Students draw inspiration from Ireland
Professor Andrew Howard has always believed that the ideal way to teach an art course would be to do it through solid blocks of sustained time without distractions. For three summers since 2006, he has taken students as close to that ideal as possible outside of the classroom during the “Arts in Ireland” course he created.
“The idea is to take a select group of Wheaton students who have demonstrated a commitment to art and/or music, and provide them with a very intensive three-week experience creating original artwork and music compositions based on their impressions of the west coast of Ireland,” he says.
Last summer, 10 studio artists and four musicians took the trip, accompanied by Howard and Professor of Music Matthew Allen. The intensive course was taught in association with the Burren College of Art in Ballyvaughan, County Clare, Ireland. Students were immersed in the culture through tours and lectures and then developed concepts that served as the basis for a body of work, which was exhibited on campus in the fall. They spent 10 to 12 hours a day in their own spaces creating. “They ate, slept, and created art and music,” says Howard.
Christina Cannon ’13, an art history and studio art double major and varsity volleyball captain, says the trip allowed her for the first time to understand what being a working artist would be like. “The series I produced was probably some of the best work I’ve ever made, which has taught me to have higher expectations for myself,” she says.
Amira Pualwan ’13, a studio art major, says: “I learned a lot about my own independence as an artist and relying on my own creativity to drive my art rather than assignment-based work I’ve done in the past. It really sealed the deal on deciding to pursue an independent study in printmaking.”
For the first time, music was added to the course this year.
Andrew Cavacco ’13, a music major and studio art minor, was happy to see that, because he had been interested in taking the trip since freshman year, when he first saw the exhibition of the work produced there. He composed three pieces of music inspired by his trip.
“I tried to take in as much of the surroundings as I could when I was in Ireland, to appreciate all the beautiful details,” Cavacco notes in his artist statement for the exhibit. “While I was out walking, the sounds of the physical environment caught my attention. The range of pitches that the rocks of the Burren make when struck inspired me to create a piece that incorporated the percussive hits. I spent time collecting different percussive sounds, including water drips and clanging metal gates, and isolated and manipulated them to create the rhythmic collage that is my first piece.”
Professor Allen jumped at the chance to work with students like Cavacco in Ireland and to collaborate with Howard because of his own ongoing work there, which most recently involved making a documentary film of Irish tenor Seán Ó Sé. “Spending this kind of time with students in a mix of formal and informal settings, and then to see them dig in and grow as composers, was maybe the biggest highlight of the trip for me,” says Allen.
Howard, an accomplished photographer, adds that he learned a lot, too: “My own work has benefited because I have learned that music and art share some very important ideas. There is a rhythm to the world that becomes visual if you are sensitive to it. Art is instrumental, where some work is brassy and some soft and flute-like. I find myself thinking about these concepts when I’m working on images.”
Read the blog about the experience at artsinireland1.wordpress.com; hear audio clips (Click on the player on the right at the top).