What Makes A College Unique?

Class critiques

Class critiques

One of my main objectives with Art.College.Life. is to try to identify the nuances that differentiate one college art program from another. It’s not always easy. Variables such as size, location and specialty are the obvious standouts, but delving deeper and learning more about each program brings out the true distinctions.

The Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning Department (DAAP) at the University of Cincinnati (UC) has found its place. The department participates in the university’s cooperative program (Co-op) offering students a real glimpse into potential careers while they’re still students. In existence since 1906, Co-op has become a mandatory part of the design curriculum. Beginning sophomore year DAAP’s fashion design, graphic design, industrial design, and interior design students alternate between semesters spent attending classes and working full-time in a professional area of interest. Integrating the two gives students the opportunity to apply classroom lessons to real-world situations, and bring on-the-job issues and concerns back into the classroom for further analysis and discussion.

Workplace assignments take place throughout the U.S. and across the globe. The list of companies and organizations in which DAAP students have engaged is impressive, including Abercrombie and Fitch, Fisher-Price, the Smithsonian Institute, and Warner Brothers Pictures. And, the benefits are fantastic; theory and practice live side by side as students gain first-hand experience, develop broad networks, and gain confidence in their chosen fields. The added time spent away from school means students take five years to complete their degrees, including summers. If cost is a concern, consider that Co-op students earn a salary during their working semesters.

Classrooms

Classrooms

Fine Arts and Art History majors aren’t left behind. Students here don’t have a cooperative requirement; however they are highly encouraged to intern or study abroad.

So how does DAAP fit into the big University of Cincinnati picture? UC is a public, land-grant research university located on 473 acres in Cincinnati, just north of the Ohio River. Its 42,000+ students divide themselvesinto more than 300 programs across campus. DAAP provides an intimate, liberal arts education inside the larger university context. Roughly 2,000 students study 10 undergraduate majors in four aptly named schools; Design, Art, Architecture, and Planning. The Design school engages about half the department with majors in Fashion Design, Graphic Communication Design, and Industrial Design. Art is comprised of Fine Arts and Art History; Architecture includes its namesake and Interior Design. Design majors graduate with a Bachelor of Science. Fine Arts graduates receive a BFA after four years; Art History majors receive a B.A.

UC_logoAccolades for the university are numerous. “Among the top tier of the Best National Universities,” claimed U.S. News and World Report in September, 2012. And Travel & Leisure magazine listed it as “one of the world’s most beautiful campuses” in 2011. Hitting even closer to home, the 2013 Design Intelligence survey ranked DAAP’s Industrial Design best in the nation, and Interior Design second best.

The news gets better once you’re actually on campus. According to Amberly Maryo, Senior Assistant Dean for Student Affairs, 93.3% of DAAP students entering as freshmen in 2012 returned to the university in 2013. That’s the highest retention rate on campus. Clearly they’re doing something right!

As a parent of two college students myself, I understand the anxiety that accompanies the transition from college to the “real world.” Any help bridging that looming gap will be readily appreciated and welcomed with open arms.

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Lessons Learned From A Master

The Postman, Vincent van Gogh, 1889

The Postman, Vincent van Gogh, 1889

I’ve loved Impressionist and post-Impressionist art ever since I can remember. The vibrant use of color and light, and the texture created by brush and paint alone have always enchanted me. So, of course I was thrilled to learn about a new Vincent van Gogh exhibit at The Phillips Collection in Washington D.C. Titled Van Gogh Repetitions (October 12, 2013 – January 26, 2014) the show takes a new look at some of the artists more familiar work.

The cool part is that the exhibit lets us study van Gogh’s genius and technique while it focuses on a life lesson for any artist: that of repetition.  Yep, even van Gogh recreated and repainted the same composition over and over again.

By placing together paintings that are usually displayed separately the curators of this show have allowed us a sneak peek into the thought process of this famous master. Lectures and educational tours at the Phillips (and the Cleveland Museum of Art, March 2 – May 26, 2014) offer up the details into van Gogh’s technique, as he repeated his subject matter and reworked his ideas. For me, for now, it’s enough to know that the old adage “practice, practice, practice” can’t be repeated enough. (Sorry!) Here are examples of variances in one studied subject, and the perfection of getting it just right that we all aim for as designers and artists.

