Studio art program compares to B.F.A.

by Andrea Nease | 2/5/15 9:59pm

Dartmouth graduates leave Hanover with either a B.A. or B.E., both representing an education cultivated across disciplines. This approach is advantageous for those desiring to gain experience in many fields, but some prospective students who want to specialize in art may have difficultydeciding between the liberal arts and the fine arts.

Dartmouth’s current studio art interns, former studio art majors selected to remain on campus for a post-graduate year, contend that the College’s studio art facilities, access to materials, faculty and classes are competitive with those at fine art schools. Yet in addition to these tangible resources, studio art interns Sean Hammett ’14, Sera Boeno ’14 and Julian MacMillian ’14 said that the studio art department cultivated their artistic interests into potential career paths.

“When I came here, I didn’t know I was going to study art,” MacMillan said. “I went from someone who liked art, who liked looking at art and talking about art, to someone who, well, I would consider an artist,”

Hammett said he had a similar experience. Hammett began Dartmouth as an engineering major without any predilection for art.

“I didn’t do any art work in high school. I took ‘Drawing I’ freshman fall on kind of a whim,” he said. “I then went on to take sculpture and liked that even more.”

Boeno came to Dartmouth as an aspiring art history major, but said that Dartmouth’s studio art department persuaded her to switch. Boeno said her relationship with art underwent a spectrum of changes at the College.

“I grew from just doodles to politically inclined work,” she said.

In comparison to fine art schools, the Black Family Visual Arts Center is one of the College’s distinguishing features, MacMillan said.

“This building is unbelievable in terms of what we have and what you get as an art student here. I have been visiting a lot of graduate schools lately, and this far outpaces what a lot of graduate programs have to offer, even places like [Rhode Island School of Design] — real top-notch places,” MacMillan said.

Hammett echoed MacMillan, saying that in his current search for fine art graduate schools, he has yet to encounter any facilities superior to those at the College.

Studio art minor Diane Jang ’15 also voiced a similar opinion on the quality of Dartmouth’s art facilities.

“The [BVAC] is basically one of the most amazing buildings on campus,” Jang said. “It’s built to display art on a clean, life-size canvas, so it’s great for creativity as well as functionality since there are always inspiring works on display.”

Studio department chair Professor Soo Park said that an advantage of Dartmouth’s studio art department is the myriad of studio space. All seniors get studio space at Dartmouth, she said, which was not the case at larger institutions where she has worked in the past.

Along with the spaciousness of Dartmouth’s facilities, art majors have an abundant access to materials and machinery. The College also offers funding and grants for special projects, allowing students to experiment with unavailable equipment.

For example, when Hammett was an undergraduate, he wanted to mold iron in one of his projects, but the College did not offer access to an iron pour — an essential tool for his piece. Hammett spoke with his professors about the piece and applied for a grant to obtain an iron pour. He received the grant and was able to successfully use the equipment to finish the piece of art he had envisioned.

Studio art professor Katherine Zazenski, who is primarily a sculptor but also makes digital installations, said that the college she attended as an undergraduate did not offer limitless opportunities with equipment and materials, but that sometimes this insufficiency was beneficial.

“[The lack of materials and equipment] forced us as students to figure out how to make things, so inherently, we became problem solvers. If we had full facilities we wouldn’t have had to think about things in this non-traditional way,” she said. “I don’t see it as a positive or a negative though. In terms of what is available at Dartmouth, there is nothing but opportunity here.”

Students also have access to the studio art department’s faculty.

“There are world-class professors who are willing to speak to you about your work, criticize your work and help you on your way to becoming the best artist that you can be,” Hammett said.

MacMillan added that the College’s studio art professors are not only equally certified and qualified in comparison to an art institution’s faculty, but also experienced and practiced artists as well. As currently practicing artists, professors serve as role models for students. MacMillan said that the advice he received from professors played an important role in helping him move forward as an artist.

The small and close-knit nature of the department allows for more individual contact between students and faculty in class, Park said, adding that the faculty set high expectations for their students in their artistic endeavours.

“[The studio art department] really push the students to think of themselves on the level of a professional artist,” she said.

The studio arts classes offered at Dartmouth are open to all students regardless of experience. The two most popular introductory classes in the studio art department are “Drawing I” and “Sculpture I,” studio art interns said.

“‘Drawing’ I is not about talent,” Boeno said. “It is about how to see something and how to visually construct that on a page. It’s all about learning that skill.”

Boeno said that she believes non-art majors would also benefit from taking a studio art class.

“Everyone should be required to take a studio art class because you learn how to give and receive constructive criticism,” Boeno said.

Each department at Dartmouth attempts to cultivate a particular way of thinking, including the studio art department, MacMillan said. He added that students with little or no experience with art could foster a new way of seeing the world just by taking a studio art class.

“It changes the way you look at everything,” he said.

MacMillan also said that he believes the department succeeds in offering classes that do not exclude students who may feel they aren’t very artistically inclined.

“A lot of students end up taking Sculpture I or Drawing I,” he said. “Even if that is the only [art] class they ever take, very rarely do you hear about people who didn’t enjoy it or didn’t learn something from it.”

Hammett echoed both Boeno and MacMillan, noting how Dartmouth’s studio art department can benefit non-majors as well.

“Everyone should take ‘Drawing I’, ‘Sculpture I’ -— just one of those classes can be life changing in the way you view the world, the way you solve problems,” Hammett said.

Park said that Dartmouth clasess cover the same topics as fine arts school, but condenses more skills into one class.

For example, a school offering a B.F.A. may offer a separate class in landscape painting, portraiture and color theory. Dartmouth’s studio art department combines all of these topics into one course.

Park also said that modifying or double majoring in studio art and another discipline is not unusual.

Boeno who is double majoring in psychological and brain studies and studio art, said that the liberal arts education allowed her to explore her interest in the sciences while cultivating her practice as an artist.

“I feel that the liberal arts education gives you all of these opportunities that any sort of education that is contained cannot give you.” Boeno said. “How else could I have had experiences with neuroaesthetics and make that feed into the art I practice?”

The benefits of being part of the Dartmouth community also distinguish the College from fine arts schools.

Dartmouth provides students with an environment shared by students of all backgrounds, Boeno said. She added that Dartmouth’s heterogeneity is important, as diversity is a predictor of success.

Park said that the College’s strong studio art alumni network as well as the artist-in-residence program -— which brings renowned artists to campus to showcase their work — is distinctive. In comparison to a B.F.A., a Dartmouth degree gives art students versatility, she added.

“You’re more well rounded. You can’t make art about art. You have to be engaged in the world. Whatever interests you have, whether you’re interested in biology or technology or history or creative writing, all those things come back together in studio art,” she said. “When art students come in they are well versed in many fields and their work reflects that.”

Beyond classes offered within the department’s six main disciplines — architecture, drawing, painting, photography, printmaking and sculpture —the College also offers special topic classes, such as the study of color as a language, digital drawing, activism photography and book making.

Jang said that course offerings are only widening. The department will continue to expand, especially to accommodate growing trends such as digital humanities, she said.