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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Art School Alumni Speak Out

cameraSami Harthoorn and Ari Gabel traveled different roads to arrive at Ringling College of Art & Design. A native of Sarasota, Florida, Sami almost stumbled out her backdoor to get there. Ringling was a good school, and she could save money by living at home.

Ari grew up a short distance from another strong art school, the Columbus College of Art & Design. He developed a love for photography as a sophomore in high school, and considered attending CCAD, but really wanted that “away from home” experience. He was contemplating a state school, but with guidance from an attentive high school art teacher and the support of his parents, he landed at Ringling.

Ari and Sami graduated in 2012 and 2013 respectively, each with a BFA in Photography. Both now reside in Columbus, Ohio. They agreed to sit down and talk with me recently, to share college experiences and recommendations for future art students. The result was a diverse list of suggestions for those wanting to major in the fine arts. Derived from the good, the bad, and the ugly, here is what I heard – with some of my own suggestions piled on top of theirs.

Before you go…

          Research individual programs within a school, not just the school itself. Why? Sometimes the money and resources are focused in a program other than the one you find the most interesting. (Art.College.Life.) How? Start with the admissions office; they’ll have the most up-to-date information about each department, and can put you in contact with current students or recent grads.

          If a big school experience is what you crave, think twice before you sign up to attend a small art school. (ACL) A liberal arts college or university will offer a broader range of coursework to complement your art studies, but you won’t get as focused of an art education. That’s the tradeoff.

          Paying back loans after graduation can feel daunting and overwhelming. Make sure you’re truly aware of how much your education will cost you, and how much you’ll be borrowing before you sign that acceptance letter.

During your time on campus…

          Choose to live on campus! Living elsewhere might be more economical, but you’ll meet more people and feel more connected to the school when you’re there 24/7.

          Experiment! Try new things. You can’t make a mistake.

          HAVE PATIENCE. (ACL) Learning your art/craft takes time and lots of practice.

          “Major in a something that will make you money; minor in something you’re passionate about.” Meaning: it’s not easy getting a job as a fine artist.

          Start networking as soon as you land on campus. Easier said than done, especially since most students won’t have an artistic style developed yet and a related direction, but it’s still a worthwhile goal. Make contacts and try to build relationships with people of all ages and stages of their careers; students, faculty, community members. (ACL) It’ll pay off in the long run.

          “Learn something you can’t teach yourself.”

          Take art history seriously. (ACL) Learning about artists who came before you is eye-opening and inspirational.

          Find your niche. (ACL) Again, easier said than done, but start by doing what you love and applying your unique perspective to it. Your niche will follow.

          Pursue an internship. (ACL) And then apply yourself. You’ll be surprised what you learn about the world, and yourself.

So what’s it like After graduation…?

Shifting to life after college is an adventure all its own. Both Ari and Sami spoke about further developing their networks, and missing the fact that they used to live among other artists and “talk art” at all hours of the day. And of course they miss having access to the great equipment and tools available to them at Ringling. But both seemed ready to actively jump into their art. Sami’s direction has shifted a bit since graduation. She’s sculpting in wood these days, and is interested in store front and set design. She’s also contemplating an MFA. Her recent submission to an open call for artists landed her a spot in Surthrive in the Heartland at The Ohio State University Urban Arts Space. The exhibit runs through September 21st.

Ari hopes to continue his focus on photography. His interests lie in historical anthropology. Check out his website and flickr pages. You’ll see his passion, loud and clear. He is currently looking to assist well established photographers to further his own craft, and continue to build his network and portfolio. He gave me one other recommendation to pass along to burgeoning fine arts photographers. Join the American Society of Media Photographers. Membership for students and those just one year out is just $45/year. Put up a profile and you’ll find consistent job leads.

Sami and Ari clearly enjoyed their time at Ringling, and they both seem interested in the independence that a career in the fine arts can bring. They love their art, and craft, and they are beginning to grasp the business side of working in creative fields – something that Ringling knows how to teach.

Welcome Week

Compass Rose nsew bw.inddI’m going to guess that few college-bound students find a need for a compass these days, even if it is available as an app at the iPhone store. Good thing colleges provide their own directional tool; it’s called orientation. This real-life app guides parents and students as they travel to the new and often, uncharted territory that is college.

Orientation days on a college campus are a bundle of nerves. Uneasy ones can range from “what will my roommate really be like?” to “what if I can’t make it here?” and everything in between. Thrilling ones focus on the adventure of it all, life beyond high school, and – let’s face it, the most common one – “I’m so ready to live without mom and dad.”  Sorry parents.

