Monday, December 2, 2019

being an artist at duke

Art has been a central part of my life since I was 3 years old. My mom was my first supporter, who bought me my first set of art supplies after I ruined the white walls of our apartment in Singapore. Throughout my childhood and into early high school, I was set on going to art school. Despite not really knowing what I wanted to do as a career, I thought the time and dedication I put into developing my art when I was younger justified the idea of going to art school. However, the summer after my sophomore year of high school, I was accepted into the Virginia Summer Governor's School for Visual Arts, and the stress of deadlines, balancing multiple projects at once, and navigating what was basically a watered-down version of an art school schedule made me realize that I wasn't really enjoying what I was doing. Instead of art school, I decided it might be best to pursue my other interests, namely math, while working to incorporate the arts into that path.

When I applied to Duke, I applied as a math major. However, the essay I wrote to "Why Duke?" had nothing to do with math. Even though I knew little about Duke before being accepted, I knew that there were various arts initiatives and spaces like the Nasher, DEMAN, StudioDuke, and more. So I wrote my essay on how I wanted to be able to utilize these spaces and blur the lines between disciplines. Admittedly, this was more difficult than my essay made it seem, and it took me 3 years to figure out where my niche in the arts was.

Part of the reason this was so hard was because Duke has limited capacity for visual arts. By sheer luck, I managed to get into Beverly McIver's compositional painting class first semester of freshman year, but I know seniors who have never been able to get into a visual arts classes. In addition, for non-academic visual artists, it's extremely hard to find studio spaces to be able to work. The combination of physical space and class constraints made it difficult for me to expand beyond my comfort zone. In fact, up until this semester, I've only ever taken painting at Duke. I was excited when the Ruby was completed because I thought it meant there would be more capacity for visual arts spaces. Unfortunately, besides having a hub for various artists in residence, there are no real studio spaces for students in the Ruby. So, navigating the academic aspect of the arts posed a few challenges, but fortunately I have had the exact opposite experience in the extracurricular experience.

I got involved with duARTS pretty much by chance. I had decided to submit a painting for the student gallery for the opening of the Ruby. During the reception, I met Kelsey, the president of duARTS at the time. We spent a while talking about art and later that semester, she encouraged me to apply to be on the executive board of duARTS. Though I was unfamiliar with duARTS, the idea of expanding the arts, including all people, bridging the arts across disciplines, and making the arts accessible were goals I resonated with. After spending a year doing programming with duARTS, I'm ending my college career as co-President. One of my biggest projects of college is planning and executing a spring break arts exchange program to Duke Kunshan University, with the goal of bringing the students and the two campuses together through the arts. Throughout this process I've had the opportunity to talk to and gather support from various parts of Duke administration from Student Affairs, to Undergraduate Education, to the Arts, and to the UCAE.

So in summary, being an artist (a visual artist, at least) at Duke is challenging because of spatial constraints and unlike performing arts, there are few groups where visual artists can come together. But through my extracurriculars, it's clear to me that it's possible to carve out a space for the arts and that there is a lot of support from the administration and professors who I've interacted with. For me at least, the arts have been an integral part of my Duke experience. I've also come to notice, from the people that attend events that duARTS hosts or have applied to our alternative spring break program, that while they may not be pursuing the arts academically, they recognize and are eager to incorporate it into their daily lives. Whatever that looks like, of course varies from person to person, but the most important part about being an artist is the process and the desire to incorporate it in life; to me, that has been the defining part of my Duke experience and I'm very grateful for everyone that's been on this ride with me.

Being an Artist at Duke

Art has, until this semester, seemed to evade my time at Duke. Having grown up constantly painting and drawing, and considering I maintain the hope that I will enter a profession that will enable me to continue to explore my artistic side, this is certainly rather unusual. Oddly, the only opportunities I have had to delve into my creative fervor have been the rare moments where I have volunteered to help events that required painted decorations. As these chances come far and few in between, I tend to use them as a chance to further my passion for graffiti, often using spray paint and stencils where possible. These, however, have not satisfied my interest in the art form and so with this class I tried to develop a deeper understanding of graffiti through drawing. 
Indeed, using a pencil to make graffiti styled pieces forced me to study and try to replicate already produced pieces to convey the motion of spray paint and the limited nature of stencils. A native of England myself, the renowned British artist ‘Banksy’ has always garnered my respect in both the beauty of his art but particularly the message that each piece delivers. This is a characteristic I have tried to transfer to my art and is certainly something I plan to do in the future, both at Duke and elsewhere.
In particular, since I joined as a freshman, I have consistently admired the walls that surround the bridge over Campus Drive near East Campus. A space dedicated for students to express their views and thoughts, I admire the community that it promotes and the sense of unity it creates in promoting important causes, from social change movements to memorials. The only sadness that strikes me each time I pass the intricately decorated walls is that, for the overwhelming majority of Duke students, this is the extent to their art experience at Duke. In fact, even as a person who considers himself a consistent supporter and follower of art, I find it hard to fulfil my passion for it on a day to day bases around campus. Whether it be the heavily numerical classes that I take for my major or the lack of time I have each week to visit spaces such as the Nasher Museum or the Arts Annex, needless to say it has proven difficult to stay in touch beyond this class. Although I plan to take several more visual arts classes while I am here, I fear that many of my fellow students may not have this luxury. My hope is that Duke will make efforts to spread both student and external artworks across campus, possibly creating more spaces like the walls under the bridge. This will enable to students and other community members to pass by these exhibitions daily and naturally be exposed to art, public spaces much like those that artists such as Banksy utilize potently to deliver beautiful pieces and important messages all at once.

