From childhood to Toronto: Freeman works toward career in art

“I strongly suggest you cover more skin.”

The phrase is repeated throughout Josie Freeman’s, ’20, artwork and is part of an overarching narrative that uses an Instagram page to weave together the ideas of social media use, modern attention spans and perceived sexuality. It appears within captions of digitally altered photographs depicting Freeman in various outfits, all specifically picked to enrich the story she is trying to tell.

Yet, before she created her Instagram for art under the handle studio.josie, before she filled her page with pieces using an array of media and before she began working on the long-term social media project to share her thoughts, Freeman feared she would not be able to turn art into a career — until she found inspiration Allegheny College.

“I never thought I’d want to do (art) as a career, or I really never thought that I could,” Freeman said. “I also definitely have gotten a lot of inspiration from my professors and just more (of an) understanding in the fact that art just doesn’t have to be beautiful, but it also should really contain some sort of core value you believe in.”

When Freeman began her college education, she knew one thing for sure — she loved art. Not sure if she could turn her passion into a career, Freeman considered majoring in neuroscience, but the time she spent in Allegheny’s art department convinced her to declare as an art and technology major.

From a young age, Freeman knew she was passionate about art and she said people would often comment on how talented she was. Her mother encouraged and praised her talent.

“I was always invested in art,” Freeman said. “I always did it, (but) I never thought I would end up going into it as a career.”

Even though she has been interested in art since she was a child, Freeman said her professors and the tools provided by Allegheny’s art department played a part in convincing her to pursue her talent.

Art by Josie Freeman
Josie Freeman, ’20, created the three pieces above, which are all featured on the Instagram account she set up for her artwork.

On her first visit to Allegheny, Freeman was given a tour of the art department by her future advisor Byron Rich, assistant professor of digital art and painting. The art department caught her attention because of the value Allegheny placed on art, compared with the underfunded program she had seen in her high school, Freeman said.

“I had never seen anything like it,” Freeman said. “My high school art department was so underfunded (and) undervalued. So, coming here — seeing a professional artist like Byron giving me a tour of the facility, which had so many different tools that I could utilize that I had never … known about — that was pretty inspiring.”

Rich, who asked Freeman and Gene Frank, ’20, to be his research assistants over the summer of 2018, said he has seen Freeman’s technical talent and has watched her ability to use different media grow since he first met her on her tour of the college.

“Together, (Freeman and Frank) worked on a big project of mine, and I saw Josie really grow in terms of her ability to do graphic design work and develop logos and really practical things,” Rich said.

Along with finding encouragement from Allegheny to pursue art, Freeman said she draws inspiration from a few pieces of artwork. While she was in high school, she created a piece that depicted a heart split in two and designed in two different styles of art.

“It was the first piece that I remember doing that I just loved,” Freeman said. “I thought, ‘Wow, this could actually be something that maybe people would be interested in seeing.’”

Freeman’s interest extends beyond her personal work to the assignments she has been given throughout her college career. During her sophomore year, Freeman took a photography course, where she did a series of scan and glitch art. She worked on the series by taking photographs with a digital camera then scanning them onto a computer to toy digitally with the image, according to Freeman.

“They turned out really cool,” Freeman said. “That got me started and set me out wanting to do more and more digital things.”

Photography editing is one of Freeman’s favorite art media, though she said she will always love and painting.

“Oil paints are my absolute favorite thing,” Freeman said. “It just relaxes me, and that’s something that I like to do or work with when I’m really stressed out.”

For new media, Freeman said she struggles in introductory classes, where she has to learn the fundamentals instead of learning how to use the new art form in a more informal, hands-on approach. The fundamental classes are important, though, in fully understanding the medium, an idea which Freeman said she believes is applicable to any art medium.

“They all have their own challenges,” Freeman said. “I think most of the problems with medium arise when you don’t understand it enough. I think everyone’s probably heard the term, ‘The medium is the message.’ You have to be able to know what you’re doing enough to fully integrate your concept to the medium that you’re using.”

Freeman has recently started using photography and social media in a long-term project she may turn into her Senior Comprehensive Project. The project explores the modern portrayal of sexuality in tandem with people’s attention spans.

