Meet the 2018-19 AC+D Fellows: Michael Rutledge

August 09, 2018

Over the month of August we'll be introducing our 2018-2019 Applied Craft + Design Fellows! Up first is Michael Rutledge (AC+D Alumni '18). Each year one graduating student is invited to continue their studio practice in the Bison as the fellow for the coming school year. These recent graduates contribute to the studio culture of the Applied Craft + Design Program by modeling an active, inquisitive and thoughtful studio practice within the context of art, craft and design.

AC+D: What do you plan to focus on during your fellowship? 

Michael Rutledge: I’m not entirely sure. Recently, I’ve been focusing a lot of my attention on correspondence, and work that can happen through the mail. I have some audio projects in the wings, including maybe a podcast series that I haven’t quite worked out yet. I’m hoping to work with William making the world of the builder (which is as much as I’d like to say about that for now). I’d also like to make a breakfast in bed tray for myself. Something to protect the bedsheets from spills which has been a problem in the past. The best answer to this question is, I’m not certain. One thing that is nice about being on this end of graduate school is that; I know about the pressure to work, I’ve learned how to adjust that pressure and I know that I work best with and much prefer a light push. 

AC+D: How do you maintain your creative practice? What keeps you motivated and engaged? 
MR: That’s easy. I consider any move that is made thoughtfully, or critically as a part of my creative practice. Responding to these questions is a part of my creative practice. I might be writing, building furniture, cooking dinner or working in the garden. I rest assured, it is all connected. Thankfully, I love the buoyancy of creative thinking, so that it easy to lean into. What is trickier is maintaining the focus and discipline for a more substantial output. But really, I am seriously on the fence about how important substantial output is. I might live my best life living in a tent in the woods, digging for gold and making collage from campsite trash.

Michael Rutledge, 2018.

AC+D: Could you describe a moment or experience that profoundly changed the nature of your work?  

MR: In undergraduate, I was (sort of) kicked out of the photo department. I wound up getting my BFA in printmaking instead. For a number of reasons, this was probably one of the best things that could have happened to me. 

AC+D: What have you learned about yourself through your creative practice?  

MR: There are certain things that I am, for whatever reason, inherently good at. This is in relation to others who might not be so good at those things, and those things are my unique advantage point, I try to remember what those things are and lean into them. There are also certain things that I am, for whatever reason, not so good at. I try to lean into those things also, often even more. Whether I lean toward the skill or the lack of skill is in certain ways a strategic move. But the truth is, I am often happiest with my work when it comes out of my lack of skill. 

AC+D: What’s got you excited or fascinated right now? What questions are you thinking about?  

MR: Well, I recently learned that the universe is actually full of galactic greasy goop (see the Guardian article: Across the Universe on a Butter Mountain from July 2) and I found that pretty exciting. I love the idea that the universe is actually really gross. Also, just think of how incredibly uncomfortable a space suit would be. Imagine how annoying it would eventually be in orbit to have to deal with the sunrise every 90 minutes! But, I’ll tell you what I think about a lot and what keeps me up at night (the season 2 finale of Westworld reminded me of this and I’m stuck on it again.) Consider consciousness as a form of energy, and our bodies tie that consciousness corporeally to matter. So maybe, our consciousness is only connected to the passage of time through a connection to our bodies. If that were the case, then in death we might encounter a kind of infinitude but without the passage of time– infinity could just be the smallest measure of a constant experience had, forever. That might be great news if the last sensation you had were a good one, but it seems altogether more likely that it would not be; death is so often a pretty nasty thing. I am terrified that because of the evolutionary accident of consciousness after my death I will live my final moment of discomfort forever. That’s a big one that I am thinking about pretty often. 

Michael Rutledge, 2017.

AC+D:What advice would you offer to the current students about to embark on a career in the arts? 

MR: No offense, but its pretty presumptuous, I think, to say that the beginning of a masters program is a first step toward a career in the arts. Probably, those reading my responses to these questions, the students about to begin this masters program are already seasoned artists ready to take next-steps. Some of them might already have another masters in something else. So instead, let me answer a slightly different question: What advice can I offer to students about to begin this masters program. 

The best advice I can give you is this: when it comes to your practice and your art, nobody can tell you what to doEvery response, every statement, every critique is an insight and a generous offer to be sure, but no mentor, no teacher and no fellow student can give you a required direction when it comes to your work. All of the choices are your choices to make. It is at times an easy answer to hear critique from a mentor or teacher as instruction. And it is easy to raise ones heckles when someone asks why you’ve made a decision and you can’t easily find the answer.  I think it’s dangerous to ones practice to allow a hierarchy to exist where anyone other than you, the source of the work is at the top. I think that’s important to remember. 

Michael Rutledge, 2018.

Learn more about Michael Rutledge's work at