Finding Common Creative Ground
“Agnes Martin, Rem Koolhaas, Fragonard, Daumier, Turner, Piranesi, Giacometti, Guy Laramee, Tara Donovan...” Fifth-year Architecture student Emily Svenningsen BArch 18 rattles off some of the artists and designers whose drawing work she admires. The range of disciplines represented is broad, pointing to the huge (if often understated) role of drawing in the realm of creative thought.
In terms of her own acquaintance with the discipline, Svenningsen excelled at drawing during her Experimental and Foundation Studies (EFS) year and continued to hone her skills through non-major studio electives. “People often comment about how much I draw in class,” she says. “It's really the only thing that will keep me focused and helps me think through my ideas.”
When RISD announced the availability of a new Drawing concentration starting this fall, Svenningsen discovered that she had already accumulated many of the credits needed to complete the requirements. Joining the inaugural class has been a no-brainer from a scheduling perspective, offering her the opportunity to reconnect with this invaluable way of working in the studio.
“In architecture, drawing has become more or less overrun with computational drawing and rendering, so the concentration allows me to get back in contact with hand-eye coordination,” Svenningsen says. “It’s helped broaden my ability to project three-dimensional ideas onto a two-dimensional surface.”
In Thinking through Drawing, a fall studio taught by Assistant Professor Dawn Clements, Svenningsen and students from diverse majors work together in the studio. This is by design. Housed in the EFS division, the concentration takes its cues from faculty members’ diverse approaches to teaching the foundations of art and design. “We’re expanding the idea of what drawing is in the same way we try in EFS to expand what the visual project is,” explains Concentration Coordinator and Assistant Professor Masha Ryskin 95 PR. “We want illustrators to work alongside designers, alongside glass majors so they can communicate ideas even more. The diverse experiences make the dialogue richer.”
In the same vein, the new Computation, Technology and Culture (CTC) concentration seeks to harness the interdisciplinary exchange that characterizes first-year learning and apply it to the study of digital currents influencing art and design. Interim Concentration Coordinator and Associate Professor Clement Valla MFA 09 DM has long recognized the opening for this type of program in RISD’s studio curriculum.
“Having taught many courses in many departments at RISD, I started noticing that students were hungry for a deeper look at contemporary technologies,” Valla says. “They’re very agile at picking them up on their own—they’ve been teaching themselves how to program, how to use complex software for many years…but along with acquiring skills, they need a place to discuss and critique how these new technologies are changing the arts and design.”
Mei Lenehan 18 GD, a senior in Graphic Design, has added CTC as a second concentration (she’s also completing one in Literary Arts + Studies). She sees this as a way to be “exposed to the different ambitions” of students in other majors and channel specific interests that complement her chosen major. “I had a longing to use these mediums—to do more web projects—so it’s more like a self-imposed goal, a restriction to work in,” she says of CTC, which was introduced last spring. “It’s choosing to focus on what feels culturally relevant to me. And it gives me a new perspective.”
New perspectives are not limited to the student experience in these concentrations. Ryskin acknowledges that surprises ensue for faculty as well when an oft-considered “traditional” discipline like drawing embraces its contemporary identity.
“I’m teaching the drawing studio Spatial Investigations this semester and we just had a critique of an assignment with some really interesting solutions,” she explains. “We’re visualizing space with mathematics, with movement…. It’s been great watching students bring investigations from their disciplines into this class. There's a great deal of energy that comes out of it.”
In RISD’s newest academic concentration, students create ambitious work at the intersection of art and digital technology.
Beginning in fall 2018, students in two new graduate programs in Liberal Arts will grapple with the complexities of globalization and urgent ecological challenges.
Students in an intense Wintersession studio (re)discover the essential power of drawing.