Art department struggles with online conversion

Jessica GuerrucciManaging Editor 

Amanda CavotoArts & Entertainment Editor 

When it comes to the arts – whether it be painting, sculpting or playing an instrument – Studio Art Professor of Drawing and Painting Professor Thuan Vu said it requires a more engaged approach.

“What you are teaching is very hands-on,” said Vu. “You are making a physical product and the education that we offer students is personalized, in-person, hands-on making of objects.”

After the university made the announcement it would be shutting down for five days beginning on March 11 and into spring break, students were told when they “return” their classes would be entirely online until at least April 5.

Studio Art Professor of Ceramics Greg Cochenet said while the shutdown was “hasty” – having been announced Tuesday night – it was also “understandable.”

However, he said it left students scrambling.

“The handful of students that I’ve spoken to and seen this morning, they’re freaking out. Not just about the art projects,” said Cochenet. “It feels very rushed for [students.]”

Cochenet said he thought he was going to be able to meet his students on Wednesday to explain online procedures, but the abrupt closing gave him no choice but to send out an email instead.

While he was anticipating classes going completely online after spring break, Cochenet said the total shutdown came as a surprise.

Students, Cochenet said were allowed to take clay and tools home to work on their projects, but not all the equipment required for the class can be removed from the classroom.

“I can’t let them take a wheel home,” said Cochenet. “I can’t let them take a kiln home.”

Given that it had been less than 24 hours since the shutdown, Vu said that he is doing the best he can to get students all the necessary supplies, such as canvases and paint, before spring break and going online.

He said he and other professors sent out emails to students after they were notified of the closing to come and pick up their supplies.

“Our students aren’t rich for the most part,” said Vu, “and so we can’t say ‘Go out and buy another pallet, buy new paints,’ because if you have your paints in your lockers, we can’t have you go out and do that.”

Making himself available for students to pick their supplies up, Vu said, is as much as he and other faculty can do for their students as of right now.

While he is trying to work on getting students access to materials, Cochenet said the clay experience is no longer possible.

“Because everyone’s situation is different, I can’t expect everyone to actually work with clay at home,” Cochenet said.

Photography major Kara Catapano, a sophomore, said the conversion to online classes is “limiting her education,” by restricting her ability to learn from a classroom.

“My painting professor helps me a lot with trying to figure out how to make things look the best,” said Catapano. “Doing everything on my own will be hard.”

Art education major, Johnathan Geraldino, a senior, said the transition to online classes is “inconvenient” as it impacts both students and faculty.

“Your experience is just not as good as it would be if school hadn’t been closed,” said Geraldino.

Drawing and painting, he said are “applied” experiences, and while digital art could be done online, having an instructor in the room when creating art makes a “big difference.”

“Once I stopped taking drawing and painting and classes I just wasn’t — I had such an artist’s block that I just wasn’t working as well,” said Geraldino.

When professors are in the room, Geraldino said they act as mentors to students, helping them understand what they are doing right and wrong and pushing them to do more creative work.

Cochenet said online classes cannot replicate the actual learning in his courses.

If the university does reopen the academic side of campus, Cochenet said he will make a connection to the online work in their final projects, but it is “not a ceramic experience,” it will only be an artistic one in terms of design and decoration.

“In a beginning pottery class,” Cochenet said, “a majority of the emphasis is learning the technique of throwing on the wheel.”

Cochenet said missing two weeks on-ground after spring break is a “speed bump,” but he is not quite prepared to go online for the rest of the semester because “that further changes the experience.”

“It is not a clay experience. Nowhere near that,” said Cochenet. “It will be an artistic experience, it will be a creative experience, but it is not clay. It is not ceramics.”

While Catapano said for some of her classes she thinks she can adapt, but not for all.

“Some of my classes are fine online,” said Catapano. “You can just take a picture of your work and submit it.”

As a photography major, Catapano said she relies on professors’ critiques and equipment only accessible through the university.

“For painting and my darkroom class, which is developing your own pictures,” Catapano said, “you need to be in the lab for it, it’s very hard and it conflicts a lot.”

Another potential issue was for Geraldino, who is a university assistant, is whether or not he will be paid during the closing and for two weeks the university goes online.

Geraldino said during the first day of the shutdown he had to spend his day cleaning canvases instead of helping students with their art.

“It sucks,” Geraldino said. “The whole spring break is going to suck because I’m not going to get those hours, but now it’s a month.”

As new events unfold and more information regarding further response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Vu said everyone will be learning about the process of going online as they go along.

Students, according to Cochenet now have half a semester with in-person instruction.

“Whatever we do online, it’s a placeholder,” said Cochenet.

Photo Credit: Amanda Cavoto 

See our Instagram for more accompanying pictures



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