“(The project) is sexualized, and it’s of me … but it kind of really is focusing on what people expect to see,” Freeman said. “It’s kind of about that sexual frustration about the fact that you’re looking at this image but you’re not really seeing everything, and that there’s something visually impeding what people are expecting from it. So I’m kind of talking about that instant gratification that we all have right now, especially with media such as Snapchat (and) Instagram.”

Since the project is designed for social media consumption, the perception of the images may be different on a phone or computer screen than if they were viewed in person, according to Freeman.

I think most of the problems with medium arise when you don’t understand it enough. I think everyone’s probably heard the term, ‘The medium is the message.’ You have to be able to know what you’re doing enough to fully integrate your concept to the medium that you’re using.

— Josie Freeman, Class of 2020

Angie Bucci, ’20, has been friends with Freeman since their first year at Allegheny and has followed her transformation in art. Bucci said she is in complete support of Freeman’s decision to create a seperate Instagram for her art, which both gives her a unique brand and a platform through which she can create a narrative around her work.

“I do think, as she’s trying to become a professional in the field, she should have that established realm of her life, where she has her personal life, but she’s also Josie the artist,” Bucci said. “She is a really creative person in general. I think she is trying to make her mark in the field … and Instagram has become a beneficial platform for people just starting up in the industry.”

With Freeman’s Instagram artwork using photography, digital arts and traditional painting methods, her page showcases both her older and newer skills. One piece Bucci said she is particularly interested in is a photograph of Freeman that she digitally altered to move when the viewer clicks on it.

“The interesting perspective about her art is that she does bleed the line between photography and technology,” Bucci said as she watched the movement in the photograph Freeman posted to her Instagram. “(This) has graphic design movement in it, making it more than just a stagnant piece of artwork, which is very unique. I haven’t seen other people do that from Allegheny.”

One of Freeman’s greatest problems is conveying her ideas properly, especially when using a newer tool like social media, she said. Since using social media as a representation of instant gratification and tying the idea to sexuality is unique, Freeman said the idea came into her head last year and she could not stop thinking about it.  

“I think, in art, it’s a big thing to take more of a neutral stance (on issues),” Freeman said. “(But) I know that people who enjoy art and want to explore the deeper meanings (behind the project) will see something else that’s in there, because there’s definitely a point to what I’m doing with it, and I know that it’s not going to be obvious to everyone, but I don’t really mind that.”

Freeman said she has found inspiration from various artists, including Leah Schrager, who works under the persona OnaArtist and uses social media as a platform for her art. Watching her progress on the project, Rich said he has encouraged Freeman to expand the long-term project into her Senior Comprehensive Project because of the potential the idea holds.

“I think there’s an interesting history that she’s tapping into,” Rich said. “There’s an artist named Leah Schrager … and kind of unintentionally, Josie started doing work really similar to this artist. It’s all about social media, female bodies, short attention spans and instant gratification. … I think (Josie is) really onto to something with this, by using herself as the model, but in a really conscientious and intelligent way. I think a lot of people would just look at it as being overtly sexual, but when you really pay attention to it, it’s not at all (like that). What she’s doing so smartly is eliminating that. … She’s really using it as a tool of empowerment, and I think that’s pretty compelling.”

Freeman said she takes pride in both her art and internship work. Through her internship with Rich, Freeman acted as a research assistant, helping to design a company logo with a project called Epicurean Endocrinology. Freeman traveled with Frank and Rich to a science conference called Genedis, where Rich said he gave a lecture and gave Freeman and Frank the chance to answer questions concerning their work on the weekend of Oct. 26-28, 2018. The art Freeman helped to create is housed at the University of Toronto, according to Rich.

“I’m really proud of some of the internship work I’ve done,” Freeman said. “It’s really different than my art, but it was challenging in the fact that it was different from anything that I’ve done (before). It was graphic design and advertising work, so that was a new field that I hadn’t explored.”

The show, which opened Oct. 15, 2018, will run until Jan. 1, 2019. With her art included in an international show, Freeman insisted people with strong ideas and determination can create art.

“I think so many people have such strong ideas and they should have an opportunity to get them out there,” Freeman said. “When people say that they’re not good at art, I have a tendency to argue with them, because I think that if you have strong ideas, then there’s a way for you to (turn them into art). Even if it’s not what you expect — even if you have an idea for a great painting or something like that — there’s probably a way for you to pull it off. You just have to really try.”