The new School of Art and Design curriculum had what might be
called a rocky beginning, with some disgruntled students leaving
the art school in protest during the program’s first year.
Now in their second year under the new curriculum, art students are
still largely frustrated with its broad and demanding requirements.
But rather than transfer, some students have taken a more hopeful
tack, forming a new student government with an aim to improve the
program through dialogue between students and administrators.

Beth Dykstra
Art and Design junior Jeremiah Brown talks about his work in his illustration class, Art and Design 419. Several art students said they are still adjusting to a new curriculum. (BRETT MOUNTAIN/Daily)

Lydia Gregg, president of the Art and Design Student Government,
said she and other art students formed the organization last year
intending to work with the administration to discuss and change
aspects of the new program that students find troubling.

“It’s a very complex system, and we disagree with
parts of it and agree with other parts,” said Gregg, an Art
and Design senior. “I have faith in (Art and Design Dean
Bryan Rogers’) ability to change things, but at this point
it’s a work in progress.”

The art school’s curriculum was redesigned in 2002 to
require students to become proficient in a wide range of artistic
techniques and media before choosing an area of concentration. But
many Art and Design students feel that the new requirements limit
their choices, leaving them without enough time to develop skills
that are important to them.

“It’s based on this sort of noble idea of stretching
kids to get them to try all the forms of art that they
wouldn’t try otherwise,” said Art and Design freshman
Glenn Getty. “But I think a lot of us feel that it takes all
the choice away from students. It’s like grade school again
— we have less choice about which classes we take when we get
here than we would have in high school.”

The new program requires first- and second-year students to
complete a series of courses in a wide range of materials and
techniques before choosing areas of concentration in their third
and fourth years.

“The new curriculum is good in several ways,” said
Art and Design Associate Dean Mary Schmidt. “It requires all
students to become conversant on a basic level with the tools and
techniques in every studio we have.”

But Getty complained that the new requirements, which are
fulfilled through a series of seven-week courses, only scratch the
surface of the media they introduce to students.

“Seven weeks of any one thing is just too fast to really
learn anything in that area,” Getty said.

Responding to reports that some students had dropped out of the
program due to the new requirements, Schmidt noted that all major
curriculum changes meet with some initial resistance.

“We did have high attrition in the first year, but this
freshman class is an extraordinary group of students,”
Schmidt said.

She added that the number of students leaving the program
appears to have dropped significantly this year, but said the
administration would not release specific numbers.

Gregg said one objection students have expressed regards the
curriculum’s focus on conceptual development.

“There’s a very heavy emphasis on concept rather
than technique, and so a lot of people are learning to run before
they can walk,” Gregg said.

“They have all these great ideas, but they have no idea
how to express them.”

She said the student government is addressing this issue by
asking the art school to allow for more flexibility in class
scheduling. The organization also recently set up an online message
board, hoping to gather new ideas from many students.

Other art students also said they were concerned that increased
focus on concept takes away from time that could be better spent
developing technique.

“We could be helped so much more by improving our art
skills rather than by spending this much time on conceptual
courses,” said Art and Design freshman Michelle Bien.

But Schmidt said an emphasis on concept is vital to artistic
development.

“You can’t be an artist in the world without having
ideas,” Schmidt said. “Being required to have ideas
about your art-making is not a bad thing. It’s a new thing
for freshmen.”

She added that the new curriculum had not lost sight of the
importance of artistic technique, but rather sought a balance
between skill and concept.

“If you’ve got great ideas and no artistic skills,
just as if you’ve got great skill but no ideas, then
you’re not an artist,” she said.

Schmidt also defended the art program’s plans to supplant
traditional photography with digital.

“There was a lot of discussion about whether we should
stick with chemical photography or do digital photography,”
Schmidt said. “Everyone in the faculty recommended that we
transition to digital photography, because that’s what the
world is out there.”

Getty, however, said he had intended to explore traditional
photography in art school because he had not been able to do so in
high school.

“I feel like if you come to an art school and you want to
explore that, you should be able to,” Getty said.

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