It was required that Emmit Smith (MFA '17) take an art class at his South Carolina high school, but he wasn’t required to love it.
“Officials made it state law that you had to take an art class. So I said, ‘Fine I’ll take this drawing class.’ I did and I fell in love with it,” he said while sitting amongst some work in his alumni studio. “I never thought about or cared about art before. It’s funny that a rule imposed on me forced me into it and made me fall in love with art.”
Smith eventually landed at Georgia Southern University and a graphic design major was swapped for painting.
“I started taking a painting class and once again fell in the love with the whole environment,” he said. “That studio environment is too much fun. There is a lot of energy there that I’ve always thrived in.”
At Georgia Southern, he poured his energy into exploring his artwork and researching graduate schools.
“I had narrowed it down to a list and PAFA ended up on the list,” he said. “I liked the location, and I liked the museum history paired with contemporary context. I got accepted here and two other schools and I picked PAFA based on scholarship amount and also based on location and prestige, and the institution itself.
Even though he came to PAFA confident that his path was painting, Smith explored other forms of art when he saw all of the opportunities available in the MFA program.
“People encourage you to push the boundaries of your ideas. I was convinced of all of my ideas and conceptual backings, but then I started doing digital media and video stuff,” he said. “The ideas that I was talking about were conducive to that world and it forced me to think differently.”
The work he’s most proud of from his time as an MFA student is an installation that was eventually bought by North Dakota State University.
“It was the most impractical thing I’d ever made it my life. It’s hard to sell a painting but someone bought a whole room. I shipped them plants, TV monitors, and USB drives,” Smith said, adding that the installation was shown in an exhibition alongside works by Salvador Dali and Jasper Johns.
The work physically went to North Dakota but is also metaphorically scattered around the globe. He photographed the installation at different angles and uploaded the pictures to Google Maps.
“On Google Maps you can upload any photo you want, they can be 100% accurate or completely false. I’ve always been interested in spam emails and thinking of art as spam,” he said. “No one asks for this art but you are throwing people images and ideas and no one is asking for it. But you’re continuing to spam them with your imagery or whatever you’re doing, so I wanted to spam the earth with my installation.”
Now people in Bali or Barbuda might stumble upon a photograph while swiping through a Google Maps stream. Since the photos are of palm trees, beaches, and blue water, Smith said the images might blend in with the other photos in the stream, sneaking into the users view.
“I wanted that subtle insertion of imagery into these streams. So either you’re sort of flipping through these images and consuming it and not acknowledging it, or acknowledging it and questioning every other image in the stream,” he said. “That part of the project was my favorite and I still get updates on my Google Maps photos.”
Monthly updates from Google show the images have reached more than one million views. Smith hopes his presence and photos will continue circling the globe.
On a more local level, Smith is a strong presence in the PAFA community. After graduating in 2017, Smith began as the assistant to MFA Program Chair, Didier William. He hopes this position will help him achieve his dream of teaching art on the collegiate level.
“I get to do critiques in the MFA program. It’s always really interesting conversations and that’s my favorite part,” he said.
As part of his position, Smith assisted in the curation of “Crosscurrents,” an exhibition of undergraduates enrolled at schools in The Association of Independent Colleges of Art and Design, and he also supports a graduate seminar class.
“The position I have right now is really helpful in that I’m actively doing critiques and engaged in the educational environment,” Smith said. “Right now I’m in a place I want to be. I’m surrounded by art and artists and art education and teaching, and that energy is perfect for me.”