Learning experience for online hands on studio art courses

By: Isabella Palomo

Photos: Pixabay

Teachers and students in the fine art department at Marymount are adapting and focusing in areas of development that are possible under the social distancing circumstances.

Teachers and students in the fine art department at Marymount are adapting and focusing in areas of development that are possible under the social distancing circumstances. 

 Mary Proenza, assistant professor of fine arts at Marymount University said, “It’s the brain and it’s the feeling more than having a specialized art material.” In her classroom she has focused in teaching students how to think like artists, trying to make something great with what they have. She and her students have been adapting to the online platform, especially for the students who are completely online, she does videos of drawing, painting and printmaking techniques. “In artistic disciplines, you do like to explore good materials and techniques and equipment, but when that’s not available, you have to have that inner resources as a human being,” said Proenza. “And really that’s what is most important to develop in college and throughout life, so it’s kind of a secret blessing of the pandemic to tap into that more consciously.” 

Daniela Eguiguren is an interior design major with a studio art minor, who was taking drawing 1 and printmaking class back in March when courses had to go online due to COVID-19. She said, “There is good things and bad things about online learning, the good things are that I can manage my own schedule, sometimes I have a creative block during the in person class, and I can’t get anything done, but I have to, versus having an entire day to get it done helps me to find that creativity.” Online learning allows students to manage their own time, which can also make it difficult for them to keep up with due dates. She said, “You can perform in the same way but its really up to the students, its really easy to slack off.” 

Ana Alarcon is a psychology major with a fine arts minor at Marymount University. When asked about the main difference between working at home, and at the studio, she said, “The vibes and the energy that the studio gives, the environment plays a huge role.” She said, “In the studio the ideas just come to you, the way that you have the tables everything is easier and more accessible, then at home you just have to make things work with whatever you have, there is a huge difference.” Alarcon said, “Having somewhere to do my artwork, in my house I do not have a specific spot, so I do not feel so comfortable, and also the lighting is an issue some times.” Alarcon lives with her family and has four brothers which can sometimes be a little distracting. She said, “I like it when it is peaceful, and listen to calm music when I’m working, but I really do not get to choose or control what is happening at the house, I just have to deal with it.”

The change from in person studio courses, to remote learning, has forced students to explore different mediums. Last semester, during professor Proenza’s printmaking class students were able to choose the medium for their projects, depending on the materials they had access to. Proenza said, “try to make something great with what you have.” Alarcon, who was taking printmaking class during spring, said, “you have to do what you can that is available to you, for example our final project last semester was related to COVID 19, so some students, like me, I worked with the color pencils, other people used digital art, some one else that is in fashion and design used cloth in face masks, but included it in her digital art, and printed it out. The online learning experience for studio art courses like printmaking, also gave the students the opportunity to explore digital art. Eguiguren said, “For a while during my printmaking class, last semester I tried digital art, so being around of Photoshop, just trying new mediums since I have the time.” 

The remote learning for hand-on studio art courses has also given the opportunity for teachers to learn to take advantage of technology. Proenza said, “if you had asked me a year ago, What I like to teach online, I would have said no, I’m very much identify as an in person, hands on kind of Professor, but you have to be of the times you have to be adaptable and then there are advantages.” She said “I think that’s an opportunity is to take advantage of all the cool things you can do in art that have to do with technology.” 

When it comes to working in an art studio, one of the main benefits is the space and access to equipment and materials. However, last semester, when studio art studio had to take their courses remotely, they stopped having access to the space, equipment and materials that they where used to having back at Marymount. Proenza said, “as we all know, the pandemic has hit harder, those who have less, and so I think any student who struggles financially or, maybe has a crowded living situation, it’s hard, it makes it harder for them to complete their schoolwork at the same level as when they were coming to school.” Alarcon said her favorite art medium is gouache paint, but she got that material for color theory class last fall 2019, and did not have enough to use when she started working from home in the spring. Alarcon said, “I did not want to buy any new material, I wasn’t working either, after spring break, my job closed, so I had to limit spending and did not go out to buy more material, I just stuck with the color pencils.” Alarcon said “Color pencils would not be my go to.” The lack of studio access during the last half of the spring semester, prevented students from using  the printmaking equipment and material. Alarcon said, “I was taking printmaking, when we moved online we could just use the materials at home, so instead of advancing I downgraded.” Professor Proenza and her students adapted, and did what was possible in the circumstances they where forced in to, Proenza said, “when we went online in March, we had a lot of people that didn’t have any printmaking materials at all, so I said, look, we can use any materials that you happen to have even if it’s just, you know, a pen and paper, but the thing is, we’ll think like printmakers.” Ideally students would be able to experiment using the printing press, however they got to do that in the first part of the spring semester. 

