Brett Cook On The Practice of Building Community

Brett Cook On The Practice of Building Community

Many people view art as transformative in and of itself. But what about the process of making art? Can that not also be a tool for transformation? Brett Cook is a multi-disciplinary artist who uses storytelling to distill complex ideas and creative practices to transform the inner and outer worlds of being.

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He has taught at all academic levels and has used his pedagogical knowledge to leverage the transformational power of the relational aspect of art-making. In today’s episode, Brett shares his artistic journey, from drawing in the church at the age of two to having a legendary open studio in New York. We talk about how his community practice has transformed over the years, and we hear about how he views it now.

Art installation by Bret Cook
Art installation by Brett Cook

As someone who has established himself in both the fine art and grassroots art worlds, Brett is passionate about flattening the hierarchies that stand in the way of so many artists’ success. He sheds light on the work he is doing as an administrator to bridge these divides and strengthen relationships to contribute to a more whole, healed world. As with any conversation with Brett, you will walk away full of inspiration and hope that a different future is possible. Tune in today!

Artist Brett Cook

“I think my community process has evolved. Part of that was initially catalyzed by my role as an educator. I was thinking of a peer review process. In a classroom setting, you have people come up with questions and then they review it together. So, I started using that initiative with groups of people that I was doing projects with. And I started to recognize that in a lot of ways, there’s really powerful transformations in those relationships that are not evident in the object, but are part of the art that I wanted to make. So, then it became much more about the conceptual art. It's really conceptualizing these new methodologies to have people be in relation and transform.” — Brett Cook [0:23:19.0]

Today’s host, artist Erin Yoshi

Key Points From This Brett Cook Episode:

  • Get to know Brett, his background, and his journey into the arts.
  • The decision Brett made to move to the East Coast after a life out West.
  • Details about Brett’s legendary Harlem studio, where so much happened.
  • The type of art Brett was making when he moved to New York.
  • What helped Brett understand the more progressive pedagogy he still uses today.
  • Why Brett’s space was so unique in a city like New York.
  • Hear more about Brett’s involved and evolved community process.
  • Sometimes, the process of making art is transformative.
  • The irony of having people who are disconnected from your message buying your work.
  • How Brett was able to establish himself in both the fine art and popular art worlds.
  • Insights into Brett’s self-portrait works and the impact they have had on his life.
  • Brett's realization that he had to be committed to his beliefs.
  • The internal tension artists face when they want to be commercially successful.
  • Insights into the work Brett has done around healing and why it is important to him.
  • How Brett came to work with Thich Nhat Hanh.
  • Brett’s role in the art world, now that he is working in administration.
  • The importance of aligning institutions with artists.
  • Why Brett is so committed to flattening established, embedded hierarchies.
  • Where you can find Brett online.

“Part of my foundation artistically was really a popular construct.” — Brett Cook [0:03:45.0]

“Part of the radicality of my work early was I was actually just going to use it as a vehicle to magnify your voice. You already have one, but what does it mean to magnify it?” — Brett Cook [0:24:41.0]

“I have had the benefit, which not all of us humans do, of having decades to think deeply about my relationship to people and to the world through these self-portraits.” — Brett Cook [0:37:53.0]

Links Mentioned in Today’s Episode:

“We are really trying to create a more whole, just world, and it’s really at those personal relationships and those individuals that we need that wholeness to be cultivated. ” — Brett Cook [0:42:48.0]

“A lot more of the things I’m doing are really scaffolds to other people’s success.” — Brett Cook [0:53:44.0]