by MaryAlice Bitts-Jackson
At 11 a.m. it was a bright-white slab of wall outside the Goodyear Studio, but by 11:15, a smattering of brushstrokes had appeared. After an hour, a riot of yellow burst out on the wall’s far-left side, but as yet, there were no elements to pull this mural together—no agreed-upon, unifying theme.
For five-and-a-half hours, the 17 muralists—14 students in Associate Professor of Art Todd Arsenault’s studio-art class, along with two professors and professional muralist Paul Manlove—slathered paint on the wall, standing back every now and then to examine their contributions and to discuss what should happen next.
Arsenault says that it was challenging for some students, at first, to make group decisions, since, like most artists, they were accustomed to working on their own. They also had to learn to think quickly and critically and to play off each other’s improvisations. And because they were painting in a public space, they were not able to work in a vacuum. They became more aware of what others' responses to their work might be.
Some came and went throughout the afternoon, but others, like art & art-history majors Lucas Kang ’16 and Elizabeth Wilford ’16, stayed on, watching transfixed as a group aesthetic slowly emerged. “It was extremely interesting to see each other’s work develop and to be able to change each other’s work as we went along, and it was freeing and fun to just paint whatever you thought the work needed at the time,” said Kang. "I learned that my own work could be completely changed and improved through others' help and collaboration."
The Public Art Wall project is just one of the ways that art & art history majors interact with working professionals in their field, as visiting artists deliver talks, present new works and critique student projects throughout the year. According to Arsenault, plans are in the works to create even more opportunities for collaborative art-making in the months to come.
Wilford is ready to sign up. “It was an awesome experience to work with a professional artist like Paul—and I think every art student should do it,” Wilford said. “The feedback you get is irreplaceable.”
Published October 4, 2013