A Story of Flexibility: From a High School Art Teacher in Taiwan to a Career Lady in the US
Interviewed by Francesca Tang
Louise Chen is 55 years old and an artist originally from Taiwan. Chen moved to Ohio in 1994 with her husband who was a student at that time. She currently resides in Bay City, Michigan and works in the university as International Program Liaison. At age 52, she completed a Master of Arts in Art degree. In the past, she had her solo art exhibitions domestically and internationally. Louise was a high school art teacher before she moved to US. She continued teaching art classes for 15 years to students of all ages from diverse backgrounds in Midland, Michigan. She has gradually built up a reputation in the community with a lot of positive feedback and affirmation.
Louise strikes hard for a balance between work life and family. In 2013, she miraculously came across an elderly gentleman, Dr. Yien, at an airport. He offered her a job right on the spot to work for Ming Chuan University, which has a Michigan campus established by him. It was the first independent contractor position she accepted. This job led to another opportunity where Louise received her full-time job offer which pivoted her career from an artist to an administrative professional at Saginaw Valley State University. At age 52, this pivotal change earned her first stable income and set a precedent in her life.
You May: What types of paintings do you paint?
Louise: My specialties are watercolor, acrylic and Chinese brush paintings. My tools and materials are rice paper, bamboo brushes, ink and watercolor paint. I am deeply influenced by the magnificent 5000- year-old Chinese culture. Being accepted by a prestigious art school, National Taiwan Normal University, allowed me to learn authentic and old-school style and techniques. In my paintings, I use two traditional techniques — “Xei Yi” (spontaneous style) and “Gong Bi” (detailed style). The subjects of my paintings are nature which includes bamboo, flowers, birds, animals, landscapes, etc. After living in the United States for over two decades, my Chinese artistic style has been positively impacted by my life experiences in Western culture.
You May: What are the major philosophies behind your paintings?
Louise: Searching for the tranquility. I enjoy expressing the wisdom found in nature. In my paintings, I share not only philosophies from Chinese culture, but also the hidden wisdom and symbolic meaning from nature, such as tranquility, simplicity, balance and perseverance. My goal is to incorporate Chinese and Western aesthetics and techniques in order to create paintings that will resonate with viewers. I spend time observing nature and combine life experiences to inspire my paintings. One example of this creation is my painting titled “Moment Before Empty Nest”. I painted an empty bird nest with a mother bird crying bittersweet tears. I want to express my mixed feelings of joy, loneliness, worry, and unwillingness when my last child went to college.
You May: How do you introduce Chinese traditional paintings and culture to American students?
Louise: I believe most Chinese who come to the US take the roles of culture ambassadors. I was no exception. Needless to say, art is a universal language to facilitate cultural exchange. When I introduce Chinese painting techniques and philosophies to students, I like to use examples from daily life to help them understand. Generally speaking, Americans are open-minded and eager to learn different cultures. My approach is using storytelling to introduce sophisticated belief and Chinese philosophy, such as Confucianism and Taoism, to my American students. My teaching is full of metaphors and many students find it interesting and easy to comprehend.
“I believe most Chinese who come to the US take the roles of culture ambassadors.”-Louise Chen
You May: What are the differences between being an artist and working at an office?
Louise: It is a huge difference! Being an artist is a personal career and I do not treat it as a business. The process of creating a piece of art is very personal and creative. It is not necessary to put interpersonal relationships and office politics into consideration. I have full control on my creation and time. I have a one-person studio and I am my own boss. However, when you work at an office, you need to adapt the culture and work as a team. Sometimes you cannot make decisions on your own and you also have to take responsibility for the job. I also need to follow the schedule and policy to accomplish the tasks I am given.
You May: What are the major difficulties for you living in the US?
Louise: The difficulty I face in the US is the inability to be a good daughter and sister as my parents and sisters are living in Taiwan. It is truly a sacrifice for me to be living in the US. I have filled the void in a way by caring for friends in the US like my own family. However, I handle the imperfection in my life by trying hard to be a good wife and mother. I once have had an opportunity to work in California and relocate there. However, I changed my mind as I put my family into consideration first.
You May: What is your plan for the next five years?
Louise: I would like to change my lifestyle. Learn to be a minimalist. I want to travel with my husband to find inspirations from nature. I plan to exercise regularly and enjoy more family life, i.e. spending more time with my mother, siblings and friends in Taiwan and enjoying being a new grandmother. I really want to get a dog. Professionally, I would like to keep taking challenges and growing at work. I would like to teach art courses in colleges, hold more art exhibitions nationally and internationally, run online art business, and promote the beauty of Chinese culture to all people especially young Asian-Americans.
You May: What is your advice to Chinese women in the USA?
Louise: First of all, make sure you make sincere female friends and support each other. They are your sisters. Try to be warm and giving and maybe use food as a channel of socializing. Be more expressive to praise, to show our gratitude. To be able to do so, giving ourselves opportunity to improve our English speaking skill is extremely important. Also, we need to have good time management. Be aware of traps in everyday life: TV shows, gossip, and social media, to mention but a few, can all be addictive, distracting and time-wasting. Set a goal and have a vision in life. Try to invest more time in family and raising children. Boost our children’s confidence and self-identification. Encourage them to speak Mandarin. Take good care of your physical and mental health. Last but not least, find your faith and religion. As a Christian, I feel very blessed and want to give credit to God, “Life is the best teacher.” My life motto is “be water, be flexible yet strong” and I believe that we cannot live in fear and have to embrace challenges. “Do not be afraid of what-ifs, have faith.”
“Life is the best teacher, be water, be flexible yet strong. We cannot live in fear, we have to embrace challenges. Do not be afraid of what-ifs, have faith.” – Louise Chen
You May: What would you do differently if you could live your 40s again?
Louise: I would tell myself “you can do it”. I would like to get a higher degree earlier if I could live my life again. Instead of being a passenger, I would like to drive better and further so I can be more independent. I also would like to have a more advanced level of computer literacy. If I could be more financial independent in my 40s, that would be more ideal. I might start my own business. I also wanted to own less and let go more. I would watch less TV shows and spend more quality time to read and to be with my family and friends.
You May: Do you have any role models?
Louise: My role model is my aunt Mrs. LinKo Lin. She immigrated to the United States in 1984 and taught in the Department of Oriental Languages and Literatures at the University of Colorado. She later on changed her career and took a leadership role in a public library in South Carolina during her 23 years of service. She has dedicated to promote Chinese education and multicultural awareness among Chinese people in the US. Mrs. Lin is a role model in many ways—she is a wonderful mother, a loving wife, a down-to-earth writer, professional educator, an excellent Ikebana artist, a successful career lady, and most of all, a grassroots culture ambassador.
To see Louise Chen’s artworks, please check the following website: