Student Profile: Studio Art Major Brianna Derfiny

Now that the fall semester has ended, senior art studio majors have some time to reflect on what they learned in ART 365, the independent studio projects course. They will also look forward to ART 350, the art studio seminar, this spring. The goal of these two seminars is to create a body of work for the senior show, which will open on April 5, 2019.

Brianna Derfiny with her completed work in the Student Juried Art Show

Brianna “Bri” Derfiny of Southgate, Michigan will be spending her inter-semester break contemplating how her practice in ART 365 will transfer to her project for ART 350. Like her classmates in the class of 2019, Bri is at the cusp of transforming from a student into a practicing artist. With that comes the essential question: how to I develop habits of artistic practice that will keep me making art after Hope College?

The studio program at Hope is designed to address this question. The curriculum is set up as a pyramid and is a hybrid of art school and liberal arts curricula. Whereas at an art school, students would immediately focus on one medium, students at Hope develop skills in a wide range of media. At the pyramid’s base, every studio major must take foundational courses in the each of the media offered: painting, sculpture, printmaking, ceramics, photography and design. In these courses, students (both majors and students in the general education curriculum) spend the class time practice skills under the close supervision of a professor. Bri explains, “Throughout college, I have always had to stick to the boundaries of an assignment.  It’s like living in an imaginary box.”

The middle of the pyramid, students choose advanced studio courses from blocks, where students can track themselves into 2D or 3D practices. At this level, students work with more freedom with assignments that have broader perimeters. Bri explains that the advanced course are still assignment-based, but in addition to skill, students must now bring content to the work.  Bri says, “Technique is still important, but much of the assignment is about thinking more broadly and working on a topic you want to go with. In figure drawing class, Professor Sullivan always wanted a concept while you are focusing on technical skills. An idea always needed to be there.”

Bri with senior Art History major Nina Kay discussing work from ART 365

At the top of the pyramid is the ART 365/350 sequence, which models the design of art school. These courses function as capstones to the art studio major. In the fall, Art 365 is a seminar that is not skills based, but completely focused on teaching students how to work without the perimeters of an assignment. Class time is dedicated to discussion and critique, and all studio work must be done outside of class.  A challenge for students is to develop consistent habits and a work schedule that will keep them in the studio working on their art practice in the midst of all of the other things going on in their lives. In reflecting on her experience, Bri says, “I really like making art in general. In ART 365, coming up with ideas is the easy part. Having to work through the idea and actually create the work is challenging.”

One of the benefits of being in the studio seminar is having a space to work.  In the fall, seniors share a studio space in the DePree Art center, but in the spring they will have their own studios. “Over the summer, finding the time and the space to make work was challenging. I had a job, but I tried to draw in my sketchbook every day. Having a space to work is essential,” says Bri. “I feel I have always had a good work ethic. It makes it much easier when you are passionate about it. So, I feel like it is really easy to spend a ton of time in the studio. And even if I am not working on art, I can be taking notes on what I potentially do the following week.”

Last semester, Bri branched out from her comfort zone and combined her work in drawing and rendering with more conceptual work such as performance and process-based work. “I think my rendering skill and my shading are what I am best at. My work has a strong realism attribute to it.  I tried to escape it this semester and experimented with abstract and geometric shapes. I also tied different forms of art. I have done spoken words before, but never performed them in an artistic setting. Having done that and being able to render the way that I do leads me in the direction to including more poetry in my rendered work.”

Bri in the senior studio of DePree holding a drawing from ART 365

Next semester in ART 350, Bri and her classmates will take the habits they have been developing and the experiments that seemed the most successful and move towards creating a body of work for the senior show. While some students will produce mixed-media and installation-based works that are very reflective of Hope’s hybrid curriculum, others will hone a particular medium in which they excel.

As Bri thinks about her part, she feels both the excitement of having freedom to create her own body of work, as well as the intimidation that comes with such freedom. “It is all the things. It’s exciting and somewhat intimidating to have to create a body of work that is good and that shows off your skills and concepts.

“Moving forward I am gong to do more rendered work, because that is what I like and what I think I am best at. But it was really helpful to see that I can conceptualize an idea without rendering it completely. I want to incorporate some performance in some way, so I would render works that have performative elements with them.  I have an idea for one, but I am not necessarily sure how I would implement that same idea throughout different works. That is what I will have to figure out next semester.”

Juried Art Show Provides Hope Students With Invaluable Experience

Student Juried Show at the DePree Gallery

The annual juried art show opened in the DePree Gallery on Monday, November 19th.  Twenty-eight students have work in the show, including painting, sculpture, works on paper, textiles, new media, and installation art.  This year the guest juror is Patrick Earl Hammie, a professor of art at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champlain.

