COVID-19 outbreak challenges Texas State art community’s success

Usually wandering the halls and studios of Texas State’s Joann Cole Mitte building are creative minds and colorful palettes. For many students, this is the place where they are able to create freely while surrounded by encouragement and inspiration.

Since online classes have become a reality, the university community has expressed mixed emotions and some studio art students feel cheated of their education.

Because the art and design program is a hands-on heavy field of study, students need access to campus art studios to complete their assignments. Devon Smith, studio art metals senior, said he works on the majority of his assignments in the university’s metal studio.

For the past week, Smith has been working on his assignments off-campus in his garage at home. Although Smith has a few tools and materials set up at home, he said his space is nothing compared to what the metal studio offers.

Since the extension of remote learning was announced, Smith said he has yet to hear from faculty if he and other art students will have studio access for the rest of the semester.

“I’m not sure that it’s going to be possible or allowed,” Smith said. “I’m sure they’re scrambling as much as we are to figure this stuff out.”

If access to campus studios is cut off, Smith said studio art students will be severely impacted. He said the average student does not have the ability to work on their pieces at home.

“Over the years I’ve bought the tools that I need but the average art student does not have an acetylene torch or cleaning acids or anything like that at home,” Smith said. “We can do the lecture part and turn in written assignments online but as far as making the art, it makes it a serious problem for us.”

For graduating studio art students, Smith said they are required to create a series of artwork to be showcased in the program’s “BFA Thesis Exhibition” inside the Texas State Galleries at Joann Cole Mitte. Smith has been working on the artwork for the exhibit since the start of fall last year. However, due to the coronavirus outbreak, Smith said the thesis exhibition opening was canceled.

“I’ve been cooped up in the studio for three or four years now working on this metals degree and I understand why they had to cancel it,” Smith said. “I think it’s a good idea that they did given the circumstances but it still is a little bit disappointing.”

Karly Schlievert, studio art ceramics senior, was in the process of completing her artwork for the thesis exhibition as well. Schlievert planned on creating a series of five busts of feminine-looking forms that would have been displayed on a large platform area.

The “BFA Thesis Exhibition” will now take place virtually Monday, May 4 on the School of Art and Design’s website. Schlievert said the program asked all graduating studio art students to submit photos of their work for the online show. However, Schlievert said many students are hesitant about the show due to the inconsistency that will arise with everyone taking different pictures of their work in their homes and apartments.

As a graduating senior, Schlievert said she feels denied of an important transitional period in her life now that her thesis exhibit will not be as she envisioned. She said exhibitions shows are art students’ lifeblood because it is how they get eyes on their work.

“It’s a big thing for my career, it’s a big thing to put on my resume,” Schlievert said. “I feel like I’m missing out not just on the making of the work but the transitional period of my life.”

Now that classes will be online, Schlievert said it will be difficult for art students to work on any physical artwork over the internet. She said classes that require studio use will be implementing research-based projects rather than hands-on work.

Schlievert said she feels like she is not receiving the quality education she signed up for. She said students are not utilizing the resources that they have paid for and have not heard from the university if they will receive any of their money back.

“We paid to use these facilities,” Schlievert said. “We need these facilities and we need the community and the feedback.”

As of now, there has been no announcement on whether campus art studios will be open for student use. Mattie Myers, studio art metals junior, is a studio monitor for the metals department. As a studio monitor, Myers supervises the studio and works on studio maintenance.

During spring break, Myers said students needed to call ahead to come in and only 10 students were allowed in the studio. Myers said she has not been notified if the studio will have limited hours or if it will even be open for student use for the remainder of the semester.

Myers said online classes will effect art students differently than other students because studio time is essential to learn how to work with different materials and as a result, she feels cheated out of a proper education.

“We have art classes and we’re supposed to be shown things in person,” Myers said. “We feel like its kind of unfair but what else can be done?”

In the studio, Myers said she focuses on creating sculpture jewelry as well as fun and funky pieces made with alternative materials such as plastic, craft supplies and beads. Myers said she is in the studio Monday through Saturday. If studio access is officially restricted, Myers said she would mostly miss the camaraderie and encouraging spirit of the space.

“The community I’m going to miss the most and just the peace of being there,” Myers said. “I’d miss the peers, the tranquility of being able to be there and the certainty of being able to be there.”

Although she expected the university would extend remote learning for the rest of the semester, Hayley McGaugh, studio art ceramics senior, said she is upset. She feels that her progress this semester will come to a halt. She said she was looking forward to practicing new skills in her classes but fears that it will no longer be a possibility through online learning.

“In my printmaking class I had a big assignment and I thought I would challenge myself and try a new skill,” McGaugh said. “I can’t do that at all this semester because any type of printmaking that I wanted to do this semester is off the table.”

McGaugh said her education relies on learning the curriculum through hands-on skills demonstrated by professionals in her field. She said she feels most of her professors are struggling to figure out how demonstrations, hands-on learning and critiques will work in an online class.

“It’s not super clear from my studio professors how we’re going to proceed with the rest of the semester,” McGaugh said. “I think a lot of us art majors are really scared because we have absolutely no idea how it will translate at all.”

In addition to her academic success feeling jeopardized, McGaugh said she feels disappointed with how her role in extracurricular activities has been affected by the cancelation of events.

McGaugh is the vice president of Texas State’s Ceramics Art Student Association. Several members of CASA, including McGaugh, were set to attend the National Council on Education for the Ceramics Arts conference this week in Richmond, Virginia. The conference was canceled due to coronavirus concerns.

McGaugh said the conference is an opportunity for students to meet professional artists in the ceramics field. She said the cancelation affected students in their ability to meet individuals and better themselves as artists.

“That’s something that I and many other students were really excited about—getting that opportunity to meet artists working in the field and making a living doing it,” McGaugh said.

CASA and Middle Grey, Texas State’s photography club, also had a collaborative show that was canceled due to coronavirus concerns. McGaugh said both CASA and Middle Grey were in the process of revamping their clubs and decided to put on a show that showcased how photography and ceramics interacted.

“This was going to be an opportunity for us as students to locate a gallery space and put a show on our own, which is literally huge to put on your resume,” McGaugh said.

The show was supposed to take place in Austin at the end of April. Many members of both organizations had begun collaborating and experimenting with different ways to print on clay.

“It really broke our hearts having to cancel our show because it was going to be something that would bring our club not just to the forefront of our departments but bring our club into the community,” McGaugh said.

With everything going on outside of school, McGaugh said she is in an odd space where she feels unmotivated and confused. She said she does not believe that the university has been very transparent with what is going to happen with online classes.

“So much is happening in the world and having to figure out how to do studio classes online is such a tiny grain compared to the pandemic that is happening,” McGaugh said. “I feel very hurt because I don’t even understand how it’s going to work.”

The University Star’s continuing COVID-19 coverage can be found here.


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