By ZINNIA SMITH
On Friday, April 24th, the Richard F. Brush Art Gallery is hosting St. Lawrence University’s senior showcase. Over the past semester, or really the last four years of their college studies, nine senior art students built a collection of work that represents their current artistic presence.
Ask any one of these students to describe the importance of the arts at St. Lawrence University, and the answer will be apt and vivacious. However, ask an outside-the-major student or community member to describe the place of the arts in a liberal arts degree or the community, and the answer risks flat-lining.
“I definitely get the eye roll when I tell people I’m an art major,” says Madeline Schumacher ’15, “I think a lot of people have the idea that the Art Majors sit around and learn how to draw perfect circles and paint still-lifes, but when [they] take an art class, a lot of them say it’s one of the hardest classes to get a good grade in.”
Is this the consensus on a liberal arts campus: the arts cannot be intellectually challenging in comparison to other studies? Kasarian Dane, the head of the Fine Arts department, sees the importance of the arts: “people think intellectually challenging means, ‘I read, Kant,’ for example,” and Dane admits that course evaluations for studio courses tend to score lower regarding the intellectual challenge of the course, “but in a studio course… really looking at something and studying it is intellectual, and it’s using your intellect in a completely different way than you are used to.”
A simple comparison is that the intellectual rigor of the arts never moves past simple math for many, because our minds have little training in right-brained thinking. Art is the intellectual equivalent of multiplication tables compared to the complexities of math algorithms.
When listening to Schumacher, a photographer in the Fine Arts major with a film minor, challenge the artistic stigma she experiences on a liberal arts campus, and life in general, she reveals a complexity beyond the simplicity of drawing circles: “Being a fine arts major isn’t just about learning the skills of different mediums, but it’s also about exercising our creativity. Dorthea von Hantelmann said, ‘no other profession has received such a dramatic boost in status as the artist who perfectly embodies today’s prevailing idea of a creative, self-determined subjectivity.’ Creativity is a strength needed in every job nowadays, the ability to look at a problem from different points of view is a powerful skill to have.”
However, Schumacher’s work is undeniably complex. Her current photography project, Emily: A Materialization, for #Impermanence intertwines with contemporary art theory, and an academic class: Film Theory, Feminist Theory. Shumacher photographed a friend fourteen times over the course of three weeks, physically weaving the images into a final, time-expanded self-portrait that challenges people’s constructed identity and the imperfectability of the portrait. It conveys time’s ability to change us, but then collapses it into singular frames.
Schumacher is a strong example of the interconnectivity between classes from other departments and the Fine Arts major. This academic relationship is one of the strengths that Dane sees in the liberal arts: “Prospective students ask a lot what the difference between St. Lawrence is and an art school. I think you can develop your skills and concepts as an artist at a good level, while at the same time take a lot of different courses that can influence your thinking and bring those ideas into your artwork.”
This is what separates a BFA from St. Lawrence to a degree from an arts school. Each senior in the show portrays a variety of interests that influences their work: environmental issues, meditation, mathematics, literature, technological digestion, and of course, impermanence. Meanwhile, they are all working with a variety of materials: sculpture, video, photography, ink, latex paint, watercolor, oil, chicken wire and tulle.
“When looking at schools, I was very interested in pursuing physics. More specifically, I was very interested in astrophysics,” Brooke McGowan ’15 says about her decision to attend St. Lawrence versus an art school. Her first choice for school was Savannah College of Art and Design, which she was accepted in, but it was ultimately her parents’ decision. “In hindsight, I wouldn’t have had it any other way. I am so thankful for my St. Lawrence experience.” McGowan’s decision to attend St. Lawrence and her varying interests represent the complex mindfulness of the liberal arts – art student.
Tzintzun Aguilar Izzo ’15 is a Film Multifield major who has incorporated a Fine Art component into his major. He says that “Fine Arts can be much more dynamic and transformative. Art practice is a form of research. Much like the sciences or the humanities, art is a reinterpretation and reflection of our society at large.” Aguilar Izzo’s project for the showcase, Visitations, encompasses this approach in an instillation including video and sculpture, exploring the shifting landscapes of our technological and sustainable future.
However, not every senior in the showcases expresses concern about an artistic stigma. “Is there?” Reid Brechner ’15 asks, “I don’t think so. Maybe. If there is, I doubt if I’ve ever paid enough attention to care.” Brechner’s answer is as straightforward and clean as his work. He is a meticulous painter, particularly in regards to color and line. His focus hardly strays from the dedication he has for his work.
If the stigma is or is not a problem, its presence is determined by the students themselves. “When anyone asks what I am going to do with my major,” says Katelyn Kraunelis ’15, “I throw the question right back at them. Nobody can predict the job they will have 15 years into the future, so every major is what you make of it.”
These seniors have certainly challenged any short-coming expectations about their careers or intellectual complexities. Each student is incorporating the arts into their future careers by unique and forward-thinking ways. McGowan is starting her own company as an artist in Boston. Brechner is attending the University of Georgia, Athens, at their Lamar Dodd school of Art, and meanwhile, Aguilar Izzo is attending Emerson College’s Media Art MFA program. Schumacher was just offered a job on set of The Good Wife. For the outlook of her future, Hannah Smith ’15 says she will be living with “the love of her life,” and of course, selling her artwork locally.
“The pressure to create, to be original, and be consistent with your artist practice is like going to the gym daily,” Smith speaks of her practice, “it takes constant effort and determination—mentally, physically, an emotionally.”
This is just the conceptual network behind these artists’ work and futures. As artists, they must take these complexities and integrate, deconstruct, construct, or reconstruct it all into a visual work that is digestible and either aesthetically pleasing or challenging. What they must do as artists is teach the viewer a new visual language, which is often deeply intertwined in an art historical or sociological conversation, and this language must develop a conversation between artwork and viewer.
What people may not realize is how as a society, we are continually consuming imagery. The onslaught of images is a constant stream from computers, phones, advertisements, etc. This is what Kathryn Abbe Sawabini ‘15 explores in her work, Click Value. Yet, it is something that every artist confronts each day. “There are just thousands of images you see, and you see them fast,” says Dane, “What we do for the visual arts, is teach people how to see and how to look at things in a way that is different from the just being saturated with images…”
“It’s learning how to slow down, look, and actually see things. I think that most people don’t know how to look at something and really see it.”
To refresh your visual stream, take the time to visit the Richard F. Brush Art Gallery between April 24th-May 30th, and see the artwork by St. Lawrence’s seniors. Opening night starts at 5:30 p.m. on the 24th, and an artist talk will be held at noon, May 1st.