“After this semester, you are going to see the world in a completely different way,” said a professor to Damian Hernandez, now a senior in Industrial Design. That was in his first design studio. “It was so true,” he commented.
Industrial design projects line the walls of the Art and Design Building. Walking down the hallway, the products of many hours of careful thought and craft entice the viewer to read more about the design. The building that students from many different fields share comes alive with the final products of the labor within, constantly feeding ideas back to other students for the next round of projects.
Through this cycle, students become experts in their craft, for they are continually inspired and challenged by their classmates. Maria Ludeke, a senior double majoring in Graphic Design and Painting, reflected that during the years she spent as a design major, the creative and collaborative process evolved. “People started to develop really distinct styles,” she says. “You start to see who can use fonts well, who does good web design.
All design majors share this sense. Senior in Industrial Design Rebecca Goesling added, “Everyone has his or her own interests and expertise, from brainstorming to Illustrator or model making or anything else.” She went on to say, “I can’t really think of any parts of the process I prefer doing alone, except for writing about my work.” Maria added, after several years into graphic design, “Projects are a lot more about working together than at the beginning.”
The community of design students is especially useful for input on work. Rebecca stated. “We all understand each other’s strengths and have become really comfortable asking each other to collaborate.” Damian echoed her statement, observing, “We are always bouncing ideas off each other.” But design input doesn’t just come from those working with you, and Damian added, “I also talk to other people who are not in design, again to get a different perspective on things.”
For an art historian, design is not simply something to observe. In any art history article, the reader can quickly ascertain whether the background of the historian included design education. The art history journal is not a place where design goes to die, but rather where it is glorified. Training in design is so influential to a person’s outlook that even those who aren’t explicitly in a design field cannot avoid the principles of design in their work.
Scholarly discourse is itself a collaborative process. One wonders whether this, too, was born out of the contact and training art historians have in design-related fields. Even were a scholar to shut himself or herself off from any input while researching (which itself is embedded in notions of collaboration) and writing an article, the process of checking an article for publication involves work that reaches toward other scholars who give input and comments, despite it not being their work. This is not altogether different from the desk critique of a design major.
The work of the graphic and industrial design majors this year will no longer adorn the walls next year, but another wave of experts will take their place. Every semester that students have their entire perspective shifted by design courses is an opportunity for them to now change the world around them with design. For those moving into the job market, there are many opportunities. As Maria said, from experience, “You can go into literally any company, and that becomes your specialty.”
When Harrison Hakes was just sixteen years old, his grandfather gave him his first camera and uttered the magic words, “You have a good eye.” At that moment, Harrison knew that he wanted to become a professional photographer. As I sat in Harrison’s warm apartment back in February, I asked him about his experience as a photography major. Harrison just smiled and began to talk about how, over the past four years, he has developed his talent with the help of the exceptional photography faculty: “It has really been a great experience. I’m surrounded by great people and great faculty. My professors are all very different and help direct me in their own way: some are stern, while others are very laid back. They’re all great.” Harrison now feels more comfortable with the technical aspects of photography, such as working with studio lighting and Photoshop. He also feels much more comfortable talking about “hot” issues such as race and gender, two issues with which Harrison’s work deals.
In addition to being a photography major, Harrison is also minoring in cinema studies. He decided to pursue cinema studies after taking an introduction to film: “I’m very fascinated by how films work. They seem effortless, but in reality, each image has so much work invested into it.” Harrison explained how much cinema has influenced his work: “My style of photography mimics cinematic style. It uses lights and props in a different way.” Often, his classmates actually assume that a specific film influenced his photographs. Although pursuing a major and a minor can be difficult, Harrison explained that for him the combination of film and photography made sense. Another area of study that has influenced Harrison’s work is gender and women’s studies. Sexuality and Cinema is a course that stood out in Harrison’s mind because it explored the issues he is really concerned with, that is, race and gender. In Harrison’s work, he tries to talk about these controversial issues in subtle ways. He describes his work as simple, straight, and gestural.
Concept and technique are not the only things that Harrison has focused on during his time as a student. Some of Harrison’s favorite memories are the ones he made with his fellow photography majors. Many of these memories include fundraising for their upcoming group exhibition. During football season, Harrison and a few other photo majors walked around and took professional grade photos for enthusiastic tailgaters for the small price of one dollar. Before Christmas, they set up a display on the quad where students could have their photo taken sitting on Santa’s lap. Santa was, of course, Harrison himself. Harrison explained that because there are not many photo majors in his class, all of them are especially close, both in and out of the studio. “During critique, we can all be very honest with each other because we are good friends.” After graduation, Harrison’s dream job is to work in a studio that produces short films or uses photography in commercial work. His main objective is to find a studio where he can continue to be challenged and learn.
