Oklahoma Baptist University

Students Study Art, Design, Communications in Big Apple

OBU students studying art, design and communications expanded their education through an on-site visit to the United States' "cultural capital," New York City, as part of three OBU January Term classes.

"Even though the nation's capital is Washington, D.C., the business, and cultural capital of the United States would have to be New York City," said Corey Fuller, assistant professor of graphic design who taught one of the NYC J-Term courses. "Just visiting the city is an education within itself. ... It's a living lab."

New York City is a haven for any person interested in art -- visual and performing arts, architecture, history, culture, food and so much more, said Julie Blackstone, OBU assistant professor of art.

OBU students visited several professional artists during their January Term courses in New York City, including Brannon McAllister, a freelance designer (third from right). Those pictured include (from left) Corey Fuller, OBU assistant professor of graphic design; Meaghan Ritchey, International Arts Movement; OBU students Kristen Parham, Mary Corley, Melody Wheeler, Kat Orsak, and Jee Choi; McAllister; OBU student Cassidi Henderson; and Bryan Horvath, International Arts Movement.

"Any art student benefits from a good museum visit," Blackstone said. "The trip to NYC entailed not only visits to museums, galleries, and public sculpture and art, it gave students a fabulous overview of multiculturalism. It was one of those eye-opening, eye-popping experiences that shape an artist's vision and life; it was an experience that these students will carry as long as memory serves."

"Advanced Topics Course in Drawing: Sculpture in NYC" was taught by Blackstone; "Study tour in Graphic Design: Meeting Design Professionals" was taught by Fuller; and "Communication Acts in Urban Contexts" was taught by Dr. Kaylene Barbe, professor of communication studies who serves as the Communication Arts Division chair.

"This was the first time to visit New York for some of our students, so we hit a lot of the cultural icons -- the top of the Empire State Building, Rockefeller Center, and Central Park," Fuller said. "We spent entire days at the Museum of Modern Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Seeing Frank Lloyd Wright's famous Guggenheim Museum, a masterwork of architecture, was a highlight for me personally and, hopefully, the students."

After a full day at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Blackstone said the students "were really almost exhausted at the end of the day; their minds and creative souls were full to the brim after a day spent walking through those galleries and seeing sights they'd heretofore only seen in their Art History books."

A trip to the Natural History Museum, Blackstone said, offered a mix of art, science, anthropology, history, and "a trip back to many childhood fantasies." Later, in St. Patrick's Cathedral, she said they were moved by their surroundings: "the sheer awe-inspiring architecture, the beautiful stained glass, the exquisite sculpture, the stonework, the paintings ... all appealed to our artistic natures," Blackstone said. "And the holiness of that space! I think we all felt the urge/need to stay and pray."

While in the cathedral, students took out their drawing materials and created sketches inspired by the sculpture and our surroundings. Blackstone said they also encountered a human element in the cathedral: the homeless population seeking a moment of refuge.

"The homeless aren't allowed to lie down in the pews, but if they remain seated, they are left in peace to come in, get warm, and doze there in the relative comfort of the cathedral," Blackstone said. "That certainly makes a person wish there was something more we could do for the homeless, particularly in the harsh, cold wintertime."

Blackstone said many of the students' favorite setting was the Museum of Modern Art, which houses Van Gogh's "Starry Starry Night" among other famous works. She said students interested in fibers/textiles were especially pleased with The Museum of Folk Art. They also visited The Cloisters Museum, a collection of art and architecture from medieval Europe, among other NYC destinations.

Through an organization called International Arts Movement, the OBU Art Department formed contacts with working artists and designers in New York City, creating a valuable opportunity for students to meet professionals in their chosen fields of study.

Mark Dixon (left), creative director for Elizabeth Arden, discusses the world of professional art with OBU students Mary Corley, Kat Orsak and Cassidi Henderson. Students said they were impressed with Dixon's knowledge of the field and his advice on job searches and compilation of a portfolio.

The group met with Todd Rhoda of the firm CorchiaWolinerRhoda (cleverdesign.com), noted as one of the top website design, logo design and graphic design firms in New York City; Brannon McAllister, a freelance designer who has done album artwork for multiple recording artists such as Caedmon's Call and Derek Webb's solo projects; Mark Dixon, creative director of Elizabeth Arden, who directs artwork and photo shoots with celebrities such as Britney Spears and Catherine Zeta Jones.

Bryan Horvath, executive director of International Arts Movement, imparted to the students his philosophy on the role of art within culture, and he led the group in a discussion of what it means to be a "culture-maker."

On campus, students spent time at OBU developing their own portfolios and polishing self-promo materials, such as a website and resumé. Meeting with design professionals gave students insights into current trends, Fuller said, but also the staples of a good portfolio.

"It was nice to meet with several different designers, with different backgrounds," said Melody Wheeler, an OBU senior from Oklahoma City. "We met with a freelance designer, an in-house designer and an ad firm, so I feel like it gave me a better understanding of the possibilities after graduation."

In Blackstone's course, the trip continued what students had been doing on campus for J-Term: figure drawing, with an emphasis on technique and composition. During the trip -- which Blackstone said was inspirational from about every standpoint an artist might experience -- the students concentrated on drawing sculpture.

The purpose of the communication course was to develop each student's understanding of a variety of communication forms in an urban context, Barbe said. Students made observations and developed arguments related to how persuasion was reflected through the work of playwrights, artists and advertisers.

For example, students considered the playwright's arguments in the Broadway play, "Wicked" about how people respond to and handle differences. Students also addressed questions such as, "To what extent is the oldest Macy's in the world communicating cultural diversity?" Students applied persuasion theories to ads in Times Square, museums and other New York City landmarks and experiences.

"Ultimately, students should be better prepared to explain ways individuals, artists, companies and communities attempt to generate meaning," Barbe said. "They should have also come away from the course realizing they should not always take the world at face value and should ask questions about what communication choices were made and why."