Art department allows students to make education their masterpiece

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By Linda Smith & Brendan Luke

A&C Editor, Contributing Writer

Sophomore Julianna Gallagher works on a self-portrait in an art class. - Photo by Elizabeth Kerin
Sophomore Julianna Gallagher works on a self-portrait in an art class.
– Photo by Elizabeth Kerin

What is the state of the arts at the University of Dallas? In this all-too-brief article series, we seek to define how three departments — music, drama, and art — strive to educate the students at UD who are pursuing the study of art. We will also examine the movements and styles within the artistic culture at UD, as well as how  dramatic, musical and mixed-media productions at UD influence the school’s culture.

In a recent interview, Dr. Phillip Shore, chair of the art department and professor of sculpture, explained how undergraduates, through art and architecture courses, art history and other classes, learn about the artistic movements and traditions of the past, which frequently influence their own thoughts and art. Manet and Monet, Michelangelo and Raphael, the Greek sculptors and architects and contemporary masters all play a role in the curriculum, which also includes classes that teach a wide range of artistic techniques and perspectives. The department, which is divided into schools of art history, ceramics, painting, printmaking and sculpture, can offer a concentration in any of the five divisions within the art bachelor’s degree. Each division is headed by a professor, who coordinates and teaches students within his particular discipline.

“When I first started working here and finally got my legs under me and finish[ed] my dissertation, started to get out there in the department, one of my colleagues said to me, ‘You need to make art history your own,’” art history professor Dr. Catherine Caesar said. “There’s this incredible freedom to do that. This is my building essentially, the art history building. I have this room to expand and the encouragement to do so.”

With these five disciplines, Caesar said that students are encouraged to, and generally do, work with other media.

“Everything here is really cohesive, in terms of the interaction between art history and studio, but also about the interaction between painting and ceramics, and sculpture and ceramics,” Caesar said. “When a

student comes in, we assign them a major advisor. But if that student who is really interested in painting has a senior show and ceramics need to be an essential part of that, great. As much as we want you to focus within a particular field, if your studies lead you in certain ways, that’s great.”

Studio art majors are required to take art history courses, and vice versa. Many studio artists say they see their art history courses as necessary to becoming responsive artists.

“I think it’s necessary to take art history courses, it’s necessary for you to know those kinds of things because otherwise, you’re not making informed choices and you don’t know what you’re reacting to,” junior painting major Dario Bucheli said. “When you study art history, you take the formal aspects of the art, like, ‘What is it made of? How is it made? What’s the composition?’ but you also learn the historical circumstances in which the art was made, and see how one reacts to the other. It teaches you how people have responded to their times, and it gives you the tools and knowledge for us to react in our present time and make art that is relevant right now.”

The education that the department offers enables students to pursue their own artistic direction, drawing from the artists and styles that influence them. Senior painting major Johnny Defilippis talked about the influence of Greek   Orthodox iconography on his work. He pointed to the eye of the Virgin Mary on one of his works in progress and noted its similarities in style to those of the Greek iconographers. Defilippis is working on a painting similar in style to Raphael’s “Scuola di Atene” and da Vinci’s “Last Supper,” commissioned by student government, which is currently being displayed in Haggar.

Junior painting major Monica Kaufman shared her thoughts on the arts education she has received at the university.

“In terms of media, there are only four main media: painting, printmaking, ceramics and sculpture, but within that I think UD offers a really great opportunity to be interdisciplinary,” Kaufman said. “You can really do whatever you want as long as we have the place to do it, and the materials and the means.”

Bucheli said that since the department is “relatively small,” many sections of a class, such as Intermediate Painting I and II are put in the same class period.

“We’re all together and have 10 or 12 painters all working in the same space, so the dynamic is really active,” Bucheli said. “You can bounce off ideas and you can maybe organize informal critiques with a smaller group of people. It allows [the professor], since there aren’t as many people, to have more time to dedicate it to all the students who approach him and ask for critiques or just really want to know something. I think that’s something very positive.”

Kaufman emphasized the strength of the student-teacher relationships within the department, and noted that the department seems to be reaching out more, advertising events like open studio nights and various lectures.

“The best way [for the department] to grow is to keep reaching out to the rest of campus,” she said. Defilippis and Kaufman both expressed a desire for UD students to take a greater interest in art around campus, and emphasized the importance of making connections between the Haggerty Art Village and the main campus.

Kaufman also drew attention to the importance of taking art history along with studio art classes.

“If there’s any school that doesn’t do that, they should start doing it,” Kaufman said. “You just have to know what’s been made to make something today. Anything you make, there’s somehow a thousand references in it to things of the past, and you have to know what those are. And of course you’re not going to know all of them.”

The art department is expanding in terms of technology, and it is hiring more faculty. Caesar noted that there is a search for a full-time gallery assistant, and that different classes are now incorporating large online databases for more thorough art history studies. At the same time, the traditions of the department remain in new faculty and their intentions.

“We have these really vibrant new faculty members who have brought this new energy to the department but at the same time they’re continuing these strong traditions that their predecessors have given us,” Caesar said. “That’s been really exciting. Our newer faculty members just know so much about the integration of art with the Internet, with digital capabilities, so they’re able to combine and call upon [that in which] UD has always been strong, which is teaching people the perfect craft of art making, but now to bring that into the 21st century.”

To Shore, the roles that historical and contemporary influences play in each student’s education are equally important. “Each artist is a sort of mirror to their own time,” he said.

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