Rooted in tradition, with a vision for the future
Pinned to a bulletin board in Douglas Rosenberg’s office in the Humanities Building is a white piece of paper with black, bold lettering that reads: “Art for the 21st Century.” It’s a simple reminder to the professor and chair of UW– Madison’s Art Department of his ongoing commitment to examining innovative ways to move his programs forward.
“Art departments are built on historical models,” says Rosenberg, who has chaired the department since September 2015. “These aren’t bad models but there is constant evolution and change in the field. Our challenge is to honor our past while evolving into an art department for the 21st century.”
The Glass Lab within the department, for example, has long been held in high esteem. It was 1962 when trail-blazing UW–Madison artist Harvey K. Littleton launched the nation’s first university-based studio program in art glass.
“This university has played a pivotal role in the birth of the American studio glass movement,” says Helen Lee, an assistant professor with the Art Department and director of the Glass Lab. “But it’s important that we consistently explore new projects and different ways of creating art that will make our Glass Lab increasingly relevant today and into the future.”
Since arriving on campus in 2013, Lee has led several projects with an eye toward the future. As just one illustration, Lee garnered School of Education funding in 2014 for a “Smart Bench” project. The bench features multiple cameras that can capture a person glassblowing from different vantage points. The video footage — time synced to appear on a screen with different camera angles displaying at once — allows students to more closely examine the nuanced details of glass blowing.
Such innovation is widespread across the Art Department. In Matt Mauk’s Art 212 (Drawing II) classes this fall, for instance, he not only taught his students the finer points of drawing with traditional media like colored pencils and pastels, but he also allowed the students to create 3D art using the latest in virtual reality (VR) technology.
“Some old-school artists view VR as a fad or toy,” says Mauk, a third-year master of fine arts student. “I think it’s important to expose our students to new technologies and opportunities.”
Meanwhile, UW–Madison recently ramped up efforts to increase its Summer Term offerings — both in person and online — to help undergraduates more easily complete their degrees in a timely fashion. And the Art Department was a Summer Term leader within the School of Education. In 2015, there were 74 undergraduate enrollments in Summer Term art classes, a figure that jumped to 101 this past summer. The art class that enrolled the most students in Summer 2016 — Art 208 (Current Directions in Art) — was a newly developed hybrid course where students met with peers and the instructor in online forums using video chats.
“Artists know how to solve problems in creative ways,” says Rosenberg, who played a key role in developing the hybrid course and who is working on developing a suite of online art courses for Summer Term 2017. “We have people who know how to do video, technology and design, so we were able to create an online course in a fraction of the time it would have taken otherwise, at a fraction of the cost.”
As it looks to the future, the Art Department during the 2016–17 academic year is going through its university mandated 10-year review, while also undergoing a reaccreditation process through the National Association of Schools of Art and Design.
“We’ll continue to respect our past while looking at ways to move this department forward in bold, new directions,” says Rosenberg.