MU Visual Arts adapts to challenges of online learning

The Visual Arts department at MU is finding creative ways to adjust to online learning despite the loss of in-person instruction.

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The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way that education is functioning across the world, presenting unique challenges for classes that rely heavily on in-person instruction. All MU classes were transitioned to online learning starting on March 11, including the School of Visual Studies.

Online learning has brought many unforeseen and unprecedented barriers to tackle, but the School of Visual Studies has had difficulty with transitioning art to the internet. While many MU classes can use online platforms, like Zoom, to do daily lectures or class discussions, the visual arts especially have challenges in teaching without in-person instruction and critiques.

The Visual Arts Department’s website states that its “facilities include a printmaking studio, photography labs for digital and traditional processes, a papermaking/fiber facility, an anagama kiln, a bronze-casting facility, and three state-of-the-art digital labs.” These labs will be closed to the students while nationwide restrictions continue, cutting off access for students who may use these facilities daily for their required coursework.

Chris Daniggelis, professor and director of Graduate Studies, knows firsthand this struggle. He teaches printmaking.

“Let’s say I knew this was going to happen at the beginning of the semester,” Daniggelis said. “I could have refitted the class so that everyone had an exposure system at home, everyone had a table for printing, everyone had a screen for printing.”

This discrepancy between students and materials has affected the lab fees for visual arts classes. Lab fees are the costs that students must take on for certain art materials required in their classes. These fees are built into the cost for the class, and now that students aren’t on campus, many don’t have access to the art materials they’ve already paid for.

Alex Sapaugh, senior fine arts major, has experienced this problem playing out in her own classes. Although she feels lucky to have accumulated a lot of her own materials at home from past projects, she sees how this could be a financial hardship for students.

“Some of my professors are sending us links to websites where we can buy stuff,” Sapaugh said. “I’ve already paid for this stuff … I don’t really have the money to buy supplies to do things from home.”

Digital storytelling freshman Mariah Oke-Thomas also says that resources are harder to access now that learning has moved online. She said that, normally, digital storytelling students use editing software that is installed on MU computers.

“I don’t have that on my computer and it’s not really available for download. So, I had to switch over to editing on Final Cut Pro,” Oke-Thomas said. She wonders what students who don’t have access to Final Cut Pro are using to complete their coursework.

Another facet of the move to online learning is the impact on senior exhibitions. Physical senior art exhibitions were cancelled due to COVID-19, so many students are missing out on the experience and opportunity that comes with showcasing their art.

“There are a decent amount of people in my class who haven’t had that opportunity yet,” Sapaugh says. “I feel even more disappointed for them because this is something we were all looking forward to.”

Despite these challenges, some students are adjusting well to the changes.

Daniggelis described students who are “printing in their living rooms with screens … people printing in their basements,” despite only receiving about a month and a half of instruction.

Sapaugh’s advanced fibers class is also adapting to the circumstances.

“Instead of having floor looms we all just made frame looms from stuff we have,” Sapaugh said.

Daniggelis believes that teachers should be sympathetic during this time of uncertainty.

“There’s going to be a period of grief … that has to be written into the syllabus,” Daniggelis said.

While it’s been highly disappointing and difficult at times for students, especially seniors, to have to finish their semester online, Sapaugh says there may be a silver lining.

“I feel like there [are] a lot of inventive art things happening right now,” Sapaugh said. “I think people are going to come back feeling, really recharged and really inspired.”

Edited by Sophie Stephens | sstephens@themaneater.com

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