School of Fine Arts Still Flourishing: How departments have been adjusting

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While the transition to online classes has been hard for many, it has been especially difficult for those in UConn’s School of Fine Arts. Their work often requires specific rooms and equipment as well as much more hands on work than is capable in their new setting.  Photo via sfa.uconn.edu

While the transition to online classes has been hard for many, it has been especially difficult for those in UConn’s School of Fine Arts. Their work often requires specific rooms and equipment as well as much more hands on work than is capable in their new setting. Photo via sfa.uconn.edu

Departments on campus have been adjusting in different ways since the transition to online coursework. However, for some, the change can be difficult to facilitate with the nature of their classes, such as with the School of Fine Arts. The hands-on and visual components of their learning can prove tricky to replicate; however, faculty and students are making the best of it. Assistant professor of printmaking John O’Donnell, in the art and art history department, shares some of the changes the school has implemented in this unprecedented time.

“I think the biggest challenge for art students is the social aspect of the studio, [as] studio courses are much more conversational than other courses,” O’Donnell said in an email. He mentioned how studio classrooms are “communities” and the students within them depend on each other. “In a studio 12-14 people spend six hours a week together sharing materials and stories — that social connection is a huge part of being an art student.”

Despite the big change, O’Donnell recognizes the flexibility of both students and faculty when adjusting to online courses.

“As a professor I have realized online teaching isn’t ‘good’ or ‘bad,’ it is just different,” O’Donnell said. “I am used to seeing projects materialize in real time and space, so that is change I didn’t anticipate … my physical absence allows students to become more independent as they work remotely, I am learning a lot about myself as an educator through this process.”

Students from different programs report certain struggles in adjusting, but support the successes coming out of the school.


Many fine arts students are struggling to make the adjustment with their courses. Where they would almost always work hands-on with partners they now have to communicate through zoom.  File Photo/The Daily Campus.

Many fine arts students are struggling to make the adjustment with their courses. Where they would almost always work hands-on with partners they now have to communicate through zoom. File Photo/The Daily Campus.

“I’ve personally struggled with the transition, but it’s been great to see some online classes flourishing,” Alexandra Ose, a sixth-semester design and technical production major, said.

The school has had to become accustomed to the lack of access to particular resources and classrooms.

“Most of what is learned and practiced in a studio art class is dependent upon a uniquely designed classroom,” O’Donnell said, comparing art classrooms to laboratories as opposed to like lecture halls. “Students no longer have access to these specialized spaces, and professors have done an impressive job inventing unique ways to facilitate art learning.”

For students whose work has more emotional and interpersonal  aspects, the transition has also proven difficult.

“I think the design and technical students have had it a bit easier than the acting majors,” Mack Lynn Gauthier, a sixth-semester design and technical theater major with a concentration in sound design, said, acknowledging the difficulty of the adjustment. “How are you supposed to do scenes with partners realistically over Zoom? It’s hard to transition when your entire major is based off of human interaction and communication.”

However, the students and faculty are working together through these obstacles as artists.

“Artists are familiar with facing adversity,” O’Donnell said. Different areas of art have required specific adaptations in the transition. “I teach printmaking, which depends on large printing presses and a specialized space, we have adapted using small kits students purchase online and thankfully, a lot of artists have developed clever DIY techniques we are using.”

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Most of what is learned and practiced in a studio art class is dependent upon a uniquely designed classroom. Students no longer have access to these specialized spaces, and professors have done an impressive job inventing unique ways to facilitate art learning.
— John O’Donnell

The annual BFA Exhibition, which showcases the culmination of many students’ work, will be held online this year, presenting its own challenges.

“The essence of an exhibition is work being experienced firsthand and the opening is a social gathering and a celebration,” O’Donnell described. “Studio art majors concentrating in graphic design, photography, illustration, painting and sculpture will share their work online rather than in a physical gallery setting.”

The online exhibit will be able to be accessed on Instagram and on the fine arts department website, and a physical publication available through a print on-demand service. This is the first time the exhibition, which is expected to be up by May 4, will be represented in all three venues. A link and Instagram account will be shared closer to the opening of the exhibit.

“It is a huge let-down for these hard-working students ,” O’Donnell said. “The lack of a physical exhibition and a large opening will feel anticlimactic, but the online exhibition and catalogue will be a smart and accessible way to represent their efforts.”

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Hollie Lao is a staff writer and the social media manager for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at hollianne.lao@uconn.edu.

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