texas’ rich arts community.
“This area has a lot of strong arts, and that’s my mission — to make people aware of the arts in this area,” he said.
Coughlan will showcase his own brand new series of work at a Café Arts exhibit in the Art Museum of Southeast Texas in February. firstname.lastname@example.org twitter.com/kimbpix
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