With nearly an entire semester of designing, drawing, sculpting and crafting under their belts, Penn State’s visual arts students are preparing their final projects for critique and some for exhibition.
Olivia McCormick said finals for students in the arts are “an interesting time.”
“Even if you don’t have a final project that you’re working on, you really care about all the work that you’re doing,” McCormick (senior-fine arts) said. “If you’re working in something like ceramics, for example, you have those final two weeks to finish glazing for critiques. So, everything sort of feels like a final.”
Kylie Putt said her project, a large-scale image that tells a mythical story, was influenced by her ART 110 class’ curriculum.
“A large idea behind most of our projects previously has been stepping away from the details and trying to work more gesturally and on a large scale to see the full picture,” Putt (freshman-criminology) said. “So, that’s why we’re working on large paper, so we can utilize that and use what we learned from everything that we had done previously to make a large scale version of our project.”
Some students like Samantha Peacock are creating their final projects without an explicit assignment.
“So luckily, once you get into the higher level art classes, you get a lot of liberty,” Peacock (junior-drawing and painting) said. “So, there was no real prompt for [my project], it was just kind of like, ‘OK, keep pursuing what it is that you’re passionate about this past semester.’”
Rather than creating a project for a specific class, Kristen Byrne said her final project was part of an independent study.
“What most people don’t realize is that the BFA programs… is [that] in order to complete your degree, you have to do work outside of the work that you have for classes,” Byrne (senior-drawing and painting) said. “So this semester, I am taking an independent study talking about art and art activism, political art.”
McCormick said for her final project she was given “a lot more creative freedom” and chose to “go outside of [her] comfort zone” by creating a collage.
“It’s a lot more challenging than I imagined,” McCormick said. “Not only do you have to think about color and composition, you have to think about the message that you’re sending. When you’re taking images from so many different sources, that [message] can be either jumbled or more clear than just drawing everything yourself.”
Peacock said she was making a painting using a visual style that she has been working on this semester, which could be described as a “visual info dump.”
“I take a topic and I create a piece with the iconic imagery associated with it, [add] text and throw in as many aspects of the topic into this field,” Peacock said. “The piece I’m working on currently is using that language to kind of talk about myself and the things that I enjoy and the things that make me who I am.”
The piece in question is a painting covered in the titles and pictures of Peacock’s favorite bands, interests and moments of her life. The main focus in the center of the painting is a rendition of her eyes and glasses.
Byrne said she was creating several acrylic paintings, including some made with watercolor and oil pastels.
“All of them are around the theme of activism. The title of my show is called ‘Political Discourse,’” Byrne said. “All of the works are going to have that opportunity for discourse between the participants who are going to be looking at it, and they’re gonna ask questions and be like, ‘Oh, why did the artist do this?’”
Putt said her piece, which focuses primarily on the myth of creation, was inspired by artists who have worked on similar pieces like Inka Essenhigh and Julie Heffernan.
“I’ve always been interested in art history, so creation myth ideas have always been in the back of my head,” Putt said. “It’s interesting because a lot of the creation myths have been passed down verbally. I think that’s really what drew me in.”
Chloe Noah said for her sculpture course, her final assignment was to create a sculpture “that you can put your body into in some way [and] has to be able to stand on its own.”
Given her class spent time learning to work with foam, a substance she calls “versatile,” Noah (sophomore-film production) is creating a mushroom observers can stand in using foam and clay.
“At the base of the sculpture is a tree stump you could stand on. And then hanging from the ceiling, I have a mushroom cap that I’m creating,” Noah said. “I’m putting red netting on the outside of it and kind of a fuzzy white fabric on the inside. I’m going to use some light as well to make it look as though it’s like a lamp.”
Hanging off of the mushroom structure will be a sling visitors can step into containing a mushroom-covered baby made of clay.
Liliana Bauman, another student in ART 110, said she enjoyed the freedom she and her fellow students were given.
“[My professor] doesn’t put parameters on it, he’s trying to make us think outside the box, [and] I think prove our art,” Bauman (freshman-digital art media design) said. “So, it’s compositionally challenging because it is a giant poster.”
Bauman also said the length of her classes allowed her to better explore the topic for her project.
“I think having a studio class where I spend three hours a day just focusing on art allowed me to really understand what he was talking about instead of just being given a project like, ‘OK, go draw landscape.’” Bauman said. “We talked about the methods to use and about composition and color and how the material you use is important and [how] if you use watercolor or charcoal, the vibe you get is going to be different when you’re looking at it.”
For her collage, McCormick was prompted to incorporate “disrupted realism” and human figures.
“So I’m going to be including a lot of faces, a lot of models, magazines, basically just trying to distort the reality of the human figure, which is challenging but really rewarding to see how different people react to it,” McCormick said.
This prompt ran counter to the figure drawing McCormick worked on for the semester leading up to finals week.
“I guess when you spend a whole semester drawing exactly what you see, you’re so focused on these models and involved in the reality of what you’re seeing that you don’t get a lot of creative freedom,” McCormick said. “Having the chance to distort what you’ve been doing for an entire semester is really cool.”
McCormick said she particularly enjoys taking images from the media and magazines, printing them out and focusing on the “strangeness” of them.
“We get so used to seeing these images that I think it’s easy to lose sight of how edited they are,” McCormick said.
Noah said her mushroom piece did not derive from a prompt or influence, it “just came to [her] mind randomly.”
“I always like to create based on what I’m going through in life currently. So, this project that I’m making now is all about growth and growing as a person,” Noah said. “I feel like I’m really going through a period of change right now, so I wanted to make something that reflected that back.”
In a similar vein, McCormick said growth was important to creating meaningful art.
“I think that it’s really important to challenge yourself and your life and experience life to the fullest so that your artwork reflects that,” McCormick said. “If you’re not growing as a person, your artwork won’t be there.”
To those who are apprehensive or doubtful of their ability to create pieces like students in visual arts classes, Peacock has a message.
“I hear from a lot of people [who] are like, ‘Oh, I could never draw. I couldn’t even draw a stick figure.’ I just want people to know that I couldn’t either,” Peacock said. “If it’s something you care about, and a language you want to learn to speak in, you can do it. It takes a lot of practice, but if you have that drive, you can be an artist.”
McCormick said when it comes to making art, she believes that “there’s no way to separate your work from yourself, you’re always going to be the one making your stuff.”
“So it’s great to have these amazing professors and a really cool workspace and art community to bounce ideas off of.”
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