A Holistic Approach to Art Education in Los Angeles

The two disciplines of art history and studio arts are undeniably and inextricably linked. With today’s contemporary art practices relying increasingly on writing and theory, and much of art history being geared toward art criticism, it is an invaluable experience for art history and studio arts students to interact and critique each other’s work. Realizing this relationship, Interim Studio Arts Department Chair Jane Brucker, and Art History Department Chair Damon Willick, Ph.D. sought to bring the two together, by joining the courses Art in LA (studio arts) and LA Now (art history) in a dual-instruction setting.

Now in its 10th year, combining these two courses allows art history and studio arts students to participate in lively, interdisciplinary class discussion of shared experiences and perspectives, as well as engage with successful local artists. Brucker and Willick share instruction responsibilities for the courses and invite an impressive roster of guest speakers from the larger Los Angeles arts community. This last semester, some notable guest lecturers have included Phranc, the artist/singer, Eric Nakama of Giant Robot, Nancy Buchanan, the performance artist, Kim Abeles, an activist artist, and Tony de los Reyes, a painter. In addition to the guest lectures, students go on artist studio fieldtrips, as well as museum and gallery visits.

The students also benefit from LMU’s location in Los Angeles, which has long been an integral component of the contemporary art world. First recognized as the “Second City” of American art in the late-1950s, Los Angeles today has one of the most vibrant and dynamic art scenes in the world. The city itself is one of the most diverse in the world, and its art and art scenes are equally as complex. According to Brucker, LMU’s location in this art mecca presents a distinctive opportunity to students. “While each course is unique in its course learning objectives and student outcomes, both classes have a shared goal of enriching our respective students in the history of the Los Angeles art scene,” she said. “By focusing on artists, curators, writers, museums, and galleries in Los Angeles, we ask our students to start making sense of how this city has been and is continuing to be at the cutting edge of contemporary art production.”

While the classes are held in the same location, the two courses have different assignments and different expectations. The studio arts students must create a written project proposal similar in format to a grant proposal, and then create their personal artwork for the exhibition that is inspired either by researching art practice in Los Angeles, or from one of the guest lecturers. The art history students engage in research and writing that results in essays over the course of the semester, culminating in a thorough critique and discussion at the final exhibition.

Not only does the combined course celebrate interdisciplinary education, but it also creates a unique experience central to the university’s mission and identity by taking a holistic approach to learning. For Willick, the value of the course is very apparent. “Teaching this class is an extraordinary experience in that we witness student learning on a level that extends beyond individually taught art and art history courses,” he said. “It gives all the participants exposure to the varied practices and careers available within the art world, and allows them to have a glimpse into the diversity of a vibrant arts community that they can aspire to join.”

At the completion of the course, the students join together for an exhibition and discussion showcasing the studio arts student work, where they are asked to speak to the gathered crowd about the work. The above slideshow features some of the art created as part of this final project for the Spring 2017 semester.