Arts & Entertainment

As Seen on the Screen: Art Classes Manage Online Learning

Elle Jacobsen | The Phoenix In the past, the Fine Arts Senior Exhibition was held at the end of spring semester. This past year it can be found virtually from the DFPA's website.

As music stands, pottery wheels and canvasses collect dust this semester after Loyola switched to mostly online instruction, fine arts classes are finding ways to adjust to making art at home.

The fine arts division of the Department of Fine and Performing Arts (DFPA) decided to go online June 1, according to Rafael Vera, the director of fine arts. This decision came almost six weeks before Loyola went mostly online due to COVID-19.

Vera said the early decision was mainly due to the health and safety of students since many studio art classes are communal. It also allowed more time for professors to plan for an all-online format.

DFPA offers more than 100 courses this fall, and nearly 150 students major in fine arts, 37 in dance, 103 in theater and 62 in music, according to Mark Lococo, a chairperson for DFPA. 

“I couldn’t have been happier that the fine arts department stepped up and made that decision early on,” said Kate Biderbost, an advanced lecturer in ceramics. “I’ve spent more time preparing for this class than I have for any other class in years.”

Biderbost altered her class to expand more on contemporary artists, and how ceramics can reflect societal issues. Some of these artists include Bradley Klem, whose work focuses on environmental issues, and Roberto Lugo, who uses porcelain to speak on “poverty, inequality, and social and racial injustice,” according to his website.

One new project in Biderbost’s ceramics class is called, “Letting Go – The Art of Decay,” which encourages students to translate their feelings about the pandemic through art. The assignment ends with students destroying their work.

While watching recorded lectures on Panopto, a video platform for businesses and universities, Biderbost said her students work with their own air-dry clay, acrylic paints and paintbrushes for their assignments. They also use Zoom to present their work.

With students starting online this fall, Vera says he sees this as a chance to spark creativity.

“Art is about problem-solving,” Vera said. “This is a great opportunity to put those new acquired skills into play.”

Noritaka Minami, an assistant professor of photography, said he’s added new projects, including photobook design, to his film and darkroom class because of the online structure. 

“Not having access to the campus does present challenges to the conventional idea of teaching black and white photography based on film and darkroom,” Minami said. “The challenge of converting this class to the online format has also become an opportunity to add new content and experiment with new approaches.”

Apart from a creative challenge, adapting to online can be a struggle for majors based on collaboration.

Because Zoom lags, the music department plans to use Soundtrap — which allows multiple users to record different parts and put them on the same track — among other applications, to blend music recordings, according to junior Olivia Lawley. This comes with issues, though. Lawley continued to say that in-person ensembles give an immediacy to musical errors, such as tempo. 

“The thing is, everyone has to play at the same exact rate — that’s a little difficult [online],” said Lawley, a 20-year-old double majoring in music and advocacy and social change.

Another issue students have come across is the new expenses for art classes. Emma Porteous, a senior majoring in political science, shared her frustrations with the added cost of materials for a core class.

“I had to spend $60, $70 to take a ceramics class, on top of what I already had to pay [tuition],” Porteous, 21, said. “I feel I’m trapped in this class because I already spent $70 on materials. Even if I did want to drop, I’m sitting there, staring at that huge block of clay I had to buy. It’s going to mock me if I don’t stay in the class.”

Courtesy of Emma Porteous Senior Emma Porteous’ makeshift home studio includes a cutting board, a plastic bowl and a sponge, which she works off a door on the floor.

Last spring, most programming was canceled because of COVID-19, except the Music Senior Recital and the Fine Arts Senior Exhibition, The Phoenix reported. The latter is now an online exhibition called “Exeunt.” When it comes to performances, the DFPA will live-stream productions, according to its website.

In classes where everyone’s working individually, the distance created through the screen poses a challenge, such as instructing a ceramics class. 

“I’m not there to say to them, ‘Oh, try doing this and it’ll go more smoothly,’ or ‘This is why this is a problem,’” Biderbost said.

Despite the trial and error process for new technologies, many professors and students alike share a positive outlook for this semester. 

“It was so incredibly satisfying to see my students smiling and ready to work hard,” Vera said. “This, to me, is like gasoline. It energizes me and fills me with hope.”

Lawley echoed this statement. Despite the challenges with online learning, she said they didn’t deter her from taking music classes.

“I couldn’t see myself not having music,” Lawley said. “Even if it’s going to be harder to be in the arts community now, I knew I needed to do that… music isn’t dead or gone, it’s just the performance aspect is difficult right now.”

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