Studying the Arts: A Conversation with Danielle Owensby

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Starting a career in the arts can be difficult, but photographer Danielle Owensby is doing all she can to make her dream a reality. Danielle is a dual major in English and studio art with a minor in art history, and her story proves that with talent and hard work, you can study what you love and pursue a meaningful career.

Photography hasn’t always been a large part of Danielle’s life. It wasn’t until her first photography class in high school that she discovered the unique creativity it allowed her. “With photography I could construct my ideas in reality and photograph them… I wanted to create, and finally had a way to do it.”

Taking photos was a passion for Danielle, but not necessarily something she saw herself dedicating her life to. It wasn’t until she was rejected from her university and program of choice that she began to rethink her life goals. “I had a bit of a crisis when I started at Michigan State University,” Danielle explains. “I didn’t know what I wanted to do…so I gravitated toward what I thought I was good at.” What at first seemed like the end of the world was actually a fabulous new beginning. Danielle decided to study what she was passionate about, literature and art, and never looked back.

At MSU, Danielle discovered a community of students and professors that have challenged and encouraged her as an artist. Having this support system has had a profoundly positive influence on her creative development. Danielle especially appreciates the open atmosphere among her fellow art students: “The environment in the department is one of motivation, and the best part is most of us students share our secrets to success with one another. You don’t get that everywhere nowadays.”

Recently, Danielle’s artwork has taken her to new heights. Her photo series “Home Sweet Home” was featured at the 2014 ArtPrize, an international art competition held in Grand Rapids, Mich. Danielle says the event, at which her work was displayed with that of artists from around the world, was the “most surreal experience” she’s ever had. “During the opening, I watched hundreds of people look at my work — and they were really looking, not just walking by. It was an affirming moment … seeing people enjoy my work, having people come up to me to talk about my work and having people write about my work on their blogs was a dream come true.”

Danielle gets inspiration for her photos from a variety of sources. “I browse through websites like Flickr to see what other photographers are up to, I check out books and folios from the library, I rip photos out of magazines because I liked the lighting and I read whatever I can get my hands on pertaining to photography and its history.” Her personal experiences, she says, also play a huge role in her work. “Photography is everything in my world, so I essentially draw inspiration from living.”

The photos in “Home Sweet Home,” a self-portrait series featuring Danielle in her childhood home, were particularly influenced by her memories of the past. “My home environment wasn’t exactly normal while I was growing up,” Danielle admits. For the vast majority of her childhood, her house was constantly under construction. Its unfinished state made her ashamed and embarrassed to invite friends over. But as a creative kid, she was able to find the possibilities amidst the chaos. “My series takes my current adult self and inserts me into recreations of my past shenanigans in my home. It’s a reflective piece, about how sometimes in life there are circumstances that we can’t control or overcome, and how that’s okay.”

Danielle plans to graduate from MSU in the spring. Right now she’s focusing on applying to photography graduate programs across the country. If grad school doesn’t work out, she wants to get an internship with an established photographer. Danielle’s ultimate plan is “to conquer the photography world and share my passion with anyone who is willing to hear me gush about how much I love it. It’s a bit daunting, but so was ArtPrize. So, bring it on.”

To learn more about Danielle Owensby and to view her work, check out her website at

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