(a lot of quanitifying parentheses)

shadyln: new student work in photography and digital media
Pump Project Art Complex
Opening Reception: Friday, April 11, 7-10pm
Gallery Hours: M 5-8pm; W-Sa 1-6pm
Through April 26

The Photocomm students from my alma mater, St. Ed’s, are having an opening at PPAC this Friday. It’s classic liberal arts-influenced work, composed like a well-argued paper: drawing from diverse sources, intelligent (in both head and heart), sincere and polished. I wouldn’t use any bad art words beginning with a “C” to describe it (conservative, cautious, conventional), in fact I think this perspective helps a wider audience of viewers feel a connection with the subject matter, because as liberal arts students, they are engaged with the world on many levels, not just through artistic process but also through demanding courses in the humanities that require a lot of reading and high standards for writing skills. I think this approach works for photography since, as enhanced as it may be by process or computer through the artist’s eyes, is still a record, an observation of a physical thing in the world. Now before you wonderful people go ape-shit and accuse me of saying that Photography is not Art, I’m not saying that makes it a “lower” medium than, say, painting. Printmaking has its own ambiguities in terms of the human hand and the extent of its involvement in the finished piece. Photography does capture essence, mood, and truth in a special way that no other medium can – things that qualify it as a form of visual art.

That aside, in coughing up a press release for this show, it brought back some reflection on things I’ve always known about my education but that the distance of a few years makes it ready to bring out into the open. While art and photocomm departments don’t necessarily discourage experimentation, I occasionally feel a bit behind as an artist from the lack of resources (practical faculty advice, technical knowledge, too many non-art majors in classes) I experienced as an art major there. As a graphic designer, I was pushed by my mentors during a 3-year long internship to open up as a person and grow my skills as a professional. I feel this helped me much further along in my career than the piece of paper I received upon graduation.

Now I’m just postulating here – if I’m wrong, then turn me upside down and paint me blue – but UT’s art and design programs seem to encourage undergrads to be more experimental, but much of the work I see coming out from seniors and graduates is the opposite of St. Ed’s. Words that come to mind are ironic, comical, introspective, indirect, cerebral. I’ve mentored a few UT design students, have run into this approach a lot: inventive designs but not a lot of practicality. I once asked a student to design a creative poster for a major event. As it turned out, he put all the important details (time, date, etc.) in 6pt font, and the rest was white space. This type of thing happened a lot with various students. They were very bright, but very silent (I’m a reserved person so me calling someone quiet is like saying they have the personality of a brick). Who knows? Maybe each was a fluke. The St. Ed’s students who worked under me were not very precocious as designers, but they had a better sense of how to communicate the message and work with others.

I’m not saying that one school is better than the other. I’m grateful that I attended a university that promoted “real world” knowledge and showed me the importance of good verbal and written communication. But I also feel that the experimental execution and tone of irony so prevalent in the hyped, emerging Austin artists has rubbed off on my work since I graduated. It’s hard not to be influenced, especially since I’m so involved organizing shows at PPAC. I think because I wasn’t immersed in an experimental practice during my formative early undergrad years, it’s still kind of a bizarre-o approach for me. I doubt myself very seriously when I do experiment, yet I feel it’s fundamental to growing as an artist.

Yes, I know, they’re all formative years. If you’ve graduated with an art degree, what’s your take on your post-secondary education? How has it benefited or stunted you?

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