On Being an Artist at Duke - Marlowe Early

Though art was a significant part of y high school experience, I came to Duke with no intention of further pursuing it. After three semesters, I realized how integral artistic expression is to my life and decided to not only start taking art classes, but to build my educational experience around them. Now, art consumes my experience at Duke. I spend the majority of my time outside of class pursuing artistic endeavors, mainly photography, but also taking courses in other art forms that I love or am curious about. 
In taking so many art classes, I have been able to identify several people who are passionate and invested in the arts at Duke. I have found that between the students and professors, I am consistently inspired by the work of others and always feel that I have people to turn to for critique and guidance. Though the visual arts department is relatively small, there are so many opportunities in and outside of Duke that I have access to when I feel like I want something outside of class. 
Art has been incredibly important to my experience at Duke because becoming involved in the arts here really changed my academic experience. I feel like there is a lot of pressure at this school to follow certain paths, and making art isn't necessarily one of them. Once I left those ideas behind and decided to pursue something I'm passionate about, my feelings about Duke became much more positive and I started to actually enjoy my experience here. 
For me, art is a way to work through whats going on in my head. It's like having a long conversation with a friend or a therapist. It becomes a visceral thing and I find that my mind and body become completely immersed in what I'm doing, and for a second I'll entirely lose my sense of self, which i personally find to be a great thing. A lot of my personal work is representative of this, I'll look back at it sometimes and use it as a map for what's going on in my life. 
Personally, art has been really important for me at Duke both personally and academically. It helps me through stressful times and allows me to ground myself, and taking classes like this one pushes me to explore what I am capable of and push boundaries of what's possible. 

On Being an Artist at Duke - Jenny Xin

At Duke, I took one art class and became the art friend. It’s true that I’ve always been one of the “artsy” friends, with paintings and drawings overlapping on my once-plain bedroom walls. However, throughout high school, I’ve always had numerous friends who also doodled in their notebooks and had an art class embedded in their schedules. I even had a small group of friends entirely made of so-called "art friends" with whom I took art classes with during school, and skateboarded with when classes were over.

In high school, I was the robotics friend. Being part of the robotics team slowly became an all-consuming part of my identity. My friends saw me drawing design sketches in the margins of my notes, typing out snippets of code in my spare time, and labeled me accordingly. Being an artist was just one of my other hobbies.

At Duke, all my friends can be considered the “robotics” friend. I gathered around me people who are in the same engineering organizations and applying for the same internships, because we grew close after taking a class together. Being part of the high school robotics team is no longer a marvel, but being an artist is.

My Duke friends gasp every time I design a birthday card or leave a work in progress lying about the room. Being an artist has become such a large part of my identity here, despite the fact, or maybe due to the fact, that the art program here is not emphasized. I generally didn’t used to call myself an artist, but my friends here have referred to me as an artist so often that I have grown into the title.

This shortage of artists compared to my high school has highlighted how big of an impact art has had on my life. Being an artist at Duke means attending art classes and seeing no familiar faces. It means going to the Arts Annex in disbelief because canvases are free, and hanging up all your new paintings with sticky tack on once-bare dorm walls. It means your friends will automatically nominate you to design logos and birthday cards. It means finally embracing the title of artist and the niche you have found in this overwhelmingly giant campus of budding engineers and businessmen and basketball players.

