“I wish I was just an art major,” is a phrase I have heard multiple times throughout Hope College’s campus. Or, similarly, “All you do is draw, I have to do…” It’s quite common for students to ‘one-up’ one another with issues innate to their particular major. In other words, students love to have meaningless competitions of who has it worse. In reality, all majors at Hope have it hard in their own ways. A theatre major is going through a completely different brand of difficulty from a biology major, and that’s okay. That’s college. But, in an attempt to clear up the reputation of the Visual Arts Department, I sat down with two of Hope’s senior art majors in their studios.
In general, art classes and curriculum are structured very differently from your typical Hope College class. For example, a Tuesday-Thursday Studio Art class may meet for three hours per class, totalling up to six hours per week. Many of these classes require students to simply work. There is no lecture and no traditional homework. These students are expected to show up to class ready to work on and problem-solve their piece for the entire three hour period. Studio art and psychology double major Hannah Bugg (‘20) says, “Something I think is funny is when my non-art friends decide to take an art class for a Gen-Ed requirement and they’re like, ‘Aw, these are all three hours long!’ I have a friend right now who’s actually taking Photo––he’s computer science––and he’s like, ‘This class is brutal because I just sit there in front of the computer for three hours.’”
Not only are the classes long, but when students finish a piece or project, they will go through critiques. These critiques are structured based on the professor’s preferences. Sometimes a critique will be student-led, meaning students gather around one of their peer’s work and have an open discussion based on what they like and how they can improve said work. Sometimes, such as for seniors, critique will be once a semester at midterms. The entire faculty will come and view whatever work a senior would like to showcase and openly discuss what the project did well and what it could improve on. Studio art and art history double major Holle Wade (‘20) says, “[Professors] ask you questions sometimes, sometimes they just do a cold read of your work and tell you what they’re responding to. If they see that you’re working and see potential in your work they’re likely to be more harsh because they want you to do your best.”
I asked Bugg (‘20) how the environment and curriculum in her two interdepartmental majors differ. On that she says, “For me the hardest thing is how public your failures are in art. I think [this] has been the thing that’s most evident to me when I’m doing psychology. In my social psych class right now we just took our midterms. There were some things I didn’t know, which is typical. You do your best and you show what you know and that’s your exam. No one in the class really knows how you did, and you’re all just there to learn separately. In art classes you’re working on something in a class of 15 other people. I’ve had times where my project just keeps going really poorly. I think that can be really difficult to handle when you put so much effort into this one thing and you get into critique time and your thing wasn’t successful. You know that, and you struggle. I don’t know if other people judge you for like, ‘Oh her piece is really bad,’ I don’t think there’s that. But I do think there’s an internal reflection. If I’ve made something bad and I have a critique that day, chances are I’m going to be out of it all day because I’m disappointed in myself, and I feel judged even though others aren’t [judging me].” She went on to discuss another aspect of the difference between an art major and a non-art major, saying, “In the art major, you have to spend a lot of time in DePree. When you’re working on things, there aren’t a lot of art things you can do outside of the building. If I’m doing a psychology paper, I can do that at home in my bed at midnight, whereas if I’m working on a project I have to be in DePree working with the welder or the saw. I think that separates you a lot. You can’t be like, ‘Hey let’s go study together in the Library.’ No, I’m in Depree for hours at a time working really hard. People don’t really see that because you’re sequestered off.”
Famous painter, sculptor, draughtsman and printmaker Henri Matisse once said, “Creativity takes courage.” In many ways, he was right. Students go through a lot trying to make their project successful and get their messages across effectively. Making art can be physically, mentally and emotionally exhausting. Nevertheless, artists press on because they have a passion for it. Wade (‘20) believes art cultivates and requires a certain level of reflection and introspection that other majors don’t require. An art major requires vulnerability and honesty with oneself. She says, “I think exhaustion comes in when you’re making a lot of things, but you aren’t reflecting on what you’re making. I think taking time to reflect is important when you’re making any kind of work.” She says it’s often difficult to separate her life inside DePree’s walls and her life outside of them. She continues, “A lot of things that happen in my other life, I take snippets back to work. Like when I’m sitting at LJ’s and I hear someone talking I think, ‘Ooh, that would be interesting to think about within my work.’ So sometimes it’s hard because it’s always on my mind. That separation is hard.” Bugg (‘20) feels similarly, “I think other majors are exhausting but in a different way. Especially when you get into upper level art classes, there is no right answer to what you’re making. There’s no rubric for what I’m making right now. Last weekend I spent four hours in this corner sketching and researching trying to figure out how to get my ideas on the wall. I think it’s mentally and emotionally exhausting when you can’t visualize your ideas. I have friends in Anatomy who are exhausted all the time from studying, and I don’t have to do that, which is super nice. But I am working through ideas and problem solving technical issues, and I think that part of [my work] is as exhausting [as classes like anatomy.]”
This article is just beginning to analyze and encompass all that artists go through in their curriculum and processes. I encourage you to ask more questions, and, if you have an interest, dip your toes in the department. At the end of the day, art is hard. But for artists, it is the most rewarding work they do. They don’t deserve to be looked at as though they work less than people in other majors. The truth of it is that they work just as hard but in different ways. Hope’s art majors and minors do a lot week in and week out, and we as a community need to show a stronger body of support for them. So, go to the Hope College Art Department’s Senior Show in Depree Art Center opening Friday, April 3rd! (Wade and Bugg [‘20] will have work showcased in the exhibit!)