Each campus holds its own unique orientation experience. Some early in the summer, some right before school begins in the fall. Some last a few days, others an entire week. Whichever way your college rolls, once you step foot on campus your time will be jammed full of information and connectedness. It’s an introduction to programs, services and people that will surround you over the next four years of your life.

The purpose is simple; set everyone’s mind at ease and engage students with this new place called “home.” For moms and dads it’s an opportunity to catch a glimpse of what life will be like for your child over the next four years. Tours and information sessions provide parents with peace of mind about residential living, available health services, access to professors and administrators, and how students will grow artistically and academically during their time on campus. Parents meet faculty and staff, tour the city around them, and share stories with other restless parents.

SAIC Dining Hall

SAIC Dining Hall

Students get the better end of the deal. They learn about resources and services available to them, in creative and engaging ways. Through workshops and ridiculously fun social activities that no one thought of when I was in college, students become acquainted with their new living environment and begin building friendships that will last a lifetime.

Information sessions are typically led by upperclassmen who were freshmen themselves just one or two short years ago. As peer, residential, and department advisors they introduce students to staff and administrators while disseminating valuable information about academic policies, course registration, and the slew of activities, clubs and organizations on campus. They openly discuss the stresses associated with living away from home – often for the first time – and provide freshmen with tips and resources to help with the adjustment.

Orientation workshops and meetings provide assurance as they educate students about the vast array of services and resources available including student health and counseling, financial aid, and career and professional development services. The pool parties, karaoke nights, competitions, field trips and campus-wide events help make the adjustment that much more fun.

Pre-orientation programs get the ball rolling even sooner. Designed to create connections and build friendships even before stepping foot on campus, they provide opportunities to hike, backpack, canoe or even surf (seriously!) your way to memorable experiences and new friendships, all in the name of engaging you with your new home.

Good Things Come In Small Packages

450px-Art-Academy-of-CincinnatiThe Art Academy of Cincinnati (AAC) is a sweet gem tucked into the burgeoning Over-the-Rhine district of Cincinnati. I got the chance to visit in late spring, right after classes ended for the semester. But even then, the creative vibe of the school was still readily apparent. Amy Scarpello, a 2010 sculpture graduate of the school, was my tour guide.

The college moved to its current location in this trendy neighborhood in 2005. The campus core is comprised of two renovated warehouses, united by a light-filled stairway. A LEED-certified green building; it oozes creativity and culture in an urban environment.

AAC prides itself on its petite size and intimate, interdisciplinary education. According to Amy, the small student body of only 220 students makes it easy to build lasting personal relationships with peers and professors alike. Typical studio classes have 15 students and academic classes have around 18. Upper level courses are even smaller.

A 1:2:1 structure provides the core of the college’s curriculum. Year one unites freshmen as they take all foundation coursework together. A fine artist and a designer team teach the first studio course, exposing students to varying perspectives and disciplines from the get-go.

Limestone slabs in the printmaking studio

Limestone slabs in the printmaking studio

Years two and three afford opportunities to explore different media, dive deeply into a major, and gain proficiency. However, the emphasis is still on interdisciplinary learning. Students are required to take five studio courses within their major and seven outside of their major, providing them with the tools to express themselves across a multitude of visual languages, and from a variety of different vantage points.

Year four brings everyone back together again for seminar coursework, with the first semester taught by a fine artist and the second taught by a designer. Liberal arts classes are sprinkled throughout the program, with writing as a constant throughout.

Major areas of study include art history, drawing, illustration, painting, photography, printmaking, sculpture (including ceramics), and visual communication design. Beginning this fall the school will add new classes in animation and film video.

One of the unique features about AAC is its plethora of off-campus experiences. In addition to internships – which are required for all students – the college provides access to art schools across the country and abroad. The New York Studio Residency Program gives selected students the chance to study at the School of Visual Arts for a studio-intense semester, and the AICAD Mobility Program offers the opportunity to learn at another AICAD school. The cost for either of these programs is a real bargain, as tuition is the same as attending AAC for the term. The college does not have its own study abroad program, but does help students connect to a qualified one outside of the U.S. Unfortunately, AAC scholarships are not applicable for outside programs.

Campus culture is all about engaging students – in creating art and with each other – from the beginning of their four years to graduation. One of the cool facts I learned about the school is that freshmen orientation purposely takes place on Final Friday when gallery shows are up throughout the neighborhood.  While walking around, freshmen get a chance to mingle with other students, orient themselves to a new community, and see their futures.