In Department of Design

Design students received small prints of some of Aline Smithson’s works at a luncheon after the meeting. Photo by Nicole Hawkins

Aline Smithson shared how she balances her career and family at first Women in Design lecture.

BYU’s Department of Design recently created a lecture series customized for female design students. The series brings in professional female designers who can speak to the realities of the workplace student designers will face.

The newly formed Department of Design Diversity Committee created the series. The committee consists of professors Linda Reynolds, Bethanne Andersen and Robert Machoian. Andersen said they started the series in hopes they could “educate students to think bigger.”

“I hope it creates a community where students can network with each other,” Andersen said. “I hope it empowers them to lean in and talk about different things. Also, I hope it creates an environment where, if they have any issues, they feel free to talk about them and have access to mentors that can help.”

Andersen explained some of her female students have encountered disparaging comments about their ability to balance a career in design while nurturing personal relationships.

“A large percent of women will support their families financially during their life because of death, divorce, illness, layoffs and downsizing.” Andersen said. “They need to be prepared for a profession and so I try to help them realize how important it is for them to work towards that goal.”

To kick off the series, the Department of Design featured professional photographer Aline Smithson, an artist based in Los Angeles. Her successful career has included a focus on “childhood, aging and the humanity that connects us,” according to her biography. “All of her photographs deal with how she lives her life with her family and her art,” Andersen said.

When Machoian reached out to Smithson to speak at BYU, he asked if she would like to speak as part of the lecture series targeted to female students. Smithson replied that she already had a presentation for such an occasion. Her remarks focused on the balance of being a mother and a professional artist.  

Photography student Megan Matheson attended the lecture and had the opportunity to have her portfolio reviewed by Smithson. “I was interested because motherhood is such a big topic within our culture as Mormons. It is something, especially as artists, we are constantly struggling with, we want to have a career and balance motherhood. They’re both two really great desires that we have. It was cool to hear her opinions about it,” Matheson said.

After studying art at the University of California at Santa Barbara and the College of Creative Studies, Smithson worked as a New York Fashion editor. She eventually returned to LA to her own artistic practice and picked up photography to learn how to take better pictures of her kids. As she became more familiar with the medium, she found ways to include her family life in her art. “You can make work within your life with very little effort,” Smithson assured.

One of Smithson’s first photographic successes was her series “Arrangement in Green and Black, Portraits of the Photographer’s Mother.” The series included portraits of Smithson’s mother inspired by James McNeill Whistler’s painting “Arrangement in Grey and Black.” Smithson stated that working on the series didn’t feel so much like work as “simply my mother and me spending time together.”

One of the main points of Smithson’s lecture was to encourage students to develop a community that could help them in their artistic pursuits. Smithson cited the works of several other artists and discussed projects she collaborated on and how they benefited her career.

“Create community,” Smithson said. “This is critical to your nourishment as an artist, especially if you’re at home with kids and feel like you don’t have a creative community.”

Matheson said she felt encouraged by Smithson’s words. “I think what surprises me most about these lectures is that artists are so human. They’re just like us and they have all the same desires and all the same experiences. They make great work and show us it’s possible for us to make great work too; work that is personal and work that is meaningful that other people can appreciate.”

The Women in Design lecture series will be held throughout the academic year with guest artists from different backgrounds in design. The aim is to offer different perspectives on being an artist working in the design field.  

“In the end, the journey is about who and what you love,” Smithson said. “Having a passion and focus beyond my husband, children, family and friends has been a godsend. It has opened up the world in ways I never could have expected and given me friends all over the world. So my advice is to slow down. Make the best work you can. Enjoy your family. Make work that is uniquely you, speaks to your world, your life and your way of thinking. Tell us your stories, show us your heartbreak, find magic everywhere — and trust me, it’s out there.”

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