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.”

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