Critical reviews of student artwork spark ideas


On a recent snow-free afternoon, a group of graduate students and their professor in the Department of Art and Art History gathered around two people standing in the courtyard of the Visual Arts Complex on campus. Long colorful strings stretched from one student to the other. The strings billowed and moved in the breeze as the students and professor pondered, discussed and questioned the thought process behind the artwork of Alia Pialtos, a graduate student in the ceramics program.

What kind of art was this? Performance art? A display? How did it relate to ceramics? The questions were addressed by viewers and answered by the artist as Pialtos and two other graduate students participating in the ceramics seminar had their work academically critiqued.

In earlier work, Pialtos created delicate abstract ceramic sculptures under tension. Although this recent piece is not ceramic, it still emphasizes the effects of tension and the invisible connections that can exist between individuals.

“The ceramics program maintains a deep respect for ceramic traditions,” said Pialtos, “while simultaneously pursuing conversations that address broader concerns of contemporary art. It is exactly what I wanted out of a graduate program.”

Critiquing a student’s artwork is an integral part of the artistic process in the graduate ceramics program. The academic structure of the entire fine arts program fosters dialogue among peers in every area. The program is ranked eighth by U.S. News and World Report.

The ceramics program offers a graduate seminar open to students from other disciplines in the art and art history department, from printmaking and painting to photography and sculpture. The seminar provides a forum for readings, discussion and group critiques. Since seminars are critique-based and students are all artists, the feedback from students outside their immediate area of expertise can be helpful.

The rankings reflect high-profile faculty and graduate students who have become exceptional artists showing in prestigious galleries or who have gone on to become professors or chairs of their own departments, according to Kim Dickey, professor and ceramic artist.

“We don’t feel it is necessary to limit what materials or forms our students wish to explore,” said Dickey. “If their ideas beg to come in other materials or formats, we encourage that exploration. The work they are doing drives the discussion.

“We’re engaged constantly,” she continued, “in discussions about how performance, painting, film and music are being made and how they are influencing us and opening up possibilities in how we’re engaging those other fields and practices as points of departure or concurrent companion interests.”

Blanca Guerra, a graduate student in the ceramics program, considers a critical review of her work helpful in developing ideas. Her work being critiqued is made of ceramic, stoneware and terracotta, and evokes contours or abstractions of the human body.

“Critiques give me a better understanding of the viewer’s impression in relation to my inner dialog,” she said. “The graduate program here has provided me with the tools and language to talk about my work in multiple levels.”

Students in the ceramics program are encouraged to follow an interdisciplinary path and to take courses outside the department as a complement to their studies. They also have the opportunity to work with a diverse selection of visiting artists.

Terry Campbell, a graduate student in painting, is participating in a ceramics seminar in order to work with Dickey, although he is not working in ceramics.

“You get a different dialogue and different views on your work,” said Campbell. “I’ve been exposed to more ideas in the past six months of grad school than the six years I was making the same type of art year after year with little change. I now see a better way to move forward.”