Three Laughs by Ben Dunn

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Summer Learning

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Submitted on September 29, 2019 - 9:02pm

We asked one undergraduate from each of the School's divisions to write about a summer experience. Learning comes in many forms and takes place both on campus and farther afield.

Ren Nguyen

Division of Art

In mid-August, I had the privilege of attending a workshop at Anderson Ranch Arts Center in Colorado through the School's partnership scholarship program with the ranch. I elected to take a two-week workshop called Alternative Processes in Clay with Kate Roberts, an artist who works primarily with unfired clay and was a full-time lecturer in 3D4M at UW recently. I was excited by the prospect of experiencing her approaches to instruction, as I hadn't gotten a chance to take a class with her during her time at UW. The class description also aligned with the development of my relationship with clay, which began by experimentation with its metaphorical qualities and using it as a conduit for communicating my ideas around material, gesture, and creative process.

In the undulating relationship between myself and clay, this course found itself at another peak of my marvel at its materiality, creative stimulation, and opening to the vastness of its technical and conceptual potentials. I was not only provided with an array of clay recipes tailored to the various functions clay can serve but also an approach to material that was playful, curious, unconventional, and collectively built. The ways I learned to work-through-play as well as the sense of community bred from committing to letting go of conventional knowledge of material are attitudes I look forward to translating into my studio practice.

The experience was also enriching in considering my own navigation in the larger art world. As the workshop experience at Anderson Ranch is quite expensive and therefore not very accessible, many of the attendees relied on some sort of scholarship to be there. Without the scholarship students, the demographic of students at Anderson Ranch would have been mostly homogenous — comprised of wealthy, mostly White people participating in workshops as a retirement hobby. My time at Anderson Ranch was a constant reminder of the dependence of financial aid in the form of scholarships, fellowships, grants, etc., for many artists of marginalized backgrounds to have access to opportunities like the one I was given to cultivate one's skills, build artistic community, and add to a CV, therefore advancing their careers as artists. Much of the scholarship money that Anderson Ranch gives comes from individual donors and money made at the auctions where people are invited to purchase artwork by students and faculty. The notion that diversity in the art world depends on the accessibility of these experiences and that such scholarships often rely on a plutocratic system reminded me of my own internal interrogation of my current, desired, and intended positioning within an Art World that is essentially a macrocosm of these themes. Throughout my time at Anderson Ranch, I was juggling feelings of humbled gratitude to the institution of the UW and the individuals who selected me as the candidate for the scholarship, alongside deep and constantly unfolding questions of accessibility, positioning, institutional critique, and personal reconciliation.

I anticipate that my individual navigation through these issues won't ever cease to unravel and tangle, but I am grateful to the School and Anderson Ranch for providing me with this experience of engaging with materiality and a community of clay players, as well as helping me continue to develop the questions I'm constantly considering as an artist in a new and unfamiliar context.

Sara Greene

Division of Art History

I chose to take a summer course as a way to catch up before my final quarter at UW. I knew I wanted to do something creative, such as Art 140 (Basic Photography), for a few reasons. One, I am an Art History student and thoroughly enjoy making my own art that is heavily influenced by my studies. Two, I wanted a class that was a balance between artistically challenging but not so demanding that I would fall behind. Because, after all, this was a summer class and the rare Seattle sunshine can be a deterrent. I had some previous experience with photography but almost no experience with a DSLR camera or editing and thought that the photography class would be a perfect place to improve my skills. The course did confront the way I thought about photography and seeing. Specifically, how much forethought and decisions go into just one shot as well as how to convey meaning non-literally. This was especially challenging because many of my peers were coming from STEM backgrounds. A number of our projects were also exercises in how to talk about your own artwork and others' work, which can seem daunting when you have never presented artwork, especially if it is personal. This was a challenge I had to overcome and accept and, when it came down to it, there was no judgement. After taking this course, I felt a really strong desire to create more work outside of an academic setting. I felt inspired by the final projects myself and my peers created and set goals for myself to publish my work, something I was not completely comfortable with prior to taking this class.

Camille Vance

Division of Design

I love the feeling of holding my design work in my own two hands. Maybe this is why I was drawn to the 3-quarter-long "design fellow" position at the University of Washington Press, where my fondness for print and publication design could be explored.

The first three months of my internship this summer, working out of my spacious cubicle that I shared with the office light-box and piles of books from who-knows-when, have flown by. I've designed an original book cover and produced copious amounts of paperback book mechanicals. I'm fortunate enough to be working directly with the art director for the UW Press, and she has provided a window into the day-to-day responsibilities of an interior and exterior book designer. It's been a great trial run of evaluating whether a career in publication design might be a good fit for me, and I'm looking forward to the next six months in this position.

While engaged with my projects, I receive constructive critique from the art director, Katrina. Her feedback significantly improves the quality of my work, though I've started to realize that I miss the diverse critique I am accustomed to receiving from my design peers and professors in the studio. I sometimes pretend some of them are present in my cubicle to give honest critique on my projects and offer varied suggestions that force me to exercise my own design-intuition. It's the deep and broad, sometimes-messy peer critique that has had the most impact on honing my skills as a designer — skills that I've been able to trust and utilize in my work at the UW Press.

On top of the practical knowledge I've learned through this experience, I've gained insight into the style of workspace I benefit from and the value of my design community at the University of Washington, which I've realized I have totally taken for granted all these years. Am I set on becoming a publications designer now? To be honest, I'm still not completely sure — who knows, I might give that a swing. What I do know for sure is I am looking forward to working with diverse teams in the future, as I know that kind of environment will not only further my design abilities but will provide me with the tools I need to make decisions on my own. Thank you Design Class of 2020 for teaching me the value of varied minds and skillsets, for without yours I'm not sure if I'd be able to grow mine.

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