Four Years Inside the Art Barn


BY ADAM FALLUJI – STAFF WRITER

Centre’s appreciation of and dedication to the arts is evident anywhere you are on campus. Pieces are on display in almost every building, and every student knows the Lincoln statue, the Flame, and the odd angles and sloping halls of Grant Hall. The arts are as big of a part of Centre’s promise to provide a well-rounded education as any other discipline, and Studio Art majors work hard to deliver.

Judi Zhang | The Cento Students work on their solid-build form pieces in Sarah Hahn's Ceramics I class, making a bust out of a solid piece of clay.

Judi Zhang | The Cento
Students work on their solid-build form pieces in Sarah Hahn’s Ceramics I class, making a bust out of a solid piece of clay.

Junior Studio Art major Mariah Watkins recounted her experiences thus far, offering insight to those unfamiliar with what it entails.

“You have to have a primary concentration, mine is painting and drawing, and a minor concentration, which is ceramics for me.” Watkins said. “It’s a lot of hours. A lot of people think art classes at Centre are easy but those people soon realize it’s time consuming and hard work.”

Although they occasionally venture outside to draw scenes of Centre’s campus, Studio Art majors spend much of their time in the Jones Visual Arts Center (JVAC), working on their pieces late into the night. The three-dimensional art, such as ceramics and glass blowing, is done on the lower floor, while drawing and painting happens on the ground level. JVAC becomes a haven for art students, who quickly get to know each other in the studio rooms.

“We have our own little community. We all kind of live in JVAC, it’s like we’re roommates. It’s a small community and I wish it would expand,” Watkins said. “Even if it’s just a minor or a one-time class or a double major, I think people should experience an art class on campus. I wouldn’t tell anyone not to take a class but I want them to know it’s just as rigorous as any other class.”

The art community is open to new members. A number of students take an introductory- level class despite majoring in something else. H.W. Stodghill, Jr. and Adele H. Stodghill Professor of Art and Chair of Art History & Studio Art programs Sheldon Tapley sees a number of students with varying degrees of background in art go through the halls of JVAC.

“The Art Program offers introductory-level classes in drawing, ceramics, and hot glass. Students who have taken ‘Introduction to Drawing’ may enroll in the introductory oil painting class; those who have a portfolio of drawing or paintings may enroll in the painting class without the pre-requisite with the permission of the instructor,” Tapley said “The classes attract students majoring in virtually every discipline on campus. Students who aren’t majoring in art are very welcome in the studio classes. Students don’t need to have any previous training in studio art to begin taking our classes. Some of our most accomplished art alumni began their college careers with no experience in art, and no plan to pursue the major. But they took a course, discovered their ability, and changed direction. The student exhibition that opens in April, with the campus-wide Symposium, includes art made in our classes by both majors and non-majors.”

Students thus inspired by the introductory level courses have the opportunity to shine at the end of their time at Centre

“Senior majors take a capstone course, ARS 499 Senior Exhibition, which requires them to create a coherent body of work and install it in an exhibition in the AEGON Gallery. That show opens at the end of classes and runs through Commencement every year,” Tapley said. “The students work under the supervision of the primary instructor in their chosen medium. So the painters meet me each week for critique, the ceramicists meet Charles T. Hazelrigg Associate Professor of Art Judith Jia, and the glass students meet H.W. Stodghill, Jr. and Adele H. Stodghill Professor of Art Stephen Powell. All of us meet several times during the term for formal critiques. Those sometimes make the students a little nervous.”

This year, ten juniors and seniors are pursuing the Studio Art Minor, based on students who have declared. It requires five classes, ranging from introductory drawing to intermediate and advanced courses in two of the program’s three major media, being hot glass, ceramics or painting. While choosing a medium of focus can be a moment of tension for majors, Studio Art minors are able to dabble in everything, given their comparatively lesser class time.

“Students working toward a Studio Art minor don’t have to commit to an emphasis in the same way as majors, nor do they create solo exhibitions,” Tapley said. “But they do have the opportunity to participate in the Symposium exhibition. That show always includes accomplished work by the minors”

Senior Studio Art major Eric Theodore is the president of the Art Society this year. His major concentration is in drawing and painting.

“The main purpose of the club is to promote the arts on campus. In the past we helped out with the After-School Program and we helped out with Centro Latino. On Saturdays in the fall we’d meet at the Community Arts Center with younger kids and help them with an art project. In the fall we also teamed up with Arabic At Centre to bring a calligraphy artist to Centre,” Theodore said

Spreading an awareness of the arts on campus helps to dispel rumors that the art major is any less work than another major at Centre.

“I just [want to] say that we’re all equal when it comes to intelligence and competence and it takes a lot to write a paper but also to construct a piece and feel good about it. There are a lot of things that go into drawing and observing and portraying likeness and expression and realism, and I want people to know that taking an art class is very enjoyable but it also has its serious moments because you do get graded on these things and the professors are hard on you,” Watkins said. “You have homework and you might have to sketch like 20 pages. And let’s be real it won’t just be one sketch per-page. I just wish it was appreciated as much as other majors on campus.”

What’s demanded of art students in their classes is often unique; however there are also challenges to which students of other disciplines can relate.

