Guest Post: Studying Art – An Education In Critical Thinking

By Ellen Fraser

Elon fountain

Elon University

Like many students, when I went to college I had no idea what I wanted to choose as my major. All I knew was that I liked reading, writing, and history better than I liked science and math. A liberal arts college seemed like the best fit for me—a place where I could dip my toes into a lot of different disciplines. The first semester of my freshman year, I took an art history class. I decided this would be a good idea because I had always enjoyed history in high school. My favorite part of the subject had always been learning about the ways in which historical happenings influenced aspects of the culture in the place where these happenings, well, happened. Art—its genres, styles, and techniques—was included in this.

Often times, art history has this stereotype of being a class where students sit in a dark room, trying to prevent their eyes from glazing over as they stare at endless slides of ancient artworks that they are expected to memorize for a test at the end of the semester. Well, I went to college at a little school in North Carolina called Elon University, and at this school, I quickly learned that art history did not simply involve a dark room illuminated only by image slides.

logoThe art history program at Elon illuminated my mind. My classes and professors exposed me to art and artists from a variety of geographic locations and time periods. However, and more importantly, they aided in my learning of critical issues that occupy the minds of some of the greatest creators of all time, as well as the fact that works of art can be seen in a variety of ways, and that no way is more correct than another. Also, as a friend to many practitioners of studio art, I was always impressed with the way these students could articulate their concepts when showing their work at campus events. Not only were they talented creators, but they also knew how to talk about their creations.

I never was and (even after having finished my Bachelor’s degree in the subject) am still no artist. And by this I mean only not an artist in a literal sense of the word. Studying art in college taught me how to think critically, to see different perspectives, and to use my thoughts to be a better asker of questions and artist of the written word. These are all important skills to have as students leave college to work on being more aware participants in life. A degree in art, especially from a liberal arts university, can help to sharpen these tools.

Ellen graduated from Elon in the spring of 2014 and is now happily employed by a non-profit arts organization.

 

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5 Tips For Choosing The Right College

courtesy of College For Creative Studies

courtesy of College For Creative Studies

At the risk of being redundant, I’m going to revisit a post I wrote last year. The reason? Its decision time for seniors and their parents, and the words I wrote a year ago are true and applicable again today.

April is a critical time of year. Birds know it, flowers know it, and so do high school seniors. For the latter group it’s time to make your final choice of which college to attend in the fall. If you’re lucky enough to have been accepted to more than one college, read on. There are many factors that can – and should – influence you as you aim to find the best fit. I’ve listed a few tips that were helpful when my kids were going through the process.

1 – Get down to the details. Try to identify what entices you about each school. Is it the location? Cost? Studio space? The feel of campus, or something else? I place all of these factors into two basic categories: fit and finances. Make sure the programs available fit your wants and needs. Re-visit each school’s website and contact the school with any unanswered questions you still have. And DO let the financial package impact your decision. If the weight of paying back future loans feels oppressive now, it could feel even heavier later on. Are you eligible for merit aid? Is the financial aid package what you expected it to be? It’s not too late to ask about either.

MICA dorm

MICA dorm

2 – Go back to “walking the walk.” I know that deadlines are approaching quickly, but if you can, visit campus, especially if you haven’t done so already. I’ve said it before; there is nothing like a stroll around campus to see if it’s the right place for you. Take the tour, check out the studios and dorms, eat in the cafeteria, and talk to students and professors. My oldest son thought Tufts was a funny name for a university. Then he visited campus and exclaimed “wow, I love it here.” End of story.

3 – Trust your gut. This is easier than it sounds. Sometimes the answer is right in front of you but there are too many distractions for you to see clearly. If you can, narrow your choices down to two colleges, then flip a coin and mentally accept the results. You’ll probably feel joy, relief, or perhaps a bit of anguish. Those feelings will tell you the real right choice.

4 – If you get wait-listed don’t get too discouraged. You still have a chance to get in, even though it may be a small one. My first recommendation is to accept an offer from one of the institutions that admitted you. Pick a place you’d honestly like to attend. Then congratulate yourself; you’re going to college!

Believe it or not, that does remove a lot of the pressure. If you’re still focused on a wait-listed school let the school know as soon as possible; they like to know that they’re your top choice. Reach out to the school’s admissions counselor for your region, and express your interest. Tell him or her why you prefer their school. I’d also suggest sending additional information that can tip the scale in your favor. Examples might include recent additions to your portfolio, and an achievement or acknowledgement you’ve received since you applied.

5 – Breathe. Don’t forget to take time to sit back and congratulate yourself. You’ve worked hard to get to this point and you’re about to begin your life’s next great adventure. Enjoy the day dreams of what college will be like and look forward to the exciting opportunities ahead.
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4 Tour Tips Help You Choose The Right College

Campus tours are valuable during any part of your college search. For rising juniors or seniors they can help narrow down the type of institution you’re searching for, as well as where you want to be geographically. For graduating seniors they can become a window into your future.

