Perspectives: Newsletter of the College of Arts & Sciences

Wading into the Art World

Rachael Faust and Curt Labitzke
Rachael Faust and Curt Labitzke. Photo by Danielle Comeaux.

“What can I do with an art degree?”

Advisers and faculty in the School of Art frequently hear that question, especially in tough economic times.   A new course for entering freshmen, offered jointly by the School of Art (SoA) and the Henry Art Gallery, provides some answers.  

Art 101, held at the Henry Art Gallery, is an introduction to the visual arts at the UW and beyond.  The course encourages students to view and discuss art and design, discover art and design opportunities at the UW, and learn how art and design can be integrated into one’s life and career. It’s like “a fun, enjoyable field trip to the art world,” enthuses freshman participant Mike Luan.

Students take the class in conjunction with one of four introductory studio art courses—photography, ceramics, industrial design, or alternative approaches to art and design. “What art majors want to do more than anything is to make things,” explains Judi Clark, SoA director of academic advising and student services. “But what you don’t get in the studio class where you make things is the larger introduction to the art world that the students will be in one day.”

To provide that introduction, Art 101 instructors Curt Labitzke, associate professor of art, and Rachael Faust, Henry Art Gallery assistant curator of collections and academic programs, have invited numerous guest speakers to class, representing all parts of the art world from practicing artists to gallery owners to museum curators to product designers.  By the end of the quarter, students will have heard from 20 or more guests as part of themed panels.

“Almost all of the speakers have told their own story, so students see the variety of paths people take and where you can end up in the art world,” says Faust. “Being exposed to so many people, someone’s story is sure to resonate with them.”

Students take notes in the Henry Art Gallery.
Students study artwork at the Henry Art Gallery for an art analysis
assignment. Photo by Curt Labitzke.

For freshman Szilvia Kulcsar, the guest panels have been a favorite part of the class.  “It’s an awesome way to see into the different niches of the art world,” she says. “I can’t pinpoint a favorite session, but I really like hearing the different stories of artists and how they made it into the art world.”

The presentations spark numerous questions. Some get answered during Q&A sessions; others make their way to faculty through the “daily”—a sheet each student hands in at the end of each class with three questions, comments, or concerns. 

The questions range from ambitious (How do I start a gallery?) to provocative (Can anyone take a photograph and call it art?) to personal (How do I manage a professional life with a personal life?). Labitzke looks for common themes and responds to a handful of questions each week via an email to the entire class. “The answer to most questions is ‘Hard work and not a lot of sleep,’” quips Labitzke, only half joking.

Students can also get answers from Art 101 interns. Four seniors majoring in art or design serve as interns, each working with one-fourth of the 80-student class on assignments. “The interns bring a student view that none of the rest of us can bring,” says Clark. “Sometimes that can be the most powerful view.”

"Almost all of the speakers have told their own story, so
students see the variety of paths people take and where you
can end up in the art world. Being exposed to so many people,
someone's story is sure to resonate with them."

Class assignments are also designed to introduce students to many aspects of the art world.  After learning the basics of art analysis from an art historian, students analyze a work in a current Henry exhibit. After learning about site-specific artwork, they propose an artwork for the Henry’s sculpture court.  After hearing personal stories from people in the art world, they interview someone in the local art community and share their findings with the class.

Art 101 students work on a group project.
Group projects,including proposing an artwork for the
Henry Art Gallery sculpture court, are an opportunity for
freshmen to get to know each other. Photo by Curt Labitzke.

For the upcoming final project, students will create an artwork of their own in response to two pieces they’ve seen in the Henry. The works will be exhibited in the School of Art’s Jacob Lawrence Gallery at the end of the quarter. During a gallery reception, students will discuss their work.

“I think that will bring the class full circle,” says Labitzke. “First the students view artwork on the walls of the Henry, then they hear from artists and others in the art world, and finally they create something that goes on the wall of a gallery, in a non-intimidating environment.“

Labitzke and Faust hope that lessons learned in Art 101 will help students make the most of their time at the UW. Through the class, students make connections with their peers, meet School of Art faculty, learn about art and design careers, and explore the Henry Art Gallery. What they do with all this information is up to them.

“I was not expecting to pursue an art career or even take art as a major,” says Mike Luan, who arrived at the UW with programming experience and visions of an engineering degree. “Now I feel it’s important for me to keep taking art courses, even if I’m not going to be an art major. This course has made me see that art applies anywhere.”

Return to Table of Contents, November 2011 issue

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November 2011

Table of Contents
From the Dean:
Timely and Timeless
Yang's Stylish "W Day"
David Horsey on the
Liberal Arts
Online Video Tours Celebrate UW's Colorful History
Bringing Melville to Monroe
Stuller Gets Her Geek On
Wading into the Art World
Observing in Tunisia
Awards, Honors, & Professorships


A&S Perspectives

Nancy Joseph

A&S Dean's Office
50 Communications Building
Box 353765
University of Washington
Seattle, WA 98195-3765

(206) 543-5340 phone
(206) 543-5462 fax