Portrait of Joseph Roulin, Vincent van Gogh, 1889

Portrait of Joseph Roulin, Vincent van Gogh, 1889

I find it timely that this exhibit coincides with National Portfolio Days across the country. When getting your portfolio reviewed and critiqued – and as you continue to build it – remember the passion and steps that van Gogh took.

I hope you get a chance to see this exhibit in person. If you do, please let me know. I’d love to hear what you learned from this master.

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The SAT & ACT Go To Art School

SAT ACT pencilsThis past Sunday, The New York Times Education Life section focused on the college admissions landscape, and the changes occurring in and around standardized tests. According to the Times, ACT test takers are on the rise and, more than ever before, applicants are choosing to submit scores from both the SAT and ACT as part of their college submissions.

Naturally, this piqued my curiosity. I wondered what role the SAT and ACT play in the admissions process at an art college.

As a right-brainer myself, taking standardized tests was never my forte. However, the SAT and ACT analyze how you think. Consequently, they play a critical role in the college admission process. Bottom line: you still need to take them.

Some schools, like the Pacific Northwest College of Art and Pennsylvania College of Art & Design, don’t require either test, but they are in the minority. David Sigman, Director of Admissions for Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design put it this way: “We strongly encourage students to submit standardized test scores, if they are available, but only so that the student’s application file is as comprehensive as possible.” In other words, the SAT and ACT are an integral part of the process. They help tell the story of the whole student.

According to Dustin Liebenow, Director of Marketing Communications and Enrollment Management at Pratt, the average ACT score for incoming freshmen is 26/27. The average SAT verbal and math score combined is 1200. Dustin summed up what I found at most other top art schools that require standardized scores; there is no minimum score threshold nor a preference for which test is submitted. Schools consider test scores along with the rest of each student’s application.

SAT ACT signageAnalytical thinking skills are a critical component to an artistic education. In order to succeed in any classroom students need to be able to objectively scrutinize what is being taught, whether in a studio setting or a liberal arts environment. “Professors want their students to succeed in the classroom,” explained Densil Porteous, Director of Admissions at Columbus College for Art & Design (CCAD). “Ability, portfolios, academic competencies and how students present themselves are all considered.” CCAD Assistant Director of Outreach and Recruitment Thom Glick explained further that standardized scores are reviewed with GPA and letters of recommendation in the academic section of an application. Portfolios make up the creative component.

Taryn Wolf, Director of Undergraduate Admission at Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) got into the scoring details for me. At MICA, where the average ACT of enrolled students is up to 28 this year, the school considers individual ACT “sub-scores” and SAT “super-scores” for whichever test is submitted. What are sub- and super-scores? Consider them the parts that make up the whole, (a 580 in Math on the SAT or a 32 in English on the ACT). The benefit is if you take a standardized test multiple times and score higher in different areas each time, you can submit all your tests and the college will use the highest and best component scores. Yes, it means taking the test multiple times, but the end result is a win-win.

None of the schools I contacted could tell me whether they’ve actually seen a rise in ACT over SAT submissions, nor did any of them mention a rise in applicants submitting both tests. However, they all agree the exams are valuable. Even the colleges that don’t use them when considering admissions find them helpful when considering scholarship opportunities.

So what does the future look like in the world of the ACT and SAT? Changes are afoot for both. 12 states now require (and pay for) their public high school juniors to take the ACT. I’m guessing more will follow. And, beginning in 2015, students will be able to take the ACT on-line. The folks at College Board, managers of the SAT, are making changes as well. They say “the heart of the revised SAT will be analyzing evidence.” Stay tuned.

If you’re at all like I was, taking these structured tests can seem daunting. Remember that even though they’re necessary, they are only one part of your application picture. With a strong portfolio and dedication to your academic grades, you’ll end up at a great school and be able to pursue an education in the world of art.

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Design and Business: Together At Last

Take note: Ringling College of Art and Design offers a Bachelor of Arts in the Business of Art & Design.  In fact, they’re currently the only art and design college with a combined art and business program for undergraduates.

