Art as Experience
Summer College 2014
Hi, I'm Sylvie and I just finished my junior year at Seattle Academy. I've lived in Seattle my whole life, surrounded by the lush, ever-present Cascade Mountains and the Puget Sound. I love to travel and experience different cultures, and I'm excited to live in Ithaca, on the opposite coast. In school I've taken part in musicals, econ-finance club, cross-country ski club, started an outdoors club, and played tennis this year. Outside of school I enjoy running, walking and hiking for exercise, traveling, spending time with friends, and making art.
My passion for art began the moment I could hold a crayon, so naturally I'm thrilled to be attending the Summer College Art as Experience course to open my mind to new ways of thinking about and developing art. I cannot wait for the inspiration that awaits me at Cornell.
I came to tour Cornell earlier this year, and upon arriving again I was shocked to find that the campus is even prettier in the summer. The winters are rumored to be long and cold, however on both my opportunities to visit, the school has been beautiful. Walking between classes even after a week, I'm still amazed by the impressive architecture and scenic gorges. Walking shoes are a necessity here; the walk between the dorms, food, and classes each day is pleasantly long on the extensive campus.
On Tuesday night I met up with a friend from my dorm and we walked around the paths of West Campus. After some enjoyably hot days, the rain came Wednesday. I laughed to see people pulling out umbrellas when the clouds were just sprinkling. In Seattle the rain is frequent, but no one uses umbrellas, and even rain jackets are seldom used. However, as the rain did not let up and got even heavier, I understood the need. Packing for Ithaca summers requires a variety of clothes for occasional weather shifts.
The last week has been a new experience for me, and I am so glad I am figuring out something as simple as living in a dorm now rather than later. The first couple days were exciting and new, but also different and intimidating. My class is comprised of only sixteen people, so I found out it was up to me to find ways of making friends outside of class. Luckily I have already made some close friends in and outside of class, and I cannot wait to spend the next two weeks with them. I always find that settling into a routine is never easy the first few days, but increasingly improves.
In art class we do different projects each day for five and a half hours. The course is normally spread over fifteen weeks, and is now compressed to three weeks, so the days are long. Fortunately I love the class and my teacher. She has a different style of teaching than I was expecting, laid back and calm, which makes the studio time even more enjoyable. Consequently, the class dynamic is relaxing yet productive. So far we have worked with charcoal to make a collaborative image, produced squares using perspective and tape, figure drawn in charcoal, collaged album covers, and created panoramas of the plantation here. I have already worked in charcoal, but the other concepts were new to me. Combining the new art forms along with the art book we are reading outside of class, my ideas of art have already changed. We have also taken time as a class to take advantage of Cornell's resources. The Fine Arts Library is impressive, and on Friday we learned how to navigate the books with a project.
Last week was primarily spent drawing, however the next two weeks will be filled with printmaking and photography. I did not know what to expect when signing up, although I am confident I will have a wider knowledge of different mediums and concepts of art by the end of these three weeks.
While my primary focus here is art, in my extra time, I signed up for intramural tennis, leadership club, yoga, and hiking. Playing tennis was a nice familiar break. The leadership club provided some key information on improving study skills, and gave helpful advice on the difference in expectations between high school and college-level classes and work. I'm excited to participate in yoga and hiking as well next week; there are gorgeous trails around campus I hope to explore.
Last Thursday, my art class woke up at seven in the morning and took a four-hour bus ride to a museum in Massachusetts, MASS MoCA. The museum was an especially incredible experience because the galleries held art installations and sculptures using space rather than the typical images that are hung on the walls, with a few sculptures on tables. One of the exhibits included screens showing moving clouds, and people could pose behind the screens, showing the silhouettes against the images. The exhibit especially spoke to two of my classmates and myself, because earlier that week we had done a collaborative ephemeral photography project. The project, like almost all the assignments in the class, was left open-ended, so we chose to tell a story using sheets and a light projector to create silhouetted pictures.
After getting back from the museum that night, I met up with some friends and we got ice cream and went to the water to watch the fireworks. Night check at eleven cut our fireworks viewing short; however, I was with someone from New York City who had never seen fireworks in person before, and his excitement from seeing part of the show was well worth the trip into town. Curiously, most of the friends I spend time with outside of class are studying engineering.
