Sculptors find silver linings in online learning

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A single banana, a packet of Starburst candies and a bottle of hand sanitizer. Despite the challenges online learning poses — including the loss of access to facilities and in-person studio time — sculpture students have continued to create art out of the things around them. 

Lacking traditional studio spaces and some materials, these students have had to adapt to virtual classes. Although the new format has posed certain difficulties, some students say they have experienced unexpected benefits such as the discovery of new mediums and circumstance-specific themes. 

“The cool thing about contemporary art is you can make sculpture and art with just about anything,” said Dana Hemenway, a San Francisco-based artist who began teaching ARTSTUDI 151: “Sculpture I” and ARTSTUDI 252: “Sculpture II” in September. “That maybe blurs the boundaries between photography, performance video, physical objects.”

Various academic departments have taken steps to mitigate the challenges of online learning. For example, some students in chemistry courses which normally require facilities and materials received lab kits. In the art and art history department, some professors sent students supplies to help replicate the studio environment at home. Hemenway said that her students were sent 3D printers to use for their assignments.

Kaylee Nok ’22, an art practice major who took Sculpture I in the fall, said that one of the most striking changes to her art classes has been the lack of interaction with peers in studios. On campus, she enjoyed “being able to work in a space with other people and seeing other people create while I create,” Nok said. “So one of the hardest things about remote learning is kind of not having that space.”

Collaboration in the form of in-class critique has still continued as an essential feature of these classes, Nok told The Daily. However, as some classes were cut to an hour and a half from two hours, there has been less time for class critique and mutual feedback on projects, she said.

Hemenway said that students managed to delve deep into conceptual inquiries “and how to push their ideas and intent.” But she said it was difficult to support technical explorations, such as questions during the actual creation of the projects, due to the online nature of the classes.

Noah DeWald ’21, who has contributed to The Daily’s arts & life section, said that fall quarter was tough for students because studio time and collaborative aspects of art studio courses were reduced. But he praised the art and art history department’s flexibility and accommodations and said that it made efforts “to make sure that people are having a good learning experience.”

Parts of the curriculum were adjusted to accommodate online instruction, according to Hemenway. For example, tutorials on the woodshop and metalshop were not possible virtually. Instead, students learned about other mediums for sharing work, including the online file-sharing service Box, an online file-sharing service. 

Students’ artwork was displayed through screenshots and video recordings on online platforms such as Zoom. Although the experience differed significantly from the past, it had some added benefits, including expanding students’ creative horizons, according to Amado Shrestha ’23. He explained that even if a student’s chosen medium is sculpture, “it changes,” because students share their work “via photography and video.”

Some students incorporated current events and virtual elements into their pieces. One of Nok’s class presentations was based on the theme of COVID-19, where some students incorporated Zoom into their final presentation by using the interface to screenshot their pieces. 

“It’s interesting to see how these new things that we’re interacting with kind of play into our art and influence our creative process,” Nok said. 

Contact Yong-Yu Huang at yyhuang ‘at’ student.dalat.org 

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Yong-Yu Huang is a high schooler taking part in The Daily's Winter Journalism Workshop.