Being an Artist at Duke- Julia Henegar

Almost everyone agrees: being an artist at Duke isn't easy. While this school is certainly prestigious, it isn't exactly known for its visual arts program or art-saturated setting. Duke is full of students hoping to become doctors, hedge fund managers, lawyers, entrepreneurs, IT specialists-- not many students enroll in this university to enter the art world. And while many may find art interesting, very few plan on using it in their desired careers. The general sense that Duke isn't an arts-driven school results in a widespread reaction of surprise when Duke students decide to major in art or pursue a career in the arts field, and this attitude, while innocent, is harmful to these students. It's discouraging to see so many peers take off on straightforward paths to lucrative jobs while art students are faced with the daunting task of navigating the art world in a world that isn't as conducive to art as they would like. It's necessary, however, that these students (which include me) don't abandon their goals because of this environment. Duke has resources and challenging courses that would prepare any willing student for a successful arts career and provide them with invaluable training in the arts during their tenure at the university.
Duke doesn't have the wide range of arts courses that an arts university may have, but because of its prestige, the courses is does offer are guaranteed to be well-taught and meaningful. No course is too easy; each challenges the student to practice skill and improve creativity. I know that my creativity and confidence in my abilities have certainly improved. I've worked with medium I would have never imagined I'd worked with, and I've only taken one semester of one art course at Duke. I've also significantly improved my portraiture skills simply by completing assignments. The creative freedom combined with mentorship that I receive from this class have been an incredible start to my art career at Duke, and they've inspired me to continue on this path, no matter how daunting or unique it may be.

Being an Artist at Duke-- Ali Rosenbaum

Whenever I tell people that I am an “artist,” they are surprised. Surprised because I am a sporty kid. Surprised because of my major in environmental science. Surprised because I am on the Pre-Med track. But anyone who really knows me, knows that I define myself as an artist. Loving or being good at art is always my go-to “fun fact” for icebreakers. Painting or sketching is my remedy for stress. At times, I can easily spend six hours on end getting lost in a single composition. I have always been talented when it came to detail. In elementary school I constantly won the crown of “artist of the month.” Growing up with this passion and flair gave me a unique, personal outlet. 

Although I am not a “formally” trained artist, I have taken art classes in school all my life, leading up to AP Portfolio art my senior year of high school. Having taken that class and creating such a large body of work in such a short amount of time really forced me to develop artistic skills with a wide variety of materials and learn to work efficiently. These are two skills which I found extremely applicable and necessary for my creation of art here at Duke.

As a freshman, adjusting to school while keeping up with coarse loads is certainly challenging enough in and of itself. But when you are a perfectionist, like myself, it can be hard to accept when you do not have every single one of your usual, comfortable art materials with you at all times. Or, that there is not, in fact, even enough space in my dorm to work on Bristol board. Making art for me here this year has not always been the easiest but I have grown to learn a lot from it. I have learned to amplify my adaptability and let the serenity drawing gives me be more powerful than any one assignment.

I always say that my number one value is balance. Whether it be a balance between my social life and school work, or a balance between spending time with friends versus family, balance is very important to me. Art fits into my life as the perfect weight on that balancing beam. It allows the load of my sometimes overwhelming STEM classes, like chemistry, to be counteracted with creativity and fun. You may ask, then why do you take those science courses if they are so tough? Well, I do love a good challenge. And, despite be arduous at times it is what I want to do in the future. 


To me, art can be anything and everything. It is whatever, whoever, whenever, and where ever. I chose Duke because of how I felt I belong to the community. Duke prioritizes the arts and definitely creates a community of artists. I feel like the school really encourages creation. I also love how as an artist I do not have to seek out opportunities, but the school encourages and passes them along. I am constantly receiving emails and checking out flyers on the walls about clubs and events that are super unique and tailored to my interests. The amount of support from both my peers and professors in the creative process is more than I could have ever imagined. Art is SO important as a Duke student. Whether you are an Economics major or a psychology major or Pre-Med, you have other passions and talents, otherwise you wouldn’t be here at Duke. I find one commonality between many students in art classes— that so many of them are not art majors, including myself. This is so important because it shows how well rounded our student body is and; another great thing is that this implies students have tested the waters, they are experimenting with different fields to ensure they do what they love and love what they do. Wherever I go, I will always be an “artist,” but at Duke especially.

Art at Duke

Being an artist at Duke comes in many forms. Some people dance fifteen hours a week as part of their dance group; some practice lines and routines for theatre plays; others draw and paint late nights in Smith Warehouse. I loved organizing artistic events through clubs and being in unique art classes with friends. Throughout this artistic journey at Duke, I've delved into the artistic community of students, faculty, and staff have all worked so intensively to build the burgeoning sense of community that exists at Duke today, and I would definitely say that art is an important part of many students' Duke experience.

But one thing rings true about the majority of Duke students who are interested in art, including me: many of them are not pursuing careers in art. It seems to be a plight of Duke that we accept so many students who love and are passionate about art, yet not so to the degree that they are willing to do it for their career. It is here that programs like DEMAN weekend, interacting with art faculty, and providing support for students interested in art careers early on is so vital to showing students that art is a viable career path.

Or maybe it's because Duke is so selective, academically rigorous, and extremely expensive, we simply do not attract the people will become our future artists. People at Duke are instead focused on careers that will sustain them financially in the future and the artists are at Julliard, which is also completely reasonable. Yet I always feel a little sad when I meet Duke students who are so talented and so inspired, but have never considered art as a viable career path for them.