As a studio major myself, it is safe to say that almost all seniors in Art + Design know the meticulous work of fellow senior and ceramics major Dylan Gifford. Dylan’s work is highly technical and precise. A common reaction when viewing one of Dylan’s pieces in person is: “No way!” or “How did he do that?”
These are the reactions that most artists strive for. As I sat in a coffee shop one cold afternoon with Dylan, he gave me more insight into his studio practice. Dylan explained to me that his interest in ceramics first began in high school. Although Dylan did not transfer into the School of Art + Design until his sophomore year, true to his strong work ethic he still managed to complete his degree in four years. Ceramics is not Dylan’s only interest, however. He has also taken multiple courses in the metals department. Dylan explained to me that his work in metals has greatly improved his craftsmanship overall. He feels that the precision he has learned in the metals studio transfers over to his ceramic work. Anyone who views Dylan’s work can attest to this precision.
Curious to know more, I asked Dylan to explain something about his process. Although over a dozen steps are involved when making one ceramic piece, Dylan’s favorite step is hand-building the texture. Besides the detailed texture, another aspect about Dylan’s work that I personally find interesting is the way Dylan chooses to display his pieces. Frustrated with the issue of how his pieces were sitting on conventional white pedestals, Dylan decided to eliminate the pedestal altogether. He now builds structures so his pieces can hang from the ceiling--a terrifying decision in case one of his fragile works would come crashing to the floor. However, Dylan’s daringness is one of his favorite aspects of his practice:
My favorite moments are when someone tells you not to do something, but you follow your gut and do it anyways and prove them wrong. It might be petty but it's so entertaining, and they don't even remember they told you not to in the first place, but you remember.
Over the past four years, Dylan feels that he has both improved conceptually and technically. He explained that he has learned to be very specific about both texture and glazing. Conceptually speaking, Dylan gains influence from his own imagination. His work is about the imaginary worlds he would make up when he was younger. He really enjoys creating fantastic animals and plants. When I view Dylan’s work, my mind travels back and forth between reality and fantasy. The creatures look as though they could physically belong in our world, possibly living on the bottom of the ocean floor. However, there is also a strong sense of childhood imagination. This duality keeps viewers very engaged in each one of his pieces. In the future, Dylan is interested in combining his two passions, metals and ceramics, by literally integrating metal work into his ceramic pieces.
Because Dylan works in two practices that are technically labeled craft, I asked Dylan if he felt any frustrations because of the stigma craft practices often have. Dylan let out a small sigh and told me that he feels that it is a shame for craft practices to be considered a lower art form in comparison to some of the fine arts, such as painting and sculpture. He then explained that he felt very fortunate that he rarely feels that stigma within the School of Art + Design.
I can personally say that after viewing the work of the metals and ceramics majors in our senior class, there is not a doubt in my mind that their pieces are of the highest quality, both in concept and technical skill, which is more than I can say about some professional contemporary painters and sculptors.
After graduation, Dylan plans to pursue a career as a studio artist. He has applied to various residencies across the U.S. in hopes of continuing to develop his practice.
For a moment, conjure in your mind’s eye a picture of an art historian. What do they wear? What is their favorite period? What is their job? Whom do they consider their “academic grandfathers”? What is their personality like? Where do they hang out or spend their time? What do they “make”? Where do they do their art-historical business? What do they give to the community or the world?
Hold onto that thought.
The roots of art history lie in the writings of men such as Heinrich Wölfflin and Erwin Panofsky, both representatives of a great Germanic tradition. A late nineteenth-century concept, art history grew into a staple for every budding professional artist and the formula for every major encyclopedic art museum in the world. But when people think of art history, is this the impression they get? Is what they see a stodgy tradition-laden major built upon the shoulders of long-dead European men? Most of the time, yes. Art history is seen as a requirement, not as a pleasure to many students. It’s not a necessity; it’s a nuisance.
However, art history is very often not how people think of it. Art history is a vibrant and ever-changing field that is hard to encapsulate in a few words. The field is a multitude of thoughts going in hundreds of different directions. There’s an art historical theory for everyone’s tastes and ideologies. Beliefs and interpretations come from every angle, and new ways of thought are encouraged. The days of the founders of the discipline such as Wölfflin and Panofsky are distant. Others have followed: Linda Nochlin, Griselda Pollack, Roland Barthes, Meyer Shapiro, and Rosalind Krauss. They, too, became “big time” art historians, making waves in the field since they started writing. Their ideas changed how art history is taught and how art history is conceived; they reinvented the ideas generated around the field.