Another important aspect for studio art courses, is the in person timely feedback and peer critiques. Art is experienced differently in person, than through the screen, Proenza said “For example, behind me, I have this pretty large painting, and you know on your screen it might look like the size of a postcard, but it’s actually, you know, like, five feet tall, so, things are kind of deceptive online.” Technology has enabled professors and peers to continue their feedback and critiques, however, it does not replace the in person experience for art. Eguiguren said, “I really do miss the interaction with the classmates, in person I could walk by another students drawing and see that they had drawn something I missed, so I would then add it to my drawing, the class room dynamic overall is what I really miss.” The alternative for presenting their work in person, has been for students to post their art in the discussion board and then have each student comment on the other person’s work, which has also helped to bring together the online and in person students. 

In the fall semester, Professor Proenza’s is teaching both students in person and online. Alarcon said “Mary has been doing very good at both, because some students have online, like completely, and some of are having in person class on Mondays, but she has been doing very good at managing both groups at the same time, and she explains everything really well, and she is lenient with the assignments on like what exactly we want to paint, so its like our interest, so we actually want to do it.” Professor Proenza said, “Having in one classroom in person and online and also sometimes a different assignment for the in person people and the online people, that’s been a little bit of an obstacle.” Proenza said, “For example, in art, especially for the students who are 100% online I do videos of techniques, so, you know, say in painting or drawing or printmaking, I have to film a video, so just different things like I got a webcam so that I can put it above looking down at my desk and people can have a good view on what I’m drawing or Carving and I can explain it at the same time. So, some of the challenges have been technological and some juggling the different modes within the same class.” 

Online resources and a discussion page for faculty of studio based art and design courses are available as support tools for teachers to share strategies, pedagogy and support for instructions. There is a Facebook group called “Online Art & Design studio instructions in the Age of “Social Distancing”. Proenza said, “I mean, I have a lot of friends who teach in other colleges and universities in the arts, so we talk and sometimes we have zoom meetings and stuff and also on social media a lot of groups sprouted up in the spring.”  There are also articles in the New York Times and Chronicle of Higher Education about remote learning, which has helped acquire knowledge about other strategies and pedagogies. Proenza said, “So for me, it’s like a broad swath of things and it is empirical.” 

Proenza said, “I’m not alone amongst all the professors that a further obstacle of the new situation is I worry more about students, I worry about not reaching to everybody, and as I like to tell students in class, I rely on them to tell me when they need help.” Proenza said, “In the class in the physical classroom, I could see some student, way in the back. You know, not even looking at me and I can just tell, I can tell that I should go over and see, that they might need help, I can sort of see it and feel it across the room, but on zoom, I cannot, so I worry about not reaching those students and I try to encourage them to reach out unhesitatingly, even if it’s just to talk.” 

Even though the circumstances are far from ideal, there are great opportunities for learning and creating in studio art courses. Proenza said, “History is so full of stories of people doing incredible things, and sometimes even in the most atrocious circumstances or with a grievous illness or with a disability or an injury or just a sudden catastrophe, it’s the human story and it’s really amazing how adaptable we are” Eguiguren said, “She has been having a lot of time to try new things, it does not necessary reflect the pandemic, but has given her more time to experiment with new things.” Proenza said, “I guess I’m more open to a more exploratory and embracing of the new advantages of teaching online, I just am very committed to making it Great.” She said “But I would be dishonest if I said that it can ever replace the in person experience, I don’t think it does, replace it.”


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