People may wonder what a juried art show is, and why does the Department of Art and Art History include juried shows in the exhibition program?  How can someone judge a work, and based on what criteria?

Rembrandt van Rijn, Holly Family with a Curtain, 1646 (Image in the public domain)

Juried art shows are an essential part of an artist’s training.  Juried competitions have roots in antiquity.  The Roman author Pliny described competitions in Athens in which the greatest artists of Ancient Greece, Praxiteles, Zeuxis and Apelles, participated. Competition was thought to bring out the best in artists, as is the case in sport: the better the opponent, the better one plays. The most famous artist competition in antiquity was the dual between the well-established Zeuxis and the underdog Parrhasios.  Zeuxis painted grapes that looked so real, birds flew up to the painting and tried to eat them. On his turn, Parrhasios placed a curtain on the stage. When Zeuxis told Parrhasios to reveal the painting behind the curtain, only then did Zeuxis realize he had been fooled by Parrhasios’s life-like painting of a curtain. Many artists, including Rembrandt, refer to this story in their works as a way to show off their skill and compete, so to speak, with the great painters of antiquity.

Pietro Antonio Martini, The Paris Salon of 1787, 1781 (Image in the public domain)

Once art academies were established in the 16th century in France and England, juried shows were an important part of the academic curriculum. Students participated in juried shows in which the faculty decided which paintings would be exhibited at the public exhibitions, called Salons. Faculty chose works that it deemed represented good taste. Such competitions often determined the careers and reputations of artists.  As a result, the faculty controlled public demand for certain artists and artworks. (If only that were the case today!)

Juried salons often caused controversy.  In 1863, the Salon committee rejected the works of several artists, including the French modernist Manet and the American painter Whistler, due to their new and non-traditional approaches to style and subject matter.  These artists complained to the Salon committee and were given an alternative exhibition space called the Salon des Refusés (Exhibition of the Rejected Ones).

“Having an outside person come and talk to us about our work (after jurying) was helpful because he was objective.  He doesn’t teach or know us, so he responds to what he sees.” — Holle Wade ’20

Despite controversies, judging art by outside jurors gives a student a fresh perspective of his or her work. Juried performances are part and parcel to the cultivation and training of young musicians, as well. Having to perform in front of a stranger might be nerve wracking, but it trains young musicians not just to master skill but also and importantly to develop musicianship. Because of the close teacher-student relationship that is the nature of music and studio art instruction, outside jurying is essential for broadening the feedback students receive. Studio and art history major Holle Wade ’20 offers this insight, “having an outside person come and talk to us about our work (after jurying) was helpful because he was objective.  He doesn’t teach or know us, so he responds to what he sees.”

Juried artwork must stand on its own … meaning the work itself must do the talking.

Student Juried Show at the DePree Gallery

When a student submits work to a juried show, the work must stand on its own.  This means the student-artist will not be present to explain what he or she meant or intended when the juror looks at the work.  The work itself must do the talking. In preparing for the exhibition, the student-artist must think about the details that are all too easy to overlook in a regular assignment.  For example, the student must come to a point where the work feels finished.  This includes a myriad of decisions such as (and not too different from essay writing): Is my main idea clear? Is it a relevant idea? Does my work have a perspective? Have I used my skills intently? Have I straightened the edges, dried the paint, polished the plate?  How should I display my work?  Good art is less about inspiration than about decisions.

Student Juried Show at the DePree Gallery

At Hope College, the guest juror is alone in the gallery as he or she selects the works for the show. The juror looks at each work individually as assess the work’s merits.  The juror also tries to make a coherent show by considering how the works will function together as an ensemble. When Hammie spoke about his process in jurying, he said that he looked for works that connected to him on a personal level.  For Hammie, the question was: what is visually arresting about this work? Hammie looked at whether the artist’s intent was clear.  He also selected works that surprised him or confronted him with the unexpected: confident skill, nuanced colors, bold size, and new media. Walking through the exhibition, the visitor can feel Hammie’s attraction to bold colors, compelling formal presentations of the body and interplays of scale and materials.

The student juried show is an invaluable opportunity for Hope College students that is not typical of undergraduate studio art education, even at many elite institutions.

All of the artists in the show should feel a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment that their work is exhibited in a professional-level art gallery. “It’s a new feeling to have your work displayed for everyone to see,” says Wade. “Hammie chose work that makes you think. It’s more than just technical skill. It’s about looking and not walking away.” The student juried show is an invaluable opportunity for Hope College students that is not typical of undergraduate studio art education, even at many elite institutions.