Art and academics, life of an art major

A piece by Rafael Fajardo, a professor in DU’s Emerging Digital Practices program.

A major that gets to play all day and party all night seems like a dream, the perfect major.

Sound too good to be true? Well, it is.

While common misconception seems to paint a picture of art majors as students who don’t work hard or aren’t good enough to study anything else with an easy major that doesn’t matter in the real-job world, reality strikes a different note.

As with any major, there are always students who slack off and students who dedicate themselves.

However, the University of Denver’s art students are generally hardworking and passionate, whether their peers perceive them as such or not.

Stereotypes and stigmas of art majors
“I think there is a stigma [of art majors],” said Jeanie Tischler, Budget and Operations Coordinator at DU’s School of Art and Art History (SAAH).

Tischler attended DU as an undergraduate art student in the 80s, though she did not finish her degree then, but returned to complete it in 2007 before working at the school.

She said she often heard comments like “but it’s just art” or “but you’re only majoring in art,” voiced in a derogatory manner, when discussing a class or grade she had earned.

“Now that I’m working in the School of Art and Art History I don’t see that, but I think probably that has not changed. I think people don’t understand art as easily as they can understand an english or chem degree,” said Tischler.

Jason Kellermeyer, the Coordinator for the Academic Program at SAAH, graduated from Pratt Institute, a private art school in Brooklyn.

He said when he was an undergraduate art student, an intern lived across the hall and, as an outsider, was often surprised by how hard the art students were working.

It’s not only faculty, but also art and non-art majors alike who perceive this stereotype placed on many art students.

“I think the stereotype attached is definitely not having to work hard and just getting to be artistic all of the time,” said Katherine Taylor, a third-year double-majoring in International Studies and Spanish from Colorado Springs, Colo. “Never really having to take tests or the same types of things as other majors.”

Andy Gatti, a double-major in Studio Art and Italian from Akron, Ohio, feels many students degrade his major and consider it a joke, thinking he doesn’t actually do any work.

“I work just as hard as a bio major or a business major, the difference is I love what I’m doing so it’s not what I would call work,” said Gatti.

According to Taylor if students personally know art majors they are more receptive and understanding of the major.

But for students who don’t know art majors, the stereotypes can be brutal.

“I have heard, especially some business majors, be pretty rude about it and talk about how they are going nowhere, why pay for a degree in finger painting, etc,” said Taylor.

Differences between art and other majors
Gatti explained he sees the primary difference between art and other majors as a passion for what one is doing. He enjoys his work, whether it is reworking a painting, photoshopping an image or etching plates.

“The life of an art student is somewhat laid back, because it’s not as stressful, because we enjoy what we do. We don’t need an escape from school because school is the escape, because art is expression,” said Gatti.

As a non-art major, Taylor said she used to think art majors never worked hard or did homework, they just made art all the time, until she learned more about the actual classes they take from her art major friends.

“Sometimes I still hear people say ‘oh they’re just an art major,’ but I do have more respect for the actual workload that they have. It’s just such a different type of workload than my major,” said Taylor.

As the academic art coordinator, Kellermeyer interacts with art students, and non-art majors taking elective art classes, on a daily basis.

His experience has taught him art students work hard and the students who make it through are dedicated.

“Students are self-motivated. Everybody has to be, by default, a natural problem solver, which makes a good art student,” said Kellermeyer. “The skills you learn studying art are very transferable to everything else because there are no right answers.”

Gatti considers art to be something students learn by experience and practice rather than studying books.

“Being an art major takes away study time and homework time and replaces it with projects, just countless hours devoted to project after project,” said Gatti. “You learn to make art by making art.”

Tischler sees art as a unique major in that it can include outside students more easily than other majors, particularly at DU. Art draws people in, sparking their curiosity.

She mentioned while many students seem to just finish an assignment and move on, she sees art majors as more willing to build community and collaborate on projects for a purpose greater than a good grade.

“Our art majors are very inclusive and like to share their work and share it with other groups. You can’t do that with a chem assignment, but you can do that with art and really reach out to other groups,” said Tischler.

Kellermeyer has also seen students create a unique community within the art school with a closeness not often found in the same manner in other majors.

“As far as all the art kids are ‘this,’ it doesn’t exist that way. You can’t ‘spot’ an art student the way you can at a typical art school where all the kids walking down the street have purple hair,” said Kellermeyer.

This community is diverse because of the liberal arts aspect of DU bringing students from many disciplines to the art school.

Academic requirements
Because DU is a liberal arts institution, art majors are required to take more than only art and art history courses.

“The academic standards are higher here. When I went to Pratt it was really good, but the liberal arts side didn’t have the same breadth and depth a DU student has,” said Kellermeyer.

Professor Lawrence Argent and students during a critique.

He explained students getting a Bachelor of Arts automatically are required to get a minor in another discipline. Bachelor of Fine Arts students do not require a minor, as the major demands more art classes than a BA.

Regardless of BFA or BA, students still have to take the general education courses required by DU.

“The rigor of academics is much more here. Because of that, the primary focus at DU isn’t art. So the art student has to work harder,” said Kellermeyer.

Studio art classes are six hours of class-time a week, but still only worth four credit hours. Students are also expected by their professors to spend a minimum of six additional hours outside of class per week on projects.

“When I walk by the studios in the evening and early morning and weekends I always see students in there working. Whether its ceramics or sculpture studio, I know students are there all weekend,” said Tischler.

Ting Lin, a third-year BFA in Studio Art from Taiwan said she spends anywhere from 12 to 21 hours a week outside of class.

Choosing art school
Because of the high academic and time demands of the major with less monetary payback assured in the future, those who choose to major in art do so out of passion.

There is an overall sense within the DU art community that students have chosen this major because they love art and desire to devote their lives to it; they are all in this together.

Lin is majoring in art because art is something she loves, and she wants to do something she is passionate about.

“I only go to college once and life is just too short to study something you aren’t interested in,” said Lin.

Gatti said he chose to major in art because it is something he enjoys doing with his time. He wants to spend the rest of his life making art, teaching art and keeping art in his life.

“I’d rather wake up every morning and want to go in to work while living in a small apartment or house with a simple car and a simple life and enjoy myself, than have a big house and a fancy car and just absolutely hate going in to work every day,” said Gatti.

For many art majors the “dream” isn’t making lots of money and owning lots of nice things, the dream is doing what they’re passionate about because it brings them joy.

“I want to lead a happy life, and if the majority of my waking hours are spent at a job, I think I would like to enjoy it. I don’t want a job, I want a career,” said Gatti.

One Response to Art and academics, life of an art major

  • Hannah Gilham
    Hannah Gilham says:

    Great article Katy; very informative. I think it would’ve been interesting to also mention other majors that are often seen as “unpractical” or “easy” such as a music major or creative writing (really anything creative actually). I liked the focus on doing what you love, rather than worrying about the job prospects. This made me feel better about my creative pursuits!

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