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Volume 98, Number 1

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Aughinbaugh Art Gallery
Visitors to the Aughinbaugh Art Gallery had the opportunity to view senior work in painting, drawing, photography, graphic design, and textiles.

Graduating art majors produce professional art exhibits

Walk into the Aughinbaugh Art Gallery in April or May of any given year and you’ll find it filled with images and art which represent the culmination of four years of students’ learning in the Department of Visual Arts at Messiah College.  Senior studio art majors presented three exhibits this spring, the zenith of their educational careers. 

Before Christmas break each year, faculty members divide students into three groups, which will collaborate to compose, from start to finish, a professional exhibit, giving seniors “an experience not unlike something they would have after they graduate in putting together a professional show,” says Christine Forsythe, professor and chair of the visual arts department. Faculty members review proposals from the student and provide guidance through the process as students create pieces in their area concentration, either two-dimension, mixed media, or graphics and technology studies.

Challenges arise on several levels as they produce their senior show.  First, students must create their own work in a way that forms a cohesive unit, work that comes “out of experiences they’ve already had, things that are important to them,” says Forsythe.  Then artists work together with others in their group to develop a show that is strong overall. Forsythe emphasizes, “What they have to keep in mind is the whole, rather than just the parts.” 

Student artists then frame, mount, or otherwise prepare their pieces for presentation before tackling the formidable task of bringing together the individual work of a number of artists to design an exhibit that will be balanced and allow each artist’s work shine.  They must organize the space, arrange the lighting, and print the labels – everything they will have to do after graduation to present a show. Forsythe explains, “Our hope is that most of these students will go on to do another show.” 

While the scale and complexity of the project may bring stress, as students balance their own goals for their senior show with the goals of the group, the rewards are evident at the opening reception. The artist mingle with their faculty, friends, and family to see the completed show and enjoy live music and refreshments together. 

Michael Holland '06 describes his experience of his senior show reception:

"It was a very detached feeling. It was (I'm sure), in a way, how our professors felt as they watched us make progress on our work; the years they spent working with us were going to show their fruit, bad or good, but there was nothing they could do to sway it at that point.

I had developed a uniquely intimate relationship with my pieces. I spent late hours the night before the show opened making sure I set everything up the way I had been planning for weeks, and just standing around looking at it thinking, 'There's nothing more I can do. When it opens, they're just going to be what they are and people will see what they want to.' It seemed somehow like letting my children out into the world, to make what they will of their life.

So walking into the 'open to the public' gallery was strange- I recognized my work, and felt like it recognized me, but we seemed to agree that now, in front of all these outsiders, was going to be the time to act like it was all strictly academic. We only winked at each other, and at the reception I had pretzels and strawberries and punch, and chatted with my professors as if the past four years had somehow been strictly academic."

--Susan K. Getty '84

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