School of Art blurring boundaries

At the Yale School of Art, students in the graphic design concentration produce sculptures and video, painters use the Internet as a medium, and sculptors incorporate photographs into their work. But while students are used to mixing disciplines, academic departments are still in the process of adapting.

School of Art Dean Robert Storr said the merging of artistic spheres has been a goal of the school in recent years. The move is part of a larger trend, taking hold at art schools nationwide, to blur the boundaries between artistic disciplines since many artists today incorporate different media into their practice, Associate Dean Sam Messer ART ’82 explained.

At Yale, the School of Art has attempted to integrate its four departments (painting/printmaking, sculpture, photography, and graphic design) over the past few years. For example, the school constructed the 32 Edgewood gallery to house different departments, created an art theory and practice course for all students, and, this year, launched a new interdisciplinary lecture series.

“If you go into the graphic design thesis show, you might think you’re in the sculpture show,” Messer said. “It totally has broken down from what would be considered traditional modes.”

Some schools — including the California Institute of the Arts, which is consistently ranked among the top art schools in the country — have gone so far as to eliminate departments altogether.

“Most other schools are just one interdisciplinary facility,” Messer said. “Yale is getting more and more unique in maintaining its different departments.”

At Yale, the most visible step toward a more interdisciplinary system has been the sculpture department’s move to the 55,100-square-foot building on 32 Edgewood in 2009. Before, the School of Art’s facilities had been divided since 1973, with Hammond Hall, near Ingalls Rink, housing the sculpture department. When the 32 Edgewood building opened, the different departments were finally housed in neighboring buildings, which Storr said was a goal of the construction. The proximity among departments helps to encourage dialogue across the fields, he said.

Meanwhile, the “Monday Night Lecture Series” — a group of lectures meant to appeal to the entire school — is the most recent effort in the movement to encourage interaction among the disciplines. Rather than hosting lectures aimed toward a specific department, Storr said, the new series will bring in speakers to address issues relevant to students across the departments.

All art graduate students are also required to take “Critical Practice,” a course on art theory and practice, in their first term of study. Each section of the course is structured to have a roughly equal number of students from each department, Director of Academic Affairs Patricia DeChiara said in an e-mail.

An important part of encouraging interdisciplinary work is creating social events for students across disciplines, Messer said. For instance, every few weeks throughout the year, Messer himself hosts a Sunday evening interdepartmental conversation with students. One student from each department is invited to bring in a piece, and the entire group discusses the work.

“As an artist, when you get out into the real world, the way you survive and the way you thrive is by having conversations with people who do different things,” Messer said. “You need to be prepared to be open to different conversations.”

Barkev Gulesserian ART ’11 said he thinks interaction with students in other disciplines is the norm in the art practice around him today.

“It’s a postmodern staple that artists would do everything under the sun,” Gulesserian said. “Some people complain sometimes that there are [still] any brackets between the departments. They just find that antiquated.”

Still, in the past year especially, budget adjustments have made maintaining the school’s new interdisciplinary programs difficult, Storr said. Anything expendable — from social events to printing costs — has been cut in favor of maintaining faculty and student scholarships, he said.

“We have to be frugal,” Storr said. “I’m literally counting pencils.”

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