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The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

Students find community and inspiration in F1’s only Introduction to the Art Studio course

Professor+of+Art+Matthew+Kluber+works+most+days+from+his+personal+studio.+Photo+contributed+by+Matthew+Kluber.+
Professor of Art Matthew Kluber works most days from his personal studio. Photo contributed by Matthew Kluber.

Noa Goldman
godmann@grinnell.edu

Professor Matthew Kluber, chair of the art studio department, and 14 Grinnell College students have been navigating the transition of art studio courses to a virtual format. Kluber is teaching the only Introduction to the Studio course, ART-111, offered during Fall 1.

Until mid-July, Kluber was getting ready to teach his Fall 1 ART-111 in person. His plan was to spread a group of six or seven masked students throughout the studio and to use outdoor spaces when feasible. Needless to say, this plan was scratched, and Kluber began transforming his in-person curriculum to an online one.

Halvor Bratland ’23 creates art inspired by his coding skills. Photo contributed by Halvor Bratland.

Since last March when Grinnell College went online, Kluber has been in his studio almost every day. Located in a warehouse space 10 minutes from his home in Cedar Rapids, the studio space has three-dimensional printers running nonstop working on an ongoing installation, a projector he uses to superimpose digital imagery over his paintings and wood sculptures he has been collaborating on with one of his Cedar Rapids carpenter friends. His bright, colorful paintings of horizontal lines, resembling crashing computer screens, hang on the high walls.

In the last months, when he hasn’t been dealing with the remaining derecho clean-up – which initially left him without electricity or Wi-Fi for eight days – he has been working in his studio. He told The S&B that discipline is the secret to his art: “That’s really what it’s been like for well over 30 years now, that day in, day out discipline of getting into the studio and making work.”

When discussing his goals for online studio art learning with his colleagues, Kluber worried that students would lose their artistic discipline with the loss of a physical studio space. The students in this term’s Introduction to the Studio course are doing their work on kitchen counters, dining room tables, beds and dorm desks. They only have three hours of instruction and discussion over WebEx each week. With this new class schedule and new environment, the responsibility falls on the student to find time to work on their art and remain disciplined.

Kluber said that he appreciates “how flexible and understanding students have been.”

Kaya Matsuura ’23, an intended art history and anthropology major who is currently living on campus, said that while it has been difficult staying focused and getting work done without the structure of a normal class or the resources included in a studio, she has still really appreciated being pushed to make art. (Editor’s note: Kaya Matsuura is a staff photographer for The S&B)

That’s really what it’s been like for well over 30 years now, that day in, day out discipline of getting into the studio and making work. – Matthew Kluber

Katie Buhman ’21, an art history and French double major, told The S&B that she is also really enjoying the course, especially how focused it is on the fundamentals of artistic composition. Before taking the course, she had never thought of herself as an artist and was nervous that upon entering the WebEx she would be asked, “Can you draw a teacup?”

The projects in Kluber’s Introduction to the Studio course are focused on teaching students the fundamentals of artistic composition, such as line, shape and color. Kluber said these projects tend towards the abstract as he wants students to focus on the formal elements of composition before becoming preoccupied with representation. One of the course’s first projects, both when in-person or online, is a variety of collages, making abstract black and white patterns out of construction paper and learning how to use only line and form to create engaging compositions.

For this assignment, Buhman made a collage where black construction paper rectangles appear to be weaving through one another. This pattern is inspired by Buhman’s recent knitting projects. Since the beginning of the pandemic, Buhman has knitted two “mental health scarves.”

Katie Buhman ’23 holds up a construction paper collage that is inspired by the “mental health scarves” she knitted throughout the last couple of months. Photo contributed by Noa Goldman.

Halvor Bratland ’23 is using his coding skills to create art. After a few pencil sketches of a blob-like pattern, Bratland decided to make a program that turns connected circles into intricate, interacting blobs. While Bratland is an intended math major, he has been coding since middle school. He has created a music tuning program for a music theory course, as well as a program to create music to go along with a video he made for Dance Ensemble.

Professor Kluber said he enjoys having students in his Introductory to the Studio course that come from other disciplines and do not necessarily plan on being studio art majors. He said they make the course interesting for him: “They are bringing completely different skills, and they don’t come in with any assumptions.”

While Kluber had to cut some projects he usually teaches in ART-111 due to the shorter time frame, he said that students will still be able to learn all of the skills they would if the course was in person.

However, many upper level art studio courses will be more affected by the transition to online learning. For example, ART-236, Kluber’s print media course, usually requires a printing press and special ink. Students will no longer have access to either of those. He has decided to generate a special topics course to replace ART-236 this spring that will explore the printing process that can be done by students at home, such as block printing.

Kaya Matsuura ’23 shows off her make-shift studio space. Photo contributed by Kaya Matsuura.

The transition online has not come without its challenges. There have been a couple days when the internet at Professor Kluber’s studio has cut out for a moment, interrupting meetings with a student or class time. And some of the materials needed for planned projects have been on backorder, requiring some reworking of the class schedule.

According to Kluber, a second-year student from China, faced with the logistics of getting supplies through customs, as well as the difficult reality of different time zones when taking a synchronous virtual class, decided to delay taking ART-111 until they could take it in person.

Many students were hesitant to take their first studio art course online. Two of this term’s ART-111 students, Bratland and Masaki Nawa ’23, upon receiving their course schedules emailed their advisors to ask if they thought it was the right time to be exploring a tactile medium.

Bratland and Nawa, however, have really enjoyed taking Kluber’s class and told The S&B that taking ART-111 made their workload during such a chaotic term more manageable. Nawa said he is really enjoying taking ART-111 alongside his statistics class, as “you use a very different part of the brain.” In Kluber’s course “you really need to be creative, and there is no real answer for the projects he has assigned,” compared to the definite problem sets of Nawa’s statistics class.

Kluber wants his virtual ART-111 to give Grinnell students a creative escape from the difficulties many are facing: “I kind of love the moments meeting with students again. We have an opportunity for a number of hours each week to think about something else. I love talking about art and the process and having students think about line and color. It’s a great way to step out of all.”

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