Within the next few weeks high school seniors will know all of their college options. That means final decisions need to be made in a little over a month. The pressure is on. To break a tie between two favorites, or just for personal assurance, I’d suggest making one more quick campus visit. Whether you’ve toured before or not, aim to get the most out of the experience by personalizing your trip.

Campus visits typically include an information session and a campus tour. I’d suggest you spice it up a bit. Add some exploration time into your schedule and make sure you see the places you want to see. The benefit will be a more accurate feel for life on campus. Here are the best options:

1. Wander around campus. Get lost. Walk into buildings just to see what’s inside. Find areas that entice you. If Ceramics is your passion, then make sure you locate the clay studio. Don’t be shy to stop and engage a student or professor along the way. Asking for directions can lead to a tour of spaces you didn’t know existed and new insights.

MassArt cafeteria

MassArt cafeteria

2. Engage with students. Go to the cafeteria or student union and strike up a conversation. This is your chance to obtain impromptu and honest opinions of what people really like or dislike about the college.

3. Sit in on a class. Your admissions representative will be happy to set this up for you. It will give you a view into your life for the next four years.

4. Spend the night. Your admissions representative can set this up for you as well. Better yet, if you know someone on campus ask if they can put you up for a night. The idea here is to give you the opportunity to see what campus life is like beyond classes. You’ll experience dorm life, gain a better feel for time spent in the studio after hours, and get a first-hand take on the morning rush at the Cheerios counter.

SAIC dorm studio

SAIC dorm studio

If you come to campus with unanswered questions, now is the time to get them resolved. Need to meet with a financial aid rep? Do it now; face to face is always better. Want to get a clear picture of the surrounding community? Here’s your chance. Find out where the closest art supply store is located and check out the neighborhood.

By the time you’ve finished your visit, whether it was for three or twenty-four hours, you’ll have a much better grasp of this college experience, and the road that lies ahead for you.

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Defining Art and Design

stacking bowlsPiqued by the inquiry of a high school parent, I’ve been muddling over this question in my mind for a while now; what is the difference between art and design?

A few weeks ago I posed the question to Gabe Tippery; the Academic Advisor for Ohio State University’s Department of Design. His response seemed simple yet right on target. To paraphrase his words; given a blank piece of paper, an artist will create something that comes from within them, something they feel the need to express. Designers, on the other hand, mostly need a problem to solve in order to put pen to paper.

Gabe isn’t the only one with this mindset. In researching the question I found numerous opinions on the subject that support his theory. To define it in a bit more detail:

Field of Corn, Dublin, OH

Field of Corn, Dublin, OH

Artists are driven to share their thoughts and ideas, period. They’re inspired and motivated to express themselves without boundaries imposed by others. My husband and I call it “art for art’s sake.”

On the other side of the spectrum are our problem-solving designers. They begin with boundaries, and a need for their creativity to spur others into action. They incentivize people to purchase a product, use a service, feel a particular feeling about a space, or learn new information.

Many colleges and universities will divide their art programs into a fine arts division and a design division. But that doesn’t mean you can’t take courses across the divide. In fact, learned skills from both can only help build your comprehensive understanding of the creative environment. A good designer cannot be void of artistic talent, and a fine artist’s creativity will come through along whatever career path he or she travels.

For me, I definitely live in both worlds. How about you?

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Spring Break Tours – Time To Get Started

Otis College of Art & Design

Otis College of Art & Design

Winter is hanging on, but warmer days will be here soon. Spring break means students can enjoy time away from classes. For moms and dads it offers an opportunity to explore college campuses with your teen.

So how do you start the “tour” process? Which campuses do you visit first? The answer is simpler than you think. Keep in mind that your ultimate goal here is to help your student begin to determine the best place for his or her future. That means your first objective is to help him differentiate one place from another. I like to begin by categorizing the size of each institution: small liberal arts college, large research university, art college.

Does your child like to feel part of a big crowd? Or do you think he needs a more intimate setting to fit in? The good news is there are options available at both ends of this spectrum, and many places in between.

At the suggestion of our high school’s college counselor (thank you Stephanie!), we took a road trip during my oldest son’s sophomore spring break. Our objective was to visit three different colleges, one small, one medium, and one large – kind of like Goldilocks. We also focused on different settings and ended up touring a large research university, a liberal arts college in a suburban setting, and a smaller college in the center of the city.

Ohio State University

Ohio State University

Our tours turned out to be great kick-starters for our college conversations at home, and helped us all begin to envision the best post-secondary environment for our teen. And, once he started narrowing down what he wanted, we then knew where our next campus tours would take place.

There is no substitute for walking around a college to get a true feel for campus life. But visiting numerous colleges can be time consuming and expensive. It’s best to tour when classes are in session, but that often conflicts with high school schedules. And visiting institutions across the country might seem like a waste of money, especially before applications have been submitted. For these reasons I’d make sure to check each campus’s website and take a virtual tour. Most, if not all, colleges offer them. They might even influence your next road trip.

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