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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Do You See LA?

As kids growing up in Los Angeles, my brother and I thought we were pretty clever the first time that popped into our heads. Years later, flying home, it still makes me smile.

Broad Arts Center

Broad Arts Center

Last month, after meeting with Laura Young, Director of Enrollment Management at the University of California at Los Angeles’s (UCLA) School of the Arts and Architecture (SAA) the question morphed into “have you seen UCLA?” As one of the top public research universities in the country with a first-rate arts program in a thriving metropolis, a better question might be “why haven’t you?”

UCLA is big city living. Its 27,000 undergraduate students in 125 undergraduate degree programs on a 419-acre campus! And don’t forget about the 109 NCAA titles and 60+ national and local fraternities and sororities. But take a closer look and you’ll see the details inside the big picture. Two SAA departments, Art and Design Media Arts, combine to an intimate 395 underclassmen. That’s an environment ripe with opportunity to cultivate your artistic abilities.

UCLA arts logo w namesThe Art Department offers classes in painting & drawing, photography, ceramics, sculpture, art theory, and new genres, while Design Media Arts takes a multidisciplinary approach to media creation, offering study in Interactivity and Games, Video and Animation, and Visual Communication and Image.

Students in both departments begin with foundation courses where they learn the language of art and the principal traditions of each medium. But the focus isn’t strictly on how to create; equal effort is spent on why. Experimentation is emphasized, and students learn to combine creativity with the intangible, and to balance technique with problem solving. The focus is conceptual, not vocational. Undergraduate coursework in either area will earn you a B.A.

painting and drawing

painting and drawing

SAA students must be self-directed. The benefit of being part of such a large institution is that your resources can seem almost endless from the time you first step onto campus. The tough part is that working through a large system can sometimes seem daunting.

Laura Young shared some of the details of the application process with me:

          As part of your application to the UC system, you’ll need to identify your top two choices for areas of study (i.e. Communication Studies, Art); UCLA will only consider your first choice.

          SAA professors make the first decision as to who is accepted into the program; university admissions staff become involved solely to address academic standards.

          Make sure to read the application requirements – SAA requires a supplemental application that you won’t want to miss.

          UCLA is the only UC campus requiring a portfolio from incoming freshman. Again, read the application requirements; your portfolio can consist of 8-10 works in any medium.

          The school has a preference to see self-directed work as part of your portfolio, (not what your high school art teacher instructed you to create).

Last year the Art Department received about 950 applications and Design Media Arts received approximately 850. Both programs admit about 40-50 students. For a top-notch creative education wrapped in a diverse and engaging liberal arts package, I’d say those are some lucky students.

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Painting and drawing photo courtesy of UCLA.

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.

The Business of Art & Design

Embody Chair by Herman Miller

Embody Chair by Herman Miller

I have a pet peeve.

When I was in college I was interested in both the arts and business.  Given the opportunity to study one or the other I decided to opt for the arts, and so earned a degree in textile design.  It was the right choice for me at the time. I love textiles and all they represent; their history, their tactileness, the processes used to create them, and their cultural implications. However, as much as I love textiles, I also love marketing, and in hindsight I wish that I had included more business courses in the mix. Even though I attended a large liberal arts university, (Go Dawgs!) combining courses – let alone degrees – from such diverse fields mostly wasn’t done then.

art and business need each otherStudents today have more opportunities to mix things up a bit – and I think they should. Through my years of work experience one of the important things I’ve learned is that art and business need each other. Artists need business to promote, sell and financially succeed at their craft.  Businesses need art to graphically depict their messages; to tell their stories.

How does this affect you? Well, if you’re looking to create a career that is directly related to your artistic passions then business or professional courses will help you build that successful path.  I recommend that you take a serious look at the business and professional options available to you as you consider which college to attend.  If for no other reason, do it so you can tell mom and dad you’re planning not to become a starving artist.  (wink, wink)

Let’s consider some details.  Obtaining a degree in a fine art is different than getting one in an applied art.  What does that even mean? Applied arts are mostly those with a direct connection to a specific function.  Think fashion design and advertising.  Stereotypically speaking, fine art is mainly created for its pure beauty.  Think painting and illustration. Does that mean if you study an applied art you’ll have an easier time finding a job and building a career?  Probably yes.  Whichever path you choose, business and professional courses should boost your understanding of how art and business affect, and even rely on each other, which in the long run could help you land a coveted job.

It’s been years since I studied my craft in college, and I have to say I’m still frustrated with the limited number of business courses available for art students wanting to augment their studies.  So, how do you research what business and professional courses are available at varying colleges and universities?  Unfortunately there is no one answer to that question.  But I’ve done some research into the subject, and will share what I’ve learned next week.

The Embody Chair is copyrighted by the Herman Miller Company.

Glass in the Midwest

glass blowing 1I had a chance to visit Louisville, Kentucky this weekend. A nice weekend of exploring led to an appreciation for the city’s growing arts community. On Saturday I toured the Glassworks building – which shows off the city’s true support for glass arts. Claiming to be the only facility of its kind in the country, it houses two glass galleries and two working glass studios alongside the Mark Payton Glass Center, which offers tours, walk-in workshops, and the opportunity to create kiln-fired, fused glass projects. The artisans of Payton Flameworks studio make detailed, delicate creations by flame working with a torch and hot glass. Those at Flame Run studio blow hot molten glass into breathtaking works of art. (Don’t try this at home!)

Just a few blocks away is the University of Louisville’s Cressman Center, which houses the Hite Art Institute – U of L’s Department of Fine Arts. The close proximity is no accident. U of L students studying glass can see a potential career path right down the street.

As part of Uof L’s study of art, students can choose a BA or BFA. The former is designed for those looking for a broader exposure to studio work, while the latter is geared towards those with professional ambitions who want more in depth study. BFA students interested in glass can customize their degree to focus on glass alone or work cross-media, taking courses in several studio areas. The program teaches the fundamentals of hot, warm, and cold glassmaking techniques, emphasizing the historic and contemporary context of glass art.

glass blowing in classInterested in glass but want to know your options? Check out these other Midwestern programs.  There are private and public programs represented, giving you the option to choose all-in glass, or combine it with a comprehensive liberal arts education. They all sound fabulous to me. I’m guessing at least one of them will click for you.  

             Ball State University

            Centre College

            Cleveland Institute of Art

            College for Creative Studies

            Ohio State University

            Southern Illinois University at Carbondale