Restructured Senior Studio Fosters Direct Student Involvement

Audrey Saunders, Staff Writer

As graduation looms nearer and upperclassmen belatedly begin to work on the culmination of their Oberlin careers — the “capstone” — they can look forward to the stimulating distraction of an April and early May chockfull of Senior Studio exhibitions. April in particular, due to the larger-than-usual number of students who are participating in Senior Studio this academic year, promises to be particularly busy for the artists — and for us interested patrons.

The students of Senior Studio have taken on the difficult task of coordinating the exhibition of their capstones in collaboration with their peers. Scheduling conflicts in regard to when each show would be held were inevitable with so many voices and needs to accommodate; there will be nights when more than a single show will happen.

“People are concerned having more than one show in a night is going to mean that people aren’t going to get to every show that [they] might otherwise have gone [to],” said College senior Thomas Huston, a major in both Art History and Studio Art.

Despite so many students needing to find a time and place to exhibit their artwork and the faculty’s suggestion that students exhibit together in groups of around six to save valuable time spent away from the studio negotiating logistics, students took it upon themselves to make sure their ideal exhibition would be realized.

“It would have been simpler had we just done three big group shows, but people felt [doing so] would not do everyone’s work justice that they had been working on for several months,” said Huston. “If we could find our own space, we could do our own shows.” Some students decided to remain organized in the larger groups initially proposed by their professors.

Associate Professor of Studio Art Sarah Schuster said she and her colleagues wanted each student to make his or her exhibition “[a serious] culmination of [their] work as … undergrad[s].” She mentioned past shows that the faculty thought succeeded, but the scale of the events was taking too much energy away from the making of the students’ artwork. Ultimately, a cohesive and strong body of work is what will distinguish them for graduate programs, exhibitions or other professional activity in the arts.

There are about 12 more students in Senior Studio than there were last year. The relief of being accepted, for some, was somewhat compromised by the thought that all the anxiety and stress associated with applying to Senior Studio was all for naught, since almost everyone who applied got the opportunity to participate.

“So many students applied that we had to set up applications on top of one another [on the walls of the studio] — which sort of foreshadowed what was to come,” said College senior Noah Steinman, an Art History and Studio Art major. “This is one of my largest classes at Oberlin — it’s crazy it’s my honors class.”

Still, students felt optimistic about the opportunity of working in close contact with so many fellow young artists. Professors were excited as well about the strong independent work they anticipated every student they accepted was capable of producing.

“More and more students were trying to get in, and more and more students were rejected. … We didn’t want to leave out so many students who deserve the experience,” said Schuster.

Schuster identified an already huge and always growing interest in Studio Art at Oberlin. Faculty had to restructure the organization of the program to accommodate that interest, as well as all the qualified students who constituted it. Everyone who was accepted had been deemed sufficiently self-motivated — capable of excelling, despite a lack of structure that marks other art classes. Other students may need more guidance in producing work, especially enough to fulfill Senior Studio’s six-credit requirement.

“Everyone in class is making good work, … everyone is doing good things, so it’s not a concern with the quality of students. I think the most frustrating thing [about the large number of students involved with Senior Studio] has been organization and logistics,” said Huston. These problems are attributable to what Schuster called “growing pains,” as the program expands.

This is not to say that faculty failed to provide students with a clear sketch of what was being asked of them and plenty of one-on-one consultation, in spite of the time required to support a relatively large number of students personally concerned with satisfying very particular artistic goals.

Lydia Boehm, College senior and Studio Art major, described the “huge syllabus” and several-page-long outline of professors’ expectations students were given at the beginning of the academic year. They were required to produce artist statements, a crucial component of applying to graduate school or a career “in the real world.”

“Everyone was willing to meet as much as or as little as we needed. … I don’t feel that if the group was smaller, I’d necessarily be getting more feedback,” said Steinman.

Professors took a back seat, however, in the organization of the Senior Studio Half-Time show held on December 12, which gave students the opportunity to influence the show’s success directly. Students decided which works they would contribute to the show and how they would arrange them around the gallery and on its moveable walls. Professors then critiqued the students’ curatorial performance.

Huston told the Review he imagined earlier feedback from his professors, before it became too difficult to implement many changes, could have been helpful — but he was concerned that additional faculty voices would have made accommodating every student’s perspective even more difficult.

Similarly, Steinman said, “Having to compromise can be difficult, especially if I don’t feel comfortable talking over everyone. … Everyone else’s voice is just as important as your own, despite the personal relationship between artist and work … [but] in art, silence can be just as good [as speaking out], and very productive.”

Although silence isn’t likely in a group of more than 25 Oberlin students whose artistic aspirations depend on their classmates’ accommodation of their needs and concerns, the Half-Time show was received as a success. Very disparate works, the complicated negotiation of which was unseen by at- tendees of the Half-Time show, complemented one another.

Huston said, “I was overall pretty happy with the way that everything worked together. I think the colors in mine had an interesting relationship to the colors in Lydia’s. … The source images that I started with were pornographic, so it was interesting to have [College senior Sarp Yavuz’s pieces] across [ from me] that were very much about sexuality.”

Students’ studios this year are more spread out than they have been in the past, located on Main Street, in the Clarence Ward Art Building and in the Hales Gymnasium complex. Consequently, some students regret they haven’t had enough exposure to their classmates’ work. However, not knowing what exactly the artists’ peers are working on makes attending exhibitions even more exciting for them.

Boehm said, “I’m excited for all the shows this spring because we are all divided up into three different studio spaces, so while we are all one class, I pretty much only see the work of students who also have studio spaces in Clarence Ward. … I have no idea what’s going on in Hobbs [on Main Street] or Hales.”

Accepting more students into the Studio Art program means more opportunities for everyone to en- gage with art made by Oberlin students at their up- coming exhibitions, and for less-experienced artists to be inspired to create work themselves.

“These shows are very participatory,” said Steinman. “Oberlin students can affect how shows go by being responsive — not necessarily by being critical, but by relating themselves to the work.”

Schuster said, “Keep your eyes open.”