Department of Visual and Performing Arts

Prof. Elli Crocker talks about Clark's studio art program.

What areas of study does Clark's studio art program offer?

Prof. Crocker: The studio art program at Clark offers all of the standard courses that you'd expect, including photography, painting, drawing, printmaking, sculpture and video production.

What makes our program somewhat unique among liberal arts colleges is the fact that we offer graphic design, which is something that not a lot of other schools of comparable size to Clark offer. And there's a very serious concentration in it, a sequence of about five courses. As a matter of fact, the studio art program brochure was designed by one of our graduating seniors this year. Graphic Design students do a lot of in-house design work for us, and many of them go on to careers in graphic design. So this is actually a very significant part of our program.

However, the emphasis isn't so much on media specifically as it is on a conceptual approach. Some of the courses combine different media. For example, Valerie Claff teaches a course called Exploring the Natural World, in which students do photography, printmaking, drawing, painting and sculpture, all looking at nature as the conceptual source for their work.

We've been pushing more and more in recent years to bring a thematic approach to teaching so that it's not just a 'how to,' but more a 'why' in making art. A lot of students think that learning how to paint is learning how to mix colors, or how to convincingly translate something that they're looking at. Whereas, we ask 'is that really what painting is, or do you have some idea that you want to express for which painting is the best medium?' And to understand that a medium is really in the service of an idea, and not necessarily something being done for its own sake. So I think that what really distinguishes our approach in the studio art program is that thematic, conceptual approach, and also offers some things that may not be offered in other liberal arts colleges.

If students are working on the same concept but using different media, there must be a lot of cross fertilization going on.

Prof. Crocker: There is. One of the things that's so exciting for the students is to have the opportunity to dialogue with each other. I often tell them that they probably learn more from each other than they do from the professor in that situation. It's really a lab where everybody's working very interactively. There's a lot of conversation, a lot of discussion. We have critiques almost every single session, depending on the class, so there's a lot of opportunity for students to look at each other's work and to give each other feedback.

Are there opportunities for studio art majors to connect with the local arts community, or to integrate their artistic interests with volunteer work in the community?

Prof. Crocker: Absolutely. A lot of our students have had internships at the Worcester Art Museum. Every year I bring my Painting II class to visit the conservation lab at the Museum so they can see what goes on, and also so they can see how important working with good materials is. You have to have some science background as well as art to do conservation.

One of our staff members, Tina Zlody, is very involved with stART, Art on the Street, a Worcester arts festival held every September. She always involves a lot of our students. This is a very participatory and celebratory event for the Worcester arts community, and the community at large.

We also try to make connections to the local scene through our gallery in the Traina Center. For example, an exhibition that was offered last fall included three Worcester artists, and many times those artists give talks to the students.

Also, we try to encourage students, if they can fit it into their schedule, to take some courses through the Worcester College Consortium to broaden their experience.

Many students go into Clark's fifth-year program in education and work with kids in various ways, including teaching in local schools. I've also had students who have volunteered in organizations to do art-related projects, for example, teaching summer classes to Worcester youth.