We had the good fortune of connecting with Jonathan Skurnik and we’ve shared our conversation below.

Hi Jonathan, what led you to pursuing a creative path professionally?

I knew I wanted to be an artist even as a child. I loved making things and the joy of discovering new forms, shapes, colors and stories. At age eight, my father let me use his 8mm movie camera that he bought in Japan when he was stationed there for military service. I shot a few rolls and was amazed at the seeming miracle of motion pictures. Soon afterwards, I broke the camera with my clumsy eight-year-old hands. That holiday season, my parents bought me a new camera, this time in the Super 8 format and I was off to the races. As a young college graduate, being an artist felt a little tricky because I wasn’t particularly self-confident and there seemed to be a lot of competition. As a result, my artist went underground for about nine years while I attended to the underlying reasons behind my low self-esteem.
Then, during my Saturn returns (age 29), my creativity and ambition blossomed. Using the tools of The Artists Way with a group of talented, aspiring artists, I made sculptures, installations and short videos and exhibited my work in New York City galleries. I took a few documentary filmmaking classes, found a filmmaking partner and began a five-year-journey of making a social-issue documentary. At first, we worked for free, borrowed gear, shot a ton of footage and made a trailer that ultimately led to us raising several hundred thousand dollars. With our new resources, we were able to open an office in Manhattan, finish the film, enter festivals, win awards and broadcast the film nationally on PBS. We were on our way! Twenty years later, with lots of ups and downs, I’m still making films and visual art, I teach at a university and I mentor up–and–coming filmmakers. I love my creative life.

Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?

As a creative person, I never liked the idea of choosing a single medium to the exclusion of all others, although I have deep respect for artists who choose that path. I began as a writer, publishing in magazines and edited my own literary magazine for several years. I have continued to write professionally since then, but I switched gears after the magazine ended and started building sculptures from found objects in my Brooklyn neighborhood, and created immersive installations. I showed that work in galleries in New York City, even as I embarked on my primary career of social justice documentary filmmaking.
One thing I love to do besides making art is teaching. I taught environmental science in my 20s, and since I’ve been a filmmaker, I’ve been teaching filmmaking master classes and am an adjunct professor at Chapman University. Teaching is an integral part of my creative process. It allows me to see more objectively what I have to offer, while also revealing gaps in my knowledge and experience that I need to fill in order to teach effectively. Most importantly, however, my students are an endless source of inspiration and wonder, and it’s an honor to help them birth their careers and artistic voices.
Throughout my career as a filmmaker, I’ve continued to work in other media such as painting, sculpture and installation, and have been fortunate enough to be commissioned to paint murals, collaboratively create complex multi-media installations, and write narrative film and TV projects. One thing that has kept me hopeful through the ups and downs of my career has been the artistic community with which I’ve surrounded myself. These are other artists who remind me that the creative life requires stamina, courage and the willingness to look at one’s darkest places. We encourage and love each other and do our best to remember that we all have a unique brilliance that never has to be compared to anyone else’s work for validation.
I’m entering a new phase of my career that I’m very excited about. My plan is to make my second narrative feature, get a TV show produced, and resume showing and selling my visual art and installations. I’m even researching the possibility of going to art school to get a low-residency MFA. The secret to a sustainable arts career, I’ve discovered, is to just do the task that’s right in front of me and let the bigger picture vision unfold as it is meant to.

Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
Since we’re in Covid quarantine, this question is too depressing. But within these constraints, I’d take them to the beach, the mountains (after the fires stop), the farmers’ markets, make appointments to visit art galleries, and join a few protests.

Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
Julia Cameron (The Artists Way) and my artists way support group; filmmaker and teacher Jennifer Fox; my filmmaking partners Kathy Leichter, Jeff Shames and Randy Vasquez; my beloved filmmaking community at New Day Films; Michael Meade and Milodoma Somé, David Teisler, James Harding and so many others that would take a book to fill.

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/jskurnik/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/skurnik

Image Credits
LA Valley College, Randy Vasquez, D. Koga, Jonathan Skurnik

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