Senior art students find positivity in their plight

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Photo by Patrick Goodman

The University of Dallas art department generally does not draw outside the lines of its program, a program that normally culminates in Senior Studios. 

But, that’s exactly what they will have to do for the class of 2020, which must adapt to a unique set of circumstances from coronavirus closures. The most concerning aspect for the departing class is the cancellation of Senior Studios. 

Senior Studios are the apex of the bachelor’s degree in art. They are an opportunity for each graduating senior to build a portfolio of work, design a show and install their show for viewing by the UD community.

“Here at UD we are given the opportunity for our own solo show, and that’s really unheard of for undergrad [programs],” said Lucy Stariha, a senior printmaking art major. Senior Studios are an important part of graduating students’ résumés and distinguish UD graduates from those of other art programs. 

“That’s why it is a little bit sad; here at UD we are supposed to have that privilege, but then graduating this semester we won’t have that under our belt yet,” said Stariha.

Steven Foutch, chair of the art department, said that although graduating seniors “ will not mount exhibitions on campus … we have invited them all back to mount a show in the fall if they are interested.” In addition, Foutch said that students will have the opportunity for a virtual exhibition using software such as Google SketchUp. 

UD graduate students, who also work towards an exhibition, are subject to a similar plight. But, rather than being shown in the Haggerty Art Village, Master of Fine Arts candidate exhibitions are displayed in off-campus venues. For MFA students, whether the show eventually happens is up to the venue, not UD. 

MFA candidate Richie Peña, who specializes in printmaking, has long had the goal of displaying his work at a church, especially a Catholic church. He was able to secure the Cathedral Shrine of the Virgin of Guadalupe in Dallas for his thesis exhibit, but the event has been postponed. 

“The chance of having my show is still up in the air, due to the virus outbreak,” said Peña. 

“The church is a public space, and this would put others at risk of catching the virus,” he said. However, he is not discouraged by the postponement. “I am realizing and understanding that it will happen at a later date,” he said. 

With exhibitions postponed for months, a more immediate concern is how printmaking students like Stariha and Peña, or ceramics students like Veronica Barrera, will continue working on their shows when they do not have access to their studios and tools. 

“Our processes are kind of just thrown out the window,” said Barrera, who expects to graduate this year. Home in Houston and left without access to a kiln, she hopes to transport her delicate pieces to be fired at UD this summer, if the situation alleviates enough for her to do so. 

In the meantime, Barrera is embracing this time to explore other mediums, such as fiber art. 

“It’s a strange opportunity to be forced to work in a different way than before,” Barrera said. “Honestly, the reason we are artists and the reason that we study what we study is because of the general way we process the words and the things around us. We just need to be making. Actually, a great way of digesting everything that is going on is continuing to make art.”

Foutch also expressed optimism towards the unique opportunities for creativity that are springing out of the situation. 

“In my opinion, the dramatic shift could be a positive force for seniors,” said Foutch. “It has forced all of them to rethink everything about their projects. … one student previously working heavily with Adobe Illustrator and screen printing will now switch to cross stitch embroidery as her medium. This could be a … real opportunity to experiment with a new medium and explore the conceptual shift related to those materials.”

Peña also described the fruitfulness of being forced to use new mediums, especially in the digital age.

“This outbreak has awakened multiple layers towards why I am an artist and why I create the works that I do,” Peña said. “Art is about observing and translating in the best possible medium that the artist can convey their language. Right now, creative digital applications are the tools that I need to keep working.”

Despite missing out on the professional development that senior studios entail, Barrera said the cancellations have opened up doors that are also very valuable for her professional development. She is taking an in-depth online course in glaze chemistry, for instance, that she would not have been able to take at UD. 

In addition, the art department has offered virtual studio tours with professional artists, allowing the students to intimately experience the artists’ work. 

“Those are connections I wouldn’t have made otherwise,” said Barrera. “So, in a sense, that’s actually way more professionally productive, network-wise, than it would have been in a standard way, as ironic as that is.”

As for many areas of communication and work, technology has taken on a whole new level of importance for artists in quarantine. 

“Virtual Space! We live in a time where everything is connected online,” said Peña. “More and more artists are finding other means to showcase their artwork and continue to make work in the safety of their home during this outbreak. Even though we are not physically present amongst one another, we are present virtually. We are still connecting with our peers, professors, loved ones, friends and a new audience.”

As much as the cancellations have been fruitful in unexpected ways, graduating art students can’t deny the reality of the difficulties of entering the job market at this time. 

While Stariha will start teaching art in a K-12 school in the fall, she knows that everyone is not in the same position of relative security upon graduation. In the words of Stariha, for most of the senior art majors, graduating in 2020 “is really, really daunting.”

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