Portrait of the Artist as a Young Student
It’s that time of year again, when the scent of hope and aspiration rides on the heels of crocuses and daffodils. University convocation carries with it an equal sense of pride and exhaustion among recent graduates who celebrate with their friends and family, peers and professors throughout the month of May. Unlike many other university disciplines, where final exams and essays are filed away in hidden cabinets and dark places, fine arts graduates have their final portfolios on public display in galleries upon graduation. This is an excellent opportunity for the public to take a look at a combination of up and coming talent, as well as at the current trends in post-secondary fine art education.
While the individual students themselves hold their own particular talents, initiatives, and special interests, it would be absurd to assume that their artistic development occurs in a void. The university, the institute, and the college place the young art student in a very specific learning landscape that is shaped by the facilities it has to offer, the faculty it employs, and the techniques that it teaches. Of course, each of these things is in turn determined to some extent by the budget and the funding of the school, as well as by the research interests of each particular department. For example, while some art schools place a very strong emphasis on formal technique, others may emphasize more conceptual work and critical theory.
Art and craft colleges have a tendency to focus more on formal technique and the production of art objects. These institutions offer certificates and diplomas similar to community colleges and trade schools. The New Brunswick College of Craft and Design in Fredericton, for example, functions under the umbrella of the New Brunswick Community College, and offers a Diploma of Fine Craft, a Certificate of Visual Arts, and a Diploma of Visual Arts. Their Graduate Student Exhibit includes works in ceramics, photography, drawing, fashion, metal, fiber arts, and graphic design. You can visit the show until June 30 at the Gallery of Old Government House.
Universities on the other hand, offer full degree programs in Fine Arts that balance hands-on studio courses with art history and art theory courses as well as non-art related electives. In New Brunswick, there are only two universities offering fine arts degrees in visual arts, and they are l’Université de Moncton and Mount Allison University (the University of New Brunswick also offers fine arts programs, but in creative writing, theatre, and film rather than visual arts).
Currently, the Owens Art Gallery in Sackville is showing the Bachelor of Fine Arts Graduation Exhibition from Mount Allison University. While this year’s graduating class is showing their final work in the upstairs gallery, the main level hosts a historical exhibit of past student work, comprised of self-portraits from 1948, 1953, 1958, and1963. The exhibition of past and present grad students will be on display for the public until June 22.
The graduating class from l’Université de Moncton tends to show their final portfolios before convocation, rather than afterwards, at the GAUM (Gallerie d’Art de l’Université de Moncton). So if you didn’t get a chance to see their exhibit this year (between April 4 and 27), then you will have to mark April down on your calendar for next year.
Visiting these graduating student exhibitions is an excellent opportunity to catch a glimpse of the continuity between past present and future trends in the visual arts. Some, if not many, of these students who have been influenced by their past learning environments will soon go on to influence other artists and art trends in the future. Some of these recent grads will even influence your daily life (without you even realizing it) as they impact the design of the products that you use every day. The shape and design of the pop bottles you drink from, the shape and colour of your car, the stylization and editing of music videos and TV shows that you watch; these things are all created by various members of the commercial and industrial arts community. The designers and artists from the commercial arts community are closely linked to the fine arts community, and as a result, we often see avant-garde trends in the fine arts gradually shaping and transforming styles and designs in the commercial and industrial arts of pop culture and the mass media.
But before these recent grads start changing the shape and suspension of your couch or chaise-longue, they have a few more obstacles to overcome, first. Now that convocation has passed, they will enter the next stage of development: the perilous hunt for cheap studio space and access to facilities and the fierce competition for limited funding resources and exhibition opportunities. And so their next chapter begins.