“Just like you have to do a paper in another class and you have to research for information about it, it’s the same thing in art. Last year I had to do a copy of a famous master artist and I had to research who he was and what era he was from,” Watkins said. “Anatomy is also very important to painting and drawing.”

Studying art is demanding physically, intellectually, and even emotionally. Channeling creativity and striving for perfection for the duration that art students do can be draining.

“And it’s not like you can backspace on some of the work that you do. Sometimes you have to throw it away. You have to crush it. It’s also a lot of skill,” Watkins said. “Paining is just pushing paint around, but being a painter, an artist, you have to be very skillful in how you do it.”

Students invest a lot of time in their major while at Centre, and that time can pay itself off in a number of different ways. Career options are varied and diverse for a Studio Art major graduating from Centre.

“The pleasure of going to a liberal arts college is you can practically major in anything and have any type of career you want. Let’s be real —‘museum’ is probably what comes to mind when you think of an art major. You can be a curator or be in charge of an exhibition and oversee what goes in there. In public relations you’ll look at what’s going to be shown for how long. There are a lot of things to consider with careers.” Watkins said. “[In terms of] the books we have to buy, a lot of people get paid to write them and draw the sketches in them, so we have that option for careers. We also have a medicinal aspect that I’m interested in with psychology in art. I want to pursue art therapy, where you’re implementing ceramics or painting or drawing into your therapy sessions.”

In addition to working for varying institutions, artists can also make their career path an investment in themselves.

“You can be signed to certain companies to make products or make your own and sell your work. You can get a Masters in art, or a Ph.D. in art history or teaching.” Watkins said

There are students who go all the way with their art background and try to live off of being an independent artist.

“A lot of art students who graduated were talented but a lot of them didn’t want to become full-time artists. It’s kind of a hard thing to do. Sometimes you’ll get someone who just really wants to go be an artist. Tai Wilkinson has his work all over campus. I met him when I was a freshman and he was very inspirational for me because I saw how hard he worked and the time he put into it and the amazing results he had,” Theodore said. “After Centre he got a really competitive residency in Cincinnati at the Manifest Research Center. He has studio space free for a year and got to teach and get that exposure.”

Tapley has taught a number of drawing and painting students over the years and saw them go in a variety of directions following graduation.

“Our graduates go into a variety of fields. A few go on to get Master of Fine Arts degrees. That’s a credential required for anyone who wants to teach at the college level, which is a great career, but very competitive,” Tapley said. “Academic jobs are hard to get, but our program has done well in preparing people to succeed in them. We have grads teaching in tenured positions in universities in at least four states that I can think of.

The design professions, like architecture or graphic design, are an attractive option. These careers offer a more structured career path and a regular income. Some Master’s programs in architecture specifically recruit liberal arts students. Those programs include an intensive summer program that prepares them for the fall curriculum so that they are ready to join classes that include students with undergraduate degrees in architecture. Every couple of years one of Centre’s graduates will go into architecture, and, occasionally, landscape architecture.

“Arts administration careers are another option. There are graduate programs that teach it; it is also possible to enter the career through work experience. That job entails skills that many Centre students excel in: writing, public speaking, organizing, and learning new things quickly. It is good for anyone who loves working with people,” Tapley said. “Some studio art majors go in other directions entirely. The Executive Director of the Kentucky ACLU was one of my students. Crit Luallen, Lieutenant Governor of our state, and our Commencement speaker this year, was a studio art major at Centre. Several students have gone into engineering, including glass and ceramic technology. One that I know of is a Catholic priest [now in Lexington].”

Powell sees a number of students pass through JVAC and does his best to advise them about what their experiences will be like once they leave.

Other Studio Art faculty members echo this continued connection with major alumni. “We, the art faculty certainly do talk to our majors about life after Centre. There are several directions our art majors can take if they are serious in pursuing a career related to art. Some choose to continue their education by going to graduate school to pursue a career in teaching. Che Rhodes is an example of that route, he went to graduate school at Temple University and then taught at the University of Illinois and is now head of the glass program at the University of Louisville. Patrick Martin went to graduate school at Tulane [University] and is now head of the glass program at Emporia State University in Kansas,” Powell said.

“Some of our graduates just want to work in glass and are out there in the real world making glass and surviving. I know that I try to give them a realistic idea of what it might take to survive in the real world after they leave Centre. Brook White, who was not even a [Studio Art] major at Centre, is a great example of someone who went through our program and has figured out how to survive running Flamerun Glass Studio in Louisville. Brook has a whole group of Centre graduates that are working out of his studio and surviving in the real world. Mathew Cummings and Paul Nelson who are showing work on a national level. Another non art major who is pursuing a career in art is Nate Watson who is currently head of Public Glass in San Francisco,” Powell said.

Powell is strongly of the opinion that at Centre students should pursue their interests without inhibition; the rest will work itself out.

“I guess my best advice is that you should pursue what you feel most passionate about and see where it takes you. It is certainly not easy to make it in the art world as an independent artist, but my former students that are committed to creating and have learned to work hard have found ways keep going with something that makes them happy,” Powell said. “If you can find a way to work on something you love doing, it does not feel like a job you dread doing. It becomes a way of life.”


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