What Art & Design Students Need to Know About RIT

I know, I know. An institute of technology is not the most obvious place to find a top arts program. Most likely it’s not even on your radar. Right? Well, it should be!

cias-twitter-logoAfter an in-depth tour of the College of Imaging Arts & Sciences (CIAS) at Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) last month I came away thoroughly convinced that this is a great school for visual artists.

Despite its name, artistic learning has been part of RIT since it’s founding in the 1820’s. Today, CIAS encompasses roughly 2,000 of the 15,300 undergraduates on campus. That means visual arts students can benefit from the intimacy of a small college and the resources of a large research university.

CIAS boasts high retention rates, and both the university and the college continually receive high rankings. Clearly, they’re doing something right.

Abundance of available photography equipment

Abundance of available photography equipment

The School of Design is the largest school in the college and it provides a wide path of instruction in 2D, 3D, and 4D design. Emphasis is on designing for process over product and using technology to connect to real world experiences.

Photography looms large on campus. That makes sense when you realize this is the land of photography and print pioneers Kodak and Xerox. Students in the School of Photographic Arts & Sciences start with a comprehensive introduction to the field. As Susan Lakin, program chair for Advertising Photography further explained, “RIT has so many facets of photography available. Students discover the field and its broadness, then are able to explore a multitude of options to discover what their interests are.” Those options include everything from fine art and commercial applications to integration with journalism, business, and science. 

Zara Davis, sophomore ceramics major

Zara Davis, sophomore ceramics major

Another distinguishing program on this technology-focused campus is the School of American Crafts. Seriously. As with other majors, students studying artistic craftsmanship are focused and dedicated. The program has a rigorous studio requirement and includes a year of business courses in preparation for a career in the arts.

Engagement with the real world is built into the curriculum here. Co-ops and time abroad are both highly regarded and highly encouraged. Creative Industry Day, an annual event, promotes portfolio reviews and networking with creative industry professionals.

It’s difficult to gain acceptance into CIAS, which is foretelling that you’ll be challenged once you’re in. Over and over during my visit, I heard that dedication, passion, and focus are required for success. But the benefits are clear and enormous. Artistic mastery, a career-focused education, and a job after graduation. I hope you check it out.

Crafting an Artist Statement

Lenivec (flickr)

The language of artists and designers is visual. Color, light, composition, texture, and dimension are the paragraphs and punctuation of our stories. Yet, working artists and college-bound creatives also need to rely on words to communicate our creative goals and vision.

That’s where an artist statement comes in. These useful tools help audiences’ access and understand the why behind our artistry. And, for many applying to college art programs, artist statements are an essential part of the application process.

So how do you create one and what should it include?

book of life, david kracov

Think It Through
Begin with some genuine self-examination. Artist statements are an introduction to your work. They explain your inspiration and your approach to making. Start by answering some tough questions:

  • What are you trying to express through your work?
  • What keeps you coming back to it day after day?
  • What influences you? (This could be anything from other artists to social issues, etc.)
  • What themes do you have running through your work?
  • What medium do you work in and why? What materials are essential to your toolbox?

Write It Down
Follow these few tips when putting pen to paper:

What to Write

  • Address why you create what you create
  • Be personal
  • Talk about your goals and what you hope to achieve through your art
  • Explain your choice of materials and your techniques
  • Share what you’re trying to communicate

monks cradle 2, tommy olaughlin and patrick dougherty

How to Write It

  • Be clear and honest
  • Write in the first person, using “I” instead of “you”
  • Be concise; 50-100 words is enough for a college statement
  • Stay away from clichés and artistic jargon
  • Don’t summarize your resume
  • Remember, this is about your work, not you

Crafting a well-written artist statement is a difficult yet very valuable exercise. Your written description will become an important link between you and your audience. And after you’ve presented it as part of your college admissions you can amend it for any future gallery or show submissions.

Not To Be Missed: Design Meets Technology

3D printed arm, Artist Eric Kuester

3-D printed arm, Eric Kuester

I’ve had the opportunity to speak with a variety of high school art groups during the past few months. A topic that has come up in each conversation has been the intersection where art and design meet engineering and technology, and the value added when these seemingly opposite fields combine.

These days, when thinking of technology and design our minds typically jump to smart gadgets: be they phones, watches or cars. An exhibit currently on display at Kent State University focuses on the more intimate and personal benefits of the times we live in; by highlighting the individual and life-changing enhancements that can be realized when left and right brain collaborate.

(Dis)Abled Beauty: The Evolution of Beauty, Disability, and Ability is a perfect depiction of this collective success. When working to improve life for the physically challenged, few in the past have paid close attention to aesthetics. But, to quote our newest Nobel Laureate in literature, “the times, they are a-changin’.” Thanks to both new technologies and greater attention given to creativity, newly available products include 3-D printed prosthetic arms and legs, custom-designed hearing aids, and garments that “button” magnetically to aid those with limited mobility and dexterity. Dresses have even been designed to aid the hearing impaired, and hearing aids have become unique artistic statements.

