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Dana Szafranski

What Exactly Can You Learn From Art School Anyway?

The suggestion of being taught creativity is such a foreign concept to most that it does not even cross one’s mind. Most people think that artists are naturally gifted and creative, which is true for the most part. But if you ask anyone who has graduated from an art school what they learned in college, he or she will certainly attest to more than just a technical skill. Graduates from the class of 2010 will, without a doubt, head into a variety of fields and jobs, but what they take with them is far more than a set of skills. So what exactly did the Class of 2010 at the University of Illinois learn over the last 4 years? While studying Photography during my time at the University of Illinois, I had the pleasure of experiencing both technical and theoretical classes. I think most students would agree to the fact that they are certainly better artists and more able to create what they want to now then when they started here four years ago. What everyone really learned is much greater than ability alone but how to step forward or become what he or she wants to be.

While disguised as any other photography class, “Contemporary Art and Ideas”, usually referred to as “Mining the Creative”, deals specifically with the problem of learning creativity and expanding on the creative process. Created by Professor Ernesto Scott, “Mining the Creative” is a spot for students to be open to try any medium and talk about any subject they desire. Professor Linda Robbennolt is charged with being in command of such an odd class this past semester. So how do you teach a class on creativity? Students have experienced assignments such as simply collecting sticks or walking alone for four-miles along a country road in the winter or going to a night of contra line dancing. The sensory experiences embedded in these activities seem far from the realm of art and photography, but are an important part of expanding who you are.

So what do these experiences have to say about the work being produced in the Photography Program? Well like other media you cannot create until you’ve experienced. In the same sense that you cannot write a song about love without having been in love, you cannot create a piece of work without having experienced life. What students strive to make and talk about are issues and images that are close to their heart, and while no one in particular has a close affiliation with contra line dancing, that experience opens up a new dialogue to work in. The creation of images takes only a split second for a camera, but spawns from hours of conversation and thought.

Students in photography work directly with reality in their images. Whether they decide to make work about a four-mile walk or about their love life is their choice to make. What you end up learning in making that choice is what you will keep forever. Being in art school is about opening dialogues and conversations that allow you to keep progressing as an artist. Most of us will never have an open forum like a critique again to discuss concepts or technique or even just life. What the graduates of 2010 take away from art school is not a new sense of creativity, but a better understanding of what and how to create.