In 2008 college president Dr. Larry Thompson acted on the need to combine business and art under one roof. He brought Wanda Chaves to campus with the simple goal to “help students understand the business side of creative industries.” Since then the college’s unique program has taught students the immeasurable value gained from integrating art and business. Through courses, companies eagerly wanting to be a part of the program, and the resulting graduates employed in creative positions, there is proof that Thompson and Chaves have hit onto something successful. The school is leading the way, by building an environment where students acquire business skills in a creative context.

logoInnovative giants Hasbro, Microsoft Game Studio, Disney Imagineering, and Cirque du Soleil have each dedicated a year to give Ringling students real-life challenges and experiences that require combining their knowledge of the creative world with the real world of business. This coming fall Sesame Street and the Jim Henson Studio will take their turn.

Coursework is competitive with that at other business schools, and all faculty members are PhDs who have taught in other business programs. Yet the curriculum is balanced. It begins with one business class the first semester and builds to a total of 18 throughout the program, combined with studio and liberal arts classes. Accounting principles, managerial statistics, and marketing coexist with art history, drawing, math, and writing for designers. Specific business classes include Introduction to the Business of Fine Art, Leadership in Creative Environments, and Organizational and Management of Art and Design Businesses, providing students with the ability to explore a variety of career options.

As Wanda explained it to me, “students team up on projects across disciplines;” interior designers with animators, graphic designers and illustrators. One culminating experience is the Senior International Management class. When a Disney Imagineer came to campus students were challenged to design a resort or a mixed use retail and entertainment space. Design and business decisions affected every aspect of their projects. What role does location play in the experience? How do tourism and different cultural values affect the layout of a resort? How does design impact the experience? How do you successfully set up a business and manage people internationally? Students are taught to think strategically and incorporate newly gained business knowledge into the creative process.

The implications of this type of education are almost endless; internships and jobs follow graduation. But what I find most interesting are the students who now have the creativity and understanding of art and design, alongside the business skills and confidence to create their own opportunities. Whether working independently, for a museum, or as a creative asset in a large company these students have a more comprehensive – and complex – set of tools to bring along on their career paths.

Wanda Chaves said it best, ““Opportunities for our students are wide open.”  I hope students and other schools are taking note.

Art and Business at a Liberal Arts College

smart car 2

Smart Car

It’s difficult to find a school that combines the study of art and business for you.  It can be done, but requires time and dedication. I’ve been researching art programs at both large and small colleges across the country for a while now, and am still surprised to find how few opportunities exist for art students who want to enhance their studies with business courses.  As I referenced in an earlier post, we live in the age of iPhones, Smart Cars and ergonomic seating; the intrinsic value of combining design and business seems like it should be obvious. If you’re looking to merge the two in college, there are two paths to choose from; an art school or liberal arts institution.

The decision to attend a private liberal arts college or state university might seem like the easier road to combining art and business, but buyer beware. General studies institutions are typically larger, and offer a wider variety of introductory and even advanced business classes to integrate into your schedule. However – and this is important – attending a larger school doesn’t always solve the problem.  Here’s why. Even though a university offers business courses, that doesn’t mean they’ll be easily accessible to you. When signing up for classes, wherever you attend college, priority is always given to upperclassmen and to those majoring in that subject area, i.e. students who need the course to graduate. Some schools will open business classes to students who are non-business majors, but due to popularity the classes often fill up fast and you’ll have limited time to take them. The take away: even though a university may offer more business classes, that doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll get into the ones you want. Unfortunately, that’s the hard truth.

Don’t get me wrong, studying art at a liberal arts institution is an excellent place to gain an arts education. That’s where I did it! Yet, unless you’re seriously considering double majoring, I wouldn’t choose one based on their business listings alone.

So, how do you overcome being locked out of those classes you want to take? Do your homework now. Talk with the admissions representatives and ask the difficult questions; “how realistic is it that I can seriously integrate business courses with my art degree?” And “what classes will be open to me?” Then, once enrolled, work with your college advisor to ensure you’ll get the classes you want. There are no guarantees, but doing your homework before you’ve committed to a school will give you a clearer picture of the environment before classes even begin.

Art schools are a different story all together. They don’t offer a lot of business courses. Some list general marketing and business overview classes while others provide professional practice classes specific to each major. Once again, each school is different, so you’ll need to do some digging to find out how each one is set up.

I’ve found some winning offerings at four art schools across the country; CCAD, OTIS, SCAD and Ringling. I don’t want my posts to go on too long, so I’ll give you the details of what makes them stand out over the next two weeks.