Seminar adds to intro art offerings

In a year in which the Art Department has added two new introductory-level classes targeting majors and non-majors alike, a college seminar on art offered this semester is explicitly designed for Yalies in other majors.

“Drawing and Thought: An Exploration of Visual Literacy,” a college seminar co-sponsored by Saybrook and Timothy Dwight colleges, is meant to allow non-art majors the chance to explore the connection between thought processes and visual expression, said professor Martha Lewis ART ’93, who teaches the class. Although students said they chose Lewis’s class because it offers them a somewhat less intense alternative to typical introductory art classes, the Art Department added introductory digital photography and digital video classes this year in an effort to provide more classes that would be accessible to non-majors.

Lewis said her course is designed to hone students’ cognitive skills beyond artistic disciplines.

“The point of the class is basically to get drawing to be a part of the thinking process for students, no matter what kind of field they go into, because it’s a way of expanding how you think about things,” Lewis said. “The idea is to give them a groundwork so that they can use drawing to inform their decision-making. People who know how to draw and think through drawing have a huge advantage.”

Students taking her class keep a notebook for sketches and note-taking, Lewis said, and perform exercises that relate to other disciplines, including statistics and cartography.

Lewis said she thinks her class helps fill a gap in the Yale curriculum.

“There really aren’t any drawing classes available for non-art majors,” she said. “The drawing classes that are offered by the Art Department get filled up rather quickly. That was one of the things that was talked about with me when I applied for the seminar program. They wanted something non-art majors could do.”

There is often a squeeze for spaces in introductory art courses, said lecturer Clint Jukkala ART ’98, who teaches “Painting Basics.”

“There seems to be a lot of demand for this class,” he said. “I had over 40 people show up the first day. I’m only able to take 15 because of the size of the room.”

Jukkala said he tells students whom he must turn away from the class that they can usually get into an introductory-level art class at a different time or during a different semester if they are persistent.

But professor Sandra Luckow ’87, who teaches several film studies classes, said she has seen the number of students majoring in art and film studies generally decline over the last several years, though every spot in her introductory-level “The Language of Film Workshop” this semester was filled.

Luckow said that at a Film Studies Committee meeting in the first month of school, professors reported that enrollment was down across the board. The drop in numbers may be due in part to students’ preference for making movies on their own time, as opposed to doing it as part of a class, she said.

“It’s much sexier to be able to go and say, ‘I’m making a 90-minute feature in my spare time’ as opposed to taking this class where I have to write and rewrite and film and refilm for credit this film that no one is ever going to see,” Luckow said. “I think if you can do it outside of class, it’s much more seductive for the students.”

Charles Alvarez ’09, a student in Lewis’ class, said he finds her course refreshing because it has qualities that fit between those of a more rigorous art class and a fun extracurricular activity.

“I don’t feel like I’m doing work for a class,” Alvarez said. “I feel like I’m doing work for fun or to explore a different part of me.”

Haley Warden ’08, who is also taking Lewis’ class, said she enjoys it because it allows her to think visually without the onerous workloads of some other art classes.

“I had taken a drawing class in high school and really liked it and then didn’t do anything with drawing until this fall, when I took ‘Introduction to Architecture,'” said Warden, an East Asian studies major. “The commitment to architecture … is pretty intense, and I didn’t want to do that this term, but I wanted to keep up drawing and visual thinking and doing something different from just reading and writing and the occasional problem set.”

Students in “Basic Painting” work on their projects. New course offerings provide opportunities for non-majors to take art classes.
Robin Swartout
Students in “Basic Painting” work on their projects. New course offerings provide opportunities for non-majors to take art classes.

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