Skip to main content

Kristen Applebee, CFAC Alum and Award Honoree, Encourages Students to Not be Afraid of Failure

Kristen Applebee (BFA ‘95) Returned to BYU During Homecoming Week for the Annual Alumni Achievement Award Lecture Series; Her Lecture was Titled, “The Impossible Calling of Being an Artist”

Kristen Applebee
Kristen Applebee (BFA '95) speaks during the Alumni Achievement Award Lecture Series.
Photo by Scott Young

When BYU alum Kristen Applebee (‘95) spoke to students, alumni and faculty in the Madsen Recital Hall of the Harris Fine Arts Center, she told them to fail.

“If you have a problem with the word ‘failing,’ just call it learning,” said Applebee. “Give yourself permission to do things badly.”

Her lecture, titled, “The Impossible Calling of Being an Artist,” emphasized the importance of keeping things in perspective.

“If you want to be an artist, you have to make art. If you want to be a good artist, you have to make good art,” Applebee said. “If you want to make good art, you have to make bad art.”

Applebee told attendees that she has plenty of experience teaching things she hasn’t done before and is often asked to do things she is not good at.

When she first started as an art teacher for visually impaired students at Georgia Academy for the Blind, she missed the first few weeks of training. The first time she walked into the classroom was with the students.

Applebee Audience.jpg
Students, faculty and alumni gathered in the Madsen Recital Hall of the Harris Fine Arts Center to hear Applebee speak.
Photo by Scott Young

Applebee said her entire career can be summed up with the scripture 1 Nephi 4:6, which reads, “And I was led by the Spirit, not knowing beforehand the things which I should do.”

One of her favorite things to do as a teacher is push her students out of their comfort zones, Applebee said, recalling the time when she helped a student overcome their fear of water.

After the student had spent time in the pool, they asked how they could repay Applebee and how they could thank her.

“You can thank me by trusting me. I am never going to ask you to do anything that’s wrong or immoral,” Applebee said to that student. “I am going to ask you to do things that are hard; I’ll ask you to do things you’ve never done before because that’s the only way to learn something new.”

From set design to claymation, Applebee said that she has learned as she teaches her students how to do things.

During the lecture, Applebee highlighted the artistic talents of her students through photos, as she proudly shared the stories behind the pieces.

“This thing that didn’t exist before does exist now, and it only exists because we made it,” Applebee said. “My students are getting exposed to experiences they wouldn’t have had if they hadn’t been making art.”

Applebee’s students held a “trashion” show and photoshoot with upcycled clothing made from trash; they have sculpted empty plastic bottles into chandeliers; they designed the decorations and backdrops to transform the school’s cafeteria into a Wonderland for the prom.

Some of the methods she uses to help her blind visually impaired students participate in the artistic process include letting them feel the materials, using stencils or using tangible materials, such as caulk or wax-coated string, to outline where they should paint.

Applebee’s students have won national awards at American Printing House for the Blind. They have had art shows at their local Goodwill thrift store.

Applebee Lecture
Kristen Applebee (BFA '95) speaks to attendees after the lecture.
Photo by Scott Young

Such opportunities have led to more student exhibitions and internship opportunities for her students.

“Spoiler alert: it's not impossible to be an artist,” Applebee said.

Comparing one’s life to a drawing of a still life, Applebee discussed the process of sketching out the large parts first and laying the foundation before adding in the smaller objects and adjusting details along the way.

“You don’t call those first lines that you drew ‘mistakes,’” said Applebee. “You call it drawing; it’s just part of the process.”

Applebee said drawing a still life is learned the same way one learns in life — little by little and line upon line.

“The experiences I had at BYU were my first marks,” Applebee said. “I’ll be forever grateful for the foundation it gave me as an artist, teacher and a human being.”