What does it mean to be a serious artist? Is it to make work that others will like? These are the questions buzzing through the minds of art majors here at Sonoma State University, and anyone can see from the 2016 Juried Student Exhibition that they are achieving their goals.
The Juried Student Exhibition is an annual eventevery spring to showcase student artwork. The faculty is not involved in choosing what pieces go into the gallery. The pieces submitted to the show are chosen by two jurors, outside professionals who know nothing about the artists and choose based on the quality of the work they see. This year, 131 pieces were submitted and 48 were chosen for the exhibition.
The opening night of the gallery on March 30 was swarming with visitors to support the students. In the room was a feeling of excitement and warmth, watching artists stand by to explain their pieces to viewers. There wasn’t a common theme throughout the works. It was just simply each artist’s interpretations and ideas through mediums like paint, charcoal, wood, metal and photographs.
The Director of the gallery and professor of art history, Michael Schwager, believes that showcasing the students work is important for their future careers in the art industry.
“This step is critical for the students who plan to continue in the art world, to have their work evaluated by other professionals,” said Schwager. “I think the exhibit is a very important part of the educational process. It’s no different from any other department, going from learning theory to putting it into practice.”
Schwager is currently working on getting some of the student artwork into the Student Center where it can be viewed by others who might not know about the University Art Gallery.
A visitor to the gallery, Harry Rosenmayer, thinks the university should hold more student exhibitions instead of just twice a year.
“Just for the student artists to show their work, this is a really big step for them,” said Rosenmayer. “They’re trying to get jobs, to get out there and be recognized. They are a product of Sonoma State and we need to support our own.”
One of the most eye-catching pieces in the gallery was a bicycle attached to hair cutting shears. When the bike was pedaled, the shears would move and cut. The artist, James Blake, provided a video of the machine in use, titled “Free Haircut!”
Blake is in the Bachelors of Fine Arts program and loves having the opportunity to showcase his work in the gallery alongside his classmates. He had two other pieces in the show.
“I appreciate that [the gallery] is run by students. Even hanging these works, it was satisfying that my classmates were in here getting work experience, professionally hanging shows,” said Blake. “You hear a lot of jokes like ‘oh, you’re an artist, you’re gonna starve,’ but if you go into curatorial studies or gallery work, you may actually have a sustainable life.”
Artist Lorena Cruz agreed that curating shows should be taught more in the art department.
“Beyond showing our own work, it’s important to learn how to curate and other art world responsibilities,” said Cruz.
This event not only put incredible student artwork into the spotlight, but also brought up the issue of funding. Although the Art Gallery is a beautiful addition to the art building and functions well to serve students as well as professional artists whose work is featured there, the rest of the art department is suffering.
Simon Gordon, a photographer in the BFA program, commented on the lack of classes and instructors.
“I’m a photography emphasis and we have one photo professor, full time. Shannon Benine has to teach all of this different kind of media, all of this new technology that’s really important in art, and at the same time teach traditional photography stuff,” said Gordon. “Having more classes and more professors would be really helpful.”
“Our funding is slowly being funneled away,” said Blake. “The art department had to spend its own money on stools. We were using the hand-me-down stools from the biology department when they got new stuff. But the University wouldn’t provide new stuff for us when it was time. There’s equipment that we’re just not supported in getting.”
To see student artists’ concern with the lack of funding to the art department should raise questions about where funds are going around the university. The average student pays around $1,800 every year in fees, so where is it going?
Despite their lack of funding, the art students are producing incredible work.
“Sonoma State isn’t a full blown art school,” said Houser, “but all of the students here are creating art I haven’t seen anywhere else. It’s really cool to see artists make work I really appreciate.”
The Juried Student Exhibition will be open for visiting until April 24.