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Invention is the Necessity, or Mother, of Art:  Inventing Joan Emmett 

by Jody Kuchar for Art Forward
USA Today October 2, 2019


“Necessity is the Mother of Invention” is an old proverb;

It means, roughly, that the primary driving force for most

new inventions is a need.   In order to create the highly

detailed and labor intensive art that she makes, Joan Emmett

often invents uses for materials that are both common and

uncommon to the making of art.  


While most artwork discourages ‘touching’, Joan’s work often

invites it.  Touching, or activating mechanisms in Joan’s work

is often how it is appreciated.  Touching a ‘stuffed’ hound

brings to life an entire vignette, replete with howling canine.  

Spinning an object releases the sounds of rain.  As you reach

out for an object, which has invited you to touch it, you find

that it isn’t really there at all.  There are racing dirigibles and fun house mirrored optical illusions.  What appears to be soft, often is hard, and vise versa.  


Much of Joan’s work makes use of materials that are generally not thought of as parts to fine art.   Marine epoxy allows her to sculpt objects that would ordinarily not fit into a conventional kiln.  It also is not so ‘rigid’ in that it can be repaired or altered to suit needs later.  It has varying degrees of ‘hardness’, which makes it quite useful for making things that require some flexibility while still being substantial.  Another interesting material Joan uses in her art is Ferro Fluid.  Understanding basic uses of ferro fluid (automotive and mechanical) do not even begin to cover the potential for it; from making art to delivering drugs for MRIs, ferro fluid is not your usual medium for art.  

A little background into what Steam Punk really means might clear up the purpose of using such an odd assortment of materials.


Quoting from ‘Ministry of Peculair Occurences’; “Steampunk is an inspired movement of creativity and imagination. With a backdrop of either Victorian England or America’s Wild West at hand, modern technologies are re-imagined and realized as elaborate works of art, fashion, and mechanics. If Jules Verne or H.G. Wells were writing their science fiction today, it would be considered steampunk. ….  The “punk” in “Steampunk” comes from going against convention that, through creativity and declaration of one’s individuality be it through style, gadgets, or attitude, sets one apart.”


In Joan’s own admission, she spends much more money on experiementation for her Gadgetry, Dolls and ‘Ticky Tockies’ than she would if she stuck to painting.  Not everything works out the first time; but that is true of all art.  It is the investment in the making that creates such works of imagination and reinvention. There are many types of artist.  Some are sticklers for the rules of the genre.  Others may be the kind to turn the rules upside down for a contempory, or novel idea.   


Going to an exhibition of Joan’s work is more than gallery or museum visiting to see some art.  

It is an adventure.  You are transported to the places of Joan’s vision; that which looks tasty, is inedible.  The path that leads you forward actually goes no where.  To create a separate reality within the art form is a feat of mental agility, not just artistic skill.  Joan’s work is a delight which makes one think, or at the very least smile and start to have fun. 


There should be a common type equation for the creation of visual art.  Maybe something like this:

Artist + inspiration x imagination √ = E! (eureka! Idea!) ÷ Materials = Art. 

Beacuase art doesn’t make itself; it needs a catalyst, better known as an artist.  Dictionary says a catalyst is a substance that increases the rate of a chemical reaction without itself undergoing any permanent chemical change.   


You can see Joan Emmett’s Steampunk Art Whimsy & Amusements (and Other Strange Things) at The Historic Forst Inn Art Gallery, Tisch Mills WI from August 16th through November 3, 2019, and at

Self portrait final.jpg
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