Rites of ArtGAMBIER, Ohio (March 17, 2005) It's March at Kenyon and it's time for the annual senior art exhibits, a delightful rite of spring for the campus-and, for the art students, an intense but rewarding rite of passage that few undergraduates outside of conservatory programs ever experience.
This spring, there are 12 studio art majors, each of whom has devoted a full year to producing a thematically focused body of work as part of the required Senior Exercise. In addition to taking two courses that help them prepare, they hone their ideas, create and refine the art, submit works-in-progress to critiques from their classmates, return to their cluttered individual studios to create and refine some more, write artist's statements, mount the shows in the College's Olin Art Gallery, do all the publicity, and discuss their work with each member of the art faculty in an "oral defense."
The shows begin running in March, with three students exhibiting at one time. There are four week-long shows in all, with the final exhibit scheduled to run through April 16. They're among the most popular shows of the year, with the artists' friends and families packing the gallery during the opening receptions to offer congratulations and support. The Olin Gallery, located on the ground floor of the Olin Library, is open from 8:30 a.m. to 8:00 p.m., Monday through Friday, and 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday.
"After this experience, the students are ready to go out and contact a gallery about exhibiting their work," says Professor of Art Claudia Esslinger, cochair of the art department. "They know what it takes. They know how to build a body of work; they know how to think about its connection to the broader world. They know how to present a portfolio to graduate schools or in a work situation."
They also learn much more than they would if they simply mounted a retrospective show of work they'd done in their four years of college-the practice at some schools, according to Esslinger. Instead, they push themselves to more sophisticated levels of expression and formal presentation. Above all, they explore and develop a unified theme, perhaps a long-time personal interest or a concept that melds art with their other academic pursuits. "It's an ideal liberal-arts experience," says Esslinger, "a way of integrating insights from different disciplines."