Clothing designs for disabled

Clothing designs for disabled

This is fashion forward thinking at its finest. (Dis)Abled Beauty provides a first-hand demonstration of the emerging creativity, beauty, and functionality that follow when art and design are considered part of the original development of a product.

Is the intersection of design and engineering something your teen finds intriguing? Then get their juices flowing by seeking out internships, summer programs, and colleges that offer both. In the meantime, check out the exhibit at the Kent State University Museum. It runs through March 2017.

Click on the catalog link for an expanded view of the exhibition.

Future Design Careers: What You Need To Know Now

I’ve often heard it said that today’s college students are studying and preparing themselves for jobs that don’t exist yet. Could that really be true?

Technology has changed everything.

The folks at Fast Company interviewed a dozen leaders in the design world to get their take on where we’re heading, and what design careers to plan for. No plan is perfect, but 5 Design Jobs That Won’t Exist In The Future clearly identifies some of the changes future designers should expect.

I asked Tom Gattis, Dean of the School of Design at CCAD for his opinion on how design fits into our continually changing landscape. Clearly, it’s a high priority issue for him. “Reflective of what’s happening in the marketplace, [design] disciplines are changing daily,” he explained. The basic technical skill set of the past is today’s minimal requirement to gain entry. “UX and graphic design are morphing together. Product designers and graphic artists all have to have the breadth of knowledge to work across what used to be discreet disciplines.”

In other words, design fields are simultaneously merging and broadening.

Schools across the country are adapting to meet the needs of industry. They’re integrating their creative disciplines, including more social science and research into the curriculum, exposing students to international cultural norms, and incorporating business basics that today’s employers demand. They’re also providing learning opportunities that extend well beyond the studio and classroom. The skills of “collaboration, professionalism, and networking,” are all important interactions that make for better professionals and employees, stated Tom. Employers are looking for an “amalgamation of skills beyond just being creative,” he added.

The bottom line brings good news: the world is waking up to the problem-solving value that designers bring to the table. Creative opportunities lie ahead!


Check out art.college.life. on facebook to learn what happens when technology meets body art. 

An Artistic Success Story

I’m often fascinated by life’s journeys. The twists, turns, and road bumps that direct and redirect us often lead us exactly where we need to go. I’m especially drawn to the journeys of artists. Unfortunately, many people today still question whether artists have viable paths to career success.

The SmitheryAnne Holman and Jen Townsend are two artistic success stories merged into one. Their individual winding paths are full of life’s hiccups and misdirection, but those paths led them to CCAD and each other. The serendipity of it all has built a friendship, a business partnership, and The Smithery a unique and welcoming retail store, artist’s studio, and workshop in Columbus, Ohio. Clearly, they’ve landed in the right place at the right time.

I was fortunate to meet Anne and Jen earlier this summer, and learn their story of how they got to here and now. Each had a passion for making art growing up. And they each pursued a creative college education, but neither in the medium of metalsmithing that they’ve come to love. Anne combined studies of printmaking and sculpture into her own jewelry major before CCAD had one. Jen’s path included transferring from a regional state university where she wasn’t being artistically challenged.

The two met when Anne was a guest lecturer in Jen’s Studio Professions course. Anne’s suggestions for the different ways artists could make a living after college – including working in industry or selling at art and craft fairs – were spoken from personal experience. And they struck a chord with Jen.

Tools of the trade

Tools of the trade

Their paths crisscrossed a number of times again before they recognized a similar work ethic and began sharing studio space and a passion for creating a place where they could sell art, make art, and teach making. “We wanted it all in one space,” Jen explained. “To make stuff, teach, have our studio, sell, and support other people making things – all in one building.”

Timing is everything in life, and when Anne was trying to sell her handmade jewelry at an East Coast trade show in January of 2014 she turned her downtime into recruitment time, researching and networking with other artisans who could someday sell their handmade art at her dream store. With little personal business experience, the two found an out-of-town entrepreneurial business course for creatives, requiring weekly late night drives to Cincinnati. They wrote a savvy business plan and secured funding, then obtained a prime location for their creative endeavor, beating out other companies with solid reputations in competing for the same storefront.

The Smithery opened in October of 2014. “The idea all along was to open a place where we could showcase our own work and that of other artists,” Anne affirmed. And that’s just what they’ve done. Thanks to the relationships they’d built over time the store is filled with curated artwork representing artists at all different stages of their creative careers. The majority is jewelry, but it also includes textiles, ceramics, and hand-made prints. “A lot of these artists don’t sell in Ohio, many don’t sell in the Midwest, and some international artists don’t sell in the United States at all,” added Jen.

make artAnne explained that the part of making she enjoys most is having her “hands in the material.” Unfortunately, running a new business allows less time for that, although she and Jen do make time to design custom jewelry. Workshops seem to be the most fun because that’s when they can teach their craft to other burgeoning artists and get the next generation of designers excited about making.

Which brings things full circle. Art school taught them “the practicality of being in the studio every day and just making, making, making constantly; and realizing how much time goes into figuring things out,” explained Jen with excitement in her voice. That is where it came together for these two artists. I wonder where their paths will lead them next.

More information about The Smithery can be found on their website.