Artist of the Week Miranda Kashynski ’24 on Letting Birds Fly

I visited the Whittier senior studios a few days before my interview with Miranda Kashynski ’’24. I had never seen her work, and upon peering into her cubicle, I saw a bunch of stickers of pigeons lying on her desk. I immediately asked her if she could give me one, and, to my surprise, she said yes. 

“I love to make things for other people. My background is in camp crafts — I grew up finger-weaving snakes, making friendship bracelets, weaving at school, and making cookie-cutter trees. These crafts are considered elementary school art, which is exactly what I want to do with my students when I’m an art teacher,” she said. 

Just as Miranda hopes to create a space of artistic exploration for her future students, she explores art and the world on her own. Her junior fall semester, Miranda studied abroad in Siena, Italy, living with a host family while she studied the old art of the greats and created new art of her own.

“When I went to Siena, which is a medieval, preserved UNESCO site, my professors told me that we should never give away our art,” she continued. “[They said we] need to see value in your work and understand that you’re putting time and resources into it. Which, yes, however, in the very privileged space of Swarthmore, the privilege to make without financial strain, allows me to mass produce things intentionally for other people. So, if you want a sticker, I’m gonna give you a sticker. I want people to take them, have them, and enjoy them. It’s important to me that art is accessible to other people. If I’m in a privileged space and have the resources to make it for free, I want to share it with you.” 

As an artist, I have conflicted feelings about showing my works, much less giving them to others. But hearing Miranda talk so passionately about sharing her art shifted my perspective a bit. Artists are taught to believe that effective visual imagery is the only way to fully convey their message to the viewer. Miranda’s perspective allows those who take her works to derive whatever meaning they want from them, as her art becomes a collective practice. The mere act of sharing becomes the focal point of her works. Viewers’ individual emotions do not take away from each other. Rather, they add to the overall experience. 

Through Miranda’s art, one can see that art doesn’t need to be dark and serious to be valuable. 

“At the end of the day, art is about emotion and expressing yourself, but that emotion doesn’t have to be something so heavy and in the pit of your soul. If I want to explore feelings of comfort and safety and joy, and I do that through little farm animals, that’s still great.” Miranda elaborated, “I’m kind of trying to figure [my artistic vision] out right now. Outside of classwork, there are so many things that are significant, like queerness. I’m queer, so I’ll always be making queer work. So there are themes of queerness, themes of exploration, because I’m in school to be an educator. I’m always thinking about how educating informs education. I think that comes through in a lot of my work because it’s a little more playful and illustrative, sort of like a kid’s book.” 

In particular, Miranda’s art focuses on birds. Whether it be a pigeon, loon, goose, or woodpecker, they are pivotal subjects in most of her works. While I was interviewing her, she was even wearing a shirt with a loon on it. 

“My family goes to New Hampshire in the summers because my grandma lives there. And loons are these birds that live on the water and almost never leave the water. They go on land to nest and lay their eggs but their feet are actually too far back to really walk properly so they can’t take off from land,” she shared.  

“In Siena, the city is divided into these historic neighborhoods or contradas. In these communities, they have alliances, rivalries, colors, flags, and when you get married, it’s an entire neighborhood event. There are lots of celebrations and rituals. Each contrada has an animal, and mine [was a] goose. So I spent three months surrounded by geese because I lived in this house covered in them. I was thrust into this cultural experience that is so meaningful to these people. They were being so generous by letting me see a glimpse of it, but I would never be a part of it in the same way that they are. But, at the same time, it’s hard to escape because I was living in the contrada so that experience will always be a part of me. I think that’s really cool.” 

When Miranda was in Siena, she let viewers take 40 tiny ceramic “good luck ducks” as a part of her final project. Just as her host family shared their life with her, she shared her works with her viewers, letting her birds fly away from her, trusting that they’re in good hands. As a teacher, she’ll have to let go of her students for them to fly, but a piece of her influence as an educator will always be within them. 

Interestingly, Miranda did not enter Swarthmore as an art major, rather, she added it after taking Painting I: Drawing into Painting: Drawing into Painting in Spring 2022. When I asked her about her final project and why one of her works included a sheep in water wearing a life vest, she replied, “I wanted it to be a little silly, and realistic in an otherwise more simplified way, because I like that contrast. And if a sheep is in the water, he needs a vest. Like what are you gonna do? Lead him to drown? I had a very concrete idea of what I was doing, but I don’t necessarily think that there was a lot of story behind that. I wanted to see if I could do it.”

Sometimes, art isn’t deep meta-commentary; it’s about exploring, enjoying, and seeing where an idea can take you. This interview felt the same way. I usually have strict questions I follow, but I found myself wanting to learn about pigeons, loons, and Siena, fragments that, when put together, create a larger mosaic of what makes Miranda, Miranda. Though she claims to not know what her capital-A “artistic vision” is yet, there’s so much beauty in what she shares with her viewers. 

After our interview, I stuck the pigeon Miranda gave me on my wall. Even though his head is detached, he’s one of my favorite pieces of decor. I look at him and think of all of the times I wished I had an art teacher like Miranda when I was growing up. Her excitement about art is intoxicating and I’m fully confident she’s going to make an amazing educator. I hope she never stops finding inspiration in something as simple — but random — as birds. And I can only hope to learn how to do the same. 

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