In addition to my studio time and classes the last two weeks, I have been sitting in on the engineering classes as my schedule allows. I am now gaining a sense of different class formats, such as studios and lectures. I love that I can plan and alter my daily schedule to efficiently make time for friends and other activities.
The day after the night of the fireworks was Fourth of July. The school held a barbeque on a field for lunch, and later that night my friends threw another barbeque at a local park. We played Frisbee, listened to music, and grilled food, getting back to our dorms just in time for the nightly check in. Our favorite nighttime activity has consistently been stargazing; almost every night in the last week we have piled together blankets, speakers, and music to carry up to the soccer field.
One of our most frequent activities occurs at least once every three days: finding some form of ice cream. I can name six different locations we have had ice cream that did not include the dining hall's soft serve. Two of the places were located in Collegetown, a winding street of restaurants and quick food stops, a fun place to go that is only a fifteen minute walk from North Campus. North Campus holds all the Summer College residential living, and is about a ten-minute walk to West Campus, where my class is held in the Arts Quad.
Ithaca is a delightfully charming, small city full of little shops and opportunities allowing alternatives to the dorm food, with plenty of outside activities in the summer. Last weekend we went to the famous Moosewood Restaurant, and had a leisurely, delicious four-course vegetarian meal. Once we realized how much time had passed, we ran all the way back uphill to campus to play manhunt. I would highly recommend the restaurant, but I would not repeat running stuffed with amazing food. On Sunday morning, I went with some friends to the Ithaca Farmers' Market. After browsing, we went to a dock on the shore of Cayuga Lake, listened to music, and soaked up the sun. I'll savor the unexpected, unplanned moments most.
In the last week of class, we screen-printed and made a final individual project. We also took a whole day to critique our art from the prior two weeks, which was fun but hard work. Sitting and talking about any subject for five hours pushes the limits of even the most focused or passionate person. The last day, we hung our art in the gallery in the morning and hosted an exhibition in the afternoon.
The Cornell Summer College experience has given me a taste of how to prioritize my focus among academics, challenging myself, socializing, and experiencing college life. The program gave me the opportunity to have a productive summer while meeting and collaborating with talented people from all over the world. I know I will stay in contact with many of the incredible people I've met here.
One of my most memorable evenings from the program was the second weekend, when everyone was settled in and starting to have fun. The Friday afternoon heat had faded, leaving a nice warm temperature for comfortably spending time outside. My friends and I were on the field playing music and tossing around a Frisbee (two recommendations for what to bring: speakers and a Frisbee). We were planning to head to dinner soon, when a group of boys from my friend's engineering class walked past and asked us to go to Chipotle. Figuring out the bus system and introducing someone from England to burritos was a surprisingly fun night, of course ending with Insomnia Cookies. That night was memorable as the first night associating with that group of people, who we then spent almost all our free time with. Completing my art projects and homework went by fast every afternoon after, because the content was interesting and I was motivated with the constant opportunity of more fun and new things to do with friends once I finished.
I am now traveling with my family, which has been fun, but different after spending all my recent time with friends. While I think I look forward to going home to Seattle tomorrow, I have realized I really do love spending time away from home, and could have easily lasted longer at Cornell. A majority of my friends were in a six-week program and as the end of my program approached, staying with them another three weeks seemed extremely appealing. The engineering class that I sat in on was six weeks and captivated my interest. However if I did stay longer, or came again, I would definitely bring my own bed sheets—sleeping on the beds was certainly not the best part of the experience.
I already miss the beautiful campus, walking around Collegetown, and doing random activities in Ithaca. So far a day hasn't gone by that I haven't spoken to my friends from Cornell. I didn't fully appreciate the diversity before, but I now realize how lucky I am to have friends from Paris, Madagascar, China, England, Brazil, and so many other places. If I ever go to New York City I have at least eight different friends to see.
Not making art in the studio for almost six hours each day is also an adjustment. I have brought home my supplies so I can continue making art at home, but will miss the instruction and environment of my class. I primarily came to the program to get a general exposure to a college- level course, and now I have a better sense of what role art will play in my future. Art will always stay a constant in my life, and I can't wait to pursue other interests that spark my curiosity.