With bountiful resources and access to art-making materials and inspiration, Brandeis fosters future artists from its well-developed studio art major, where students are being treated as real-world artists and thus make art across topics and mediums with an interdisciplinary liberal-arts mindset.
To graduate as a studio art major, the student must complete a full academic year of FA110: Senior Studio. With much more hands-on practices and two end-of-semester exhibitions to showcase the portfolio, Senior Studio is one of a kind among all majors’ graduation thesis or capstone requirements. The Hoot came to a Senior Studio session this week and chatted with the class instructors and students who participated in the final exhibition last semester, and learned more about how Brandeis’ fine arts program cultivates emerging artists.
Senior Studio is taught by two faculty members, Professors Joseph Wardwell and Sheida Soleimani. The two professors gave a holistic overview of the class for The Hoot. “Most of the class continues on for an entire year and so they’re really able to get in depth into their content and their subject, and they create a body of work in the way that a graduate student or a professional artist would, and in that way [it] helps prepare our majors and minors who may wish to continue to be an artist later in their life.”
One prominent aspect of Senior Studio is that students are able to have their private studio. “A lot of people in the art department have not yet experienced what it means to have a studio. So when you get into Senior Studio, you have a lot of time to build and expand at studio practice.” Soleimani explained, “It’s less assignment-based. It’s more independently focused, getting students to think about what their interests are … those things could be paintings, sculptures, photos, videos. It’s really a multimedia interdisciplinary course.”
Adding on to that, Soleimani viewed the end-of-year exhibition as an important step that gets the students ready for a future art career. “What does it mean to make something that’s ‘exhibition ready’? What does it mean to be putting your work into the public sphere, to be showing it alongside other students or colleagues?” She raised those questions for art students, “you know, because your peers are really people that are going to end up being your colleagues later in life.”
What’s the biggest difference between Senior Studio and other majors’ capstones? Soleimani thinks it is a lot of fun due to being in a studio and translating ideas into objects, while Wardwell thinks the uncertainty and freedom this class gives make up the most exciting aspect. “I would say the goal of being an artist is both self expression and also communication to a larger audience. And so in that way, it’s exciting because it is idiosyncratic and we never know what the students are going to create. It changes from semester to semester and year to year, based on the students who come in and what they bring to it.”
This is also the reason why both professors love teaching this course. Since the class is not project-based, students are able to harness their abilities and work on their strengths. Both professors have expressed that it is inspiring to see all the different perspectives that students come from, to witness the power of art in society and to have that realized in class.
“I think that both Sheida and I feel the same, that we’re both very, very blessed to be able to experience that on a semester-to-semester basis.” Wardwell expressed.
As Wardwell and Soleimani said, students in the class have also manifested on diverse mediums and topics, coming from different backgrounds. Aislinn Welch ’24 created a self portrait using acrylic on plywood in the gallery last semester, where she reflected and painted herself after an automobile accident she had recently. “It was sort of like my way of exploring the trauma and the things that I was still dealing with from that.”
Although she will not continue to make art as a career, Welch thinks being in Senior Studio enables her to explore new mediums and assures her to keep making art in her life even if it is something she does for fun. “I like that [this class] is so open ended. I like that you can pretty much do anything; you’re going to get feedback on it and it’s going to be taken seriously by your peers,” she commented.
Lauren Podhorzer ’24 wants to continue her art journey after graduation. Hopefully going to graduate school in the field of graphic design, Podhorzer is thankful for the Brandeis Fine Arts program for giving her exposure to traditional mediums of art like oil paint or printmaking. In conjunction with her art history major, the studio art department gave her an understanding of the field of art as a whole.
This semester, she is working with the theme of birds in relation to her family history and identity, exploring how birds are perceived as symbols, both mythologically and scientifically. She is also considering how their migration patterns connect to the immigration that her family underwent. “So you can choose any topic, any theme that you’d like. You can also choose whatever medium that you like,” she commented. “There is absolute freedom in terms of [what] you want to do one day, if you want to do a sculpture, one day you want to do a painting, one day you want to do something digital.”
Another student, Sarah Eckstein Indik ’24, double majoring in studio art and environmental science, is combining her two academic interests together. Last semester, she focused on the intersection of anthropomorphizing different elements of the environment for a closer connection in a time of climate crisis, using mediums like acrylic paint, oil paint and wood carving. Post-graduation, she is planning to do work in conservation, which she thinks her education in the arts lets her view different subjects in a more interdisciplinary way—a way she can engage the public with environmental science. “Art is a fantastic way to bridge the gap between science. I feel like the Brandeis Fine Arts department has really helped me hone my skills as an individual and feel confident trying it out.”
The Senior Studio Exhibition from last semester is on view in Dreitzer Gallery in Spingold Theater.
Editor’s Note: Lauren Podhorzer ’24, who is a member of The Hoot’s staff, did not participate in the writing or editing of this article.