Barry McNamara  |   Published March 14, 2018

More than an artist

Faculty member Ott ’12 grew during time as Monmouth student
MONMOUTH, Ill. – Jessica Bingham Ott ’12 has wanted to be an artist for as long as she can remember, but it was an experience she had as a Monmouth College student that took her passion to another level.

“As a child, I never wanted to pursue any other field,” said Ott, who is an adjunct member of the College’s art faculty. “My parents were really great about fostering my love for art and actually enrolled me in a community college summer drawing class when I was maybe 5 or 6. It must have been an all-ages drawing class because I remember there being quite a few adults and I was the youngest.”

Throughout her youth, Ott also made art informally, “always drawing or making objects” and turning decorating her childhood rooms into artistic events.

When it came time to pick a college major, art was the easy choice, and a fine arts scholarship she received from Monmouth helped solidify her college choice.

“Studying at a liberal arts college I think was the best route for me,” she said. “I come from a small town (Lynn Center, Ill.) and was accustomed to small class sizes. I think the one-on-one time with faculty also benefited me and my artistic goals. I was able to talk with the faculty more often.”

Ott said she didn’t enter college as an ideal student and had “a lot of growing up to do.” Much of that growth happened her junior year.

“That year, I decided I wanted to study abroad in Florence and became more focused than ever,” said Ott, who is married to 2011 graduate Zach Ott. “During and after Italy my work changed, I was more dedicated in the studio and I began applying for graduate schools, as well. Everything was falling into place, but it took time and a concentrated effort in and outside of the studio.”

Monmouth’s art faculty helped her through the process.

“I knew that my professors would help guide me in the right direction because they actually knew who I was and what I wanted to accomplish, and they would be honest with me about my artwork and career goals,” she said.”

In addition to the one-on-one attention she received, she also appreciated her liberal arts education.

“My broad education definitely influenced the way I look at myself as an artist, writer and curator,” said Ott, who took several business courses while pursuing a minor in that subject. “Like all Monmouth College students, I was required to take a wide range of courses outside of my discipline, which helped me grow as an artist and find my own voice. The art world is so broad. Artists are not just makers – we are entrepreneurs, educators, curators, directors, activists, collectors, writers, etc., so it has been very important to have a well-rounded education.”

Following her graduation, Ott stayed on campus for a year as a post-baccalaureate fellow. She then attended Bradley University in Peoria, Ill., earning a master’s degree in painting in 2014 and an MFA in painting two years later.

Today, Ott is the director and co-founder of Peoria’s Project 1612, an independent artist-run project space and residency. She served a residency last year at Peoria’s Prairie Center of the Arts and has another residency scheduled for this year in Springfield, Ill.

Ott has exhibited her work nationally, as well as internationally. Her art can be found on her website:

“The art I make is quite personal,” she said. “It stems from my childhood experiences, the neighborhood I grew up in, and the loss of a dear friend. I take my story and apply it to paintings and installations; I try to not limit myself in the studio and make art in a way that best suits the idea. And while the story behind my artwork is unique to me, that does not mean others cannot connect with my work. We have all had a childhood and have all experienced loss in one form or another.”

That universal understanding is part of the appeal of art, she said. It can serve as a bridge to connect with others.

“Art is not just visual – it is experiential and cultural, and it helps us understand the world around us and provides insight into cultures that are not our own,” she said. “And most importantly, art teaches us empathy. Art can be a common ground between individuals who don’t always see eye to eye. It can help us connect and grow together.”
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