Under safety guidelines, Vassar Studio Art classes remain space for campus creativity

Courtesy of Melanie Carolan.

Strokes of vibrant paint against a blank canvas. Empty sketchbook pages tattooed with charcoal and graphite. Clay molded into familiar objects. Moments captured on camera. The various forms of visual art provide valuable opportunities to release bottled-up emotions, especially during a time in which they seem to build up stronger than ever.

Despite the uncertainty of the new semester, students have dived right back into the assortment of studio art classes that Vassar offers. Whether it’s through imitating landscapes and figures in drawing or immortalizing picturesque stories from the world around them through photography, student artists enrich their creativity and unleash their passion through the medium of their desire, all while honing their skills thanks to the instruction of their professors and feedback from peers.

Some studio art classes have taken advantage of the outdoor tents for meeting; students in painting classes have had to journey all the way across campus to convene and paint together in a tent near their old haunt of New Hackensack. For Kali vom Eigen ’23, being outside and meeting in person has been a positive experience.

“It’s nice to be able to be somewhere painting from nature, and then to have a professor there giving you feedback as you’re working on something,” vom Eigen noted as we discussed the format of her painting class.

While art classes like painting meet in person, others meet solely on Zoom. Nina Ajemian’s [disclaimer: Nina Ajemian is the Assistant Arts Editor at The Miscellany News] ’23 Color Digital Photography class is completely remote; students come together twice a week on the platform to look at and discuss each other’s photos. “It can be hard to focus on a Zoom call for two hours straight,” Ajemian admitted. “We take a break at the hour mark…but it’s a long time to be staring at your screen, I mean, even for like any class I feel like that’s true for.”

Ajemian also shared her concerns with finding inspiration, since students don’t have the option to explore other places off campus. “I was kind of worried about the fact that all of my photos are going to be of Vassar,” Ajemian commented, “but also it’s kind of like a challenge…Trying to make a place that you see everyday and the same buildings, the same trees, same everything you walk by countless times, how to make that interesting and feel not like the same boring thing that you always see.”

Challenging oneself artistically and expressively turned out to be a common thread among student artists; after taking Drawing I last year, Melanie Carolan ’23 decided to venture into the realm of three-dimensional art this semester and signed up for Sculpture I. Like Photography, the class meets twice a week in two-hour blocks on Zoom, and class time usually consists of discussing the students’ work. But Carolan’s excitement for the class shined through as she discussed her experience with Sculpture so far.

“It’s so satisfying to imagine something and then have it be real, especially in Sculpture, because things that I’ve drawn sketches of are all of a sudden three-dimensional forms and I can actually see them in the world, which is not something that I usually do, because I haven’t done much with sculpture,” Carolan explained.

Although the class is on Zoom, students still have access to the Sculpture studio to work on their assignments for class. For Carolan’s first project, she created a set of lungs using papier-mâché. As she worked, she drew a lot of inspiration from what’s going on around her and the current events of the nation, including the pandemic and the fires raging across California. “I started incorporating a lot of symbolism into the lungs as I was making them,” Carolan commented. To expand on the symbolic meaning of her piece, she stuffed one of the papier-mâché lungs with green leaves and the other with red ones, to depict a healthy lung and an unhealthy lung.

Vom Eigen also drew inspiration from her surroundings, using the natural world as a basis for her paintings. “A lot of painting is just kind of painting from observation,” she said. “I’ve definitely found a lot of inspiration, I guess, from the natural world, since we’re spending so much time outside, like way more time than we normally would.”

After months of social isolation, being back in a classroom setting, even if it is online, revives the sense of community among the artists, as they are once again able to critique and engage with each other’s work.

“What I really like about art classes is usually they’re not super big so you kind of get to know people in your class, and there’s something kind of, like, nice and bonding, I guess, about being in a space together and looking at each other’s work,” Ajemian said. “It’s a little different over Zoom, but I think also it’s still nice to get to see other people’s work ‘cause it kind of connects you in a way…We’re all in very different places, but, like, we get to come together over the photos that we’ve taken.”

During this stressful period, the classes provide students with a gateway to emotional release. “Art has always been a way of communicating with others and interacting in a way that’s not just talking,” vom Eigen said. “So I think it’s definitely helpful as almost like a coping mechanism now, because there’s so many frustrations and difficulties in this time.”

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