But who are the people who dedicate their four years of college to this amorphous field? It’s a small, dedicated group of interesting and varied individuals. But who are they, exactly? This group of bizarre people who have a major that everyone thinks is boring and stodgy and filled with ancient texts of a bunch of dead, white men? Let’s look at the demographics, taken from the Spring 2013 Student Demographics Report of Enrollment by Curriculum, Race, Sex, and Residency and the Student Enrollment by Curriculum and Class Level:
History of Art, B.A. and B.F.A. combined, total undergrad population:
35 students: 27 B.A. and 8 B.F.A.
11% freshman, 20% sophomores, 29% juniors, and 40% seniors.
91% female, 9% male.
68% white, 8% African-American, 5% Latino/a, 16% International, and 3% Asian.
What do demographics tell you, though? Do they paint a picture of a “typical” art history student? Can they tell you their hopes or their interests? Does the data offer a rough estimation of what these students are going to become?
Students in art history have different ambitions and cannot be contained in a box or labeled with their major. Yes, some of us are planning to go into academia, furthering the field and teaching new legions of art historians. But some of us are using art history to understand our own artistic practices better, using the centuries of art to inform our contemporary work. Some of us are planning to use art history as a tool in learning and teaching, helping students by using art history as a building block. Some of us are going into the museum world, using art history to interpret and explain. And some of us are just nerdy, learning for the sake of learning, and going into a completely different field from what we are learning. Many of us are double majors, combining two disciplines to create our own unique worldview. Our ambitions are as varied as the field is, and just as wide reaching.
Art history is a skill, applicable to many different fields and many different lines of thought. No one’s experience with the major is the same, because of its ability to be tailored to one’s own interests. It’s impossible to pin down the “typical” art history student, just as it is to pin down a “typical” art history. Yes, we’re a little nerdy. We like museums and we can talk your ear off about art. But we are also practicing artists, new scholars, schoolteachers, informal educators, budding therapists, and professional freelancers. We are not your “typical” art historians anymore. We love our major and love its capabilities.
The New Media Program offers a wide variety of Special Topics courses that gives students the tools to edit videos, for instance, and even to learn about performance. But the creation of new technologies is paramount in the program.
New Media student Kelly Delahanty produces artwork that combines all of these skills into interactive illustrations, comics, videos, and animations. She sees New Media as a way to explore her interests in storytelling from a new angle. Delahanty’s work in New Media is not only interactive. It also involves multidimensional preparation. She must first develop a story, which is to say, a narrative with characters, plot, and theme. On her computer she keeps a folder of story ideas that archives years of ideas and snippets of inspiration: “Whether it’s a full outline or just a line…I avoid throwing anything out.” At any given time, she’s working on one to three different stories, including researching and developing characters. For Delahanty, “Characters are the most important part.” Within each narrative, there is a plethora of information about an individual that is never seen by the viewer. This attention to detail, however, shines through in the finished product, particularly through the convincing interpersonal connections of characters. In some cases, she’ll work on an episode of a longer narrative without a definitive, pre-determined ending in mind. She lets the stories craft themselves as she develops each chapter.
Once the story is developed, she sketches out by hand each scene, frame by frame, to solidify further the layout of the panels. This is the stage in which dialogue is finalized. Next, the images are rendered through Photoshop by “Inking” the pages, a process by which she creates outlines. Then come the colors and dialogue balloons.
Each image is a work of art in itself; the entire experience feels like a motion painting. The result is an interactive adventure for the viewer, which is visually stimulating and can open the mind to some obvious things about life, which we often overlook: “I’m interested in the ways the stories we tell affect the way we think about things, and how people can use storytelling to make sense of their world,” Delahanty explains. For Kelly, New Media artwork is a way to “do things that print media wouldn’t be able to do, such as create interactive elements.” She also sees it as a way to tell stories in multiple mediums. In addition to narrative storytelling, she has interests in using New Media artwork for educational purposes. Whether a work is made to educate the viewer intentionally, her narratives often have a moral that is subtly woven into the plot.
The finished pieces have often been displayed and experienced through projections, computer interactivity, and even on iPads. They can be experienced collectively by a room full of viewers or more intimately by oneself. Delahanty combines her knowledge of story boarding, digital rendering, and programming to communicate complex issues to the viewer. She claims that at times she doesn’t feel as though her work “fits in with the ‘Art World’ side of New Media- [she’s] mostly just robbing them blind for technologies and ideas.” However, her finished works can be approached, understood, and appreciated both by those who have no knowledge of art and by the experienced museumgoer.