Magnet Artist: Jennifer Coster explores art and life

by Priyanka Gokhale '08

Ask Jennifer Coster what her graduate program is focused on and the answer’s easy. “I’m interested in investigating the body and the environment,” she says. “I’ve been setting up experiments with nature to sort of test these limits of the body…by setting up limits I show what the body can do.”

If that sounds like a Masters Degree in Biology, think again. Coster, a 2002 Magnet alum, is currently pursuing a Masters in Fine Arts at the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA). She puts it simply, saying “I’m amazed at the world around me” – and the program has allowed her to immortalize her ideas and her wonderment.

Well, maybe not all of her work is exactly immortal: her most recent piece is a collection of anthills made out of glitter and sand with the ants burying tunnels into the artificial and natural alike. Named “Untitled (Cityscapes)”, the piece was selected to be a part of the Arlington Arts Center’s 2011 Spring Solos exhibition. Inspired by the parallels between city lights she viewed from an airplane and the mini-cities that the ants were crafting, she set to work “collaborating” with the critters to set up delicate and ever-changing landscapes.These same coworkers have been a source of frustration for Coster, who had to make weekly trips to Arlington to “babysit” the ants. However, the project has allowed her to dig deep into the parallels between humans and ants – something that has excited this lifelong learner.That love of education, something that was cultivated through the Magnet program, is in fact the reason that Coster chose to wait until after college to enter the art world. “The whole [Magnet] community was very passionate about learning,” she says. “The whole experience made me confident in my ability to learn…confident I could take on any problem.”Though her high school experience was rounded out by classes in studio art and a one-week printmaking fellowship, she chose to pursue the liberal arts in college and graduated with a degree in history from the University of Southern California. When she returned to the east coast, she took up a position teaching elementary school art. Ultimately, teaching the subject gave Coster the courage to pursue it as a profession. “I realized I was definitely interested in art but wanted to get more involved with it a professional level,” she says.

Coster made good on her passion by seeking out a post-baccalaureate program at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. There, she prepared a portfolio for admission into graduate programs. Now, one year deep at MICA, she looks forward to being able to have art as a part of a career.

Ideally, she will spend her first few post-grad years applying for residencies, programs that allow artists to take leave to focus on their work. She admits it won’t be easy, but says “I want to see if I can make it as an artist.”

For now, though, Coster can continue to focus on her passion as she works through another year of graduate school. This summer, she plans to take a screenprinting class through Ox-Bow, a Michigan-based program that runs short-term institutes for artists.

Far as she may seem to be from math, science, and technology, Coster retains her Magnet roots with themes from biology, philosophy, and chemistry weaving through her work. And then there are the more pragmatic skill sets she picked up during her time at Blair: “I am very proud to say that I made the website I have now using my computer skills,” she laughs.

Priyanka Gokhale '08 is looking for Magnet students who have taken the program's independent-thinking spirit and applied it in unique and interesting ways. From day one in Research and Experimentation, we're thrust into new situations and asked to think outside the box - and if you think you know of alumni that embody this spirit, please e-mail or make a suggestion online.