A Major By Any Other Name

Fine Arts and VES

When architects drew up the construction plans for the Carpenter Center, they decided to build a tunnel between it and the Fogg Musuem next door. Through this underground link, works of art could be transported from one building to the other, avoiding exposure to the light of day and the soot of Cambridge.

Now, though, this uncompleted tunnel lies untravelled and largely forgotten beneath the yard between the Fogg and the Carpenter Center. Concentrators in Visual and Environmental Studies (VES) and Fine Arts say this story parallels the current connection between the two departments.

Fine Arts encourages students to participate in at least one or two studio courses, although these are not required. Concentrators may also take any VES lecture course for credit.

"I don't think the department puts enough emphasis on the importance of working in the studio. They would be really valuable classes for every concentrator," Ellen Hart '80 says. "How are we supposed to appreciate what the artist went through without experiencing a little bit of it ourselves?" she adds.

From the other perspective, Kristin Hodgkins '80, a VES concentrator, says "People who are involved in the studio fine arts end of VES really need a good background in some kind of art history."

But Louis J. Bakanowsky, chairman of VES, says broad requirements in his department provide students with a wide base of study.

"We encourage students to explore other areas, and we certainly involve them in the analysis of great artists' works," he says.

The department requires its concentrators to take courses in each of three fields: studio, which includes drawing, painting, and sculpture and design; environment, which explores architecture and structure; and lights and communications, which encompasses film, photography and animation.

"This makes for a very integrated program," Bakanowsky says. "Above all, we want to train students who can feel as well as think."

Bakanowsky says the department stresses "relational thinking" and explains, "When most people look at a scene, they see just objects in it. But we try to get out students to recognize the shapes and spaces between the tangible components."

Some inadequacies of the Carpenter Center may hamper some of those goals, a senior concentrator from North House says. "The lighting in the studios is really terrible. Sometimes you can hardly see what you're doing," he adds.

The Fine Arts Department will find more space for its programs in new centers the College plans to build when the Allston Burr building is razed next fall, Oleg Grabar, chairman of the Fine Arts Department, says.

"Our present classrooms are abominable--they've got better audio-visual equipment at the University of Damascus than we have here," he says.

The current departmental offices in the Fogg are a mixed blessing, Grabar adds. While the museum allows concentrators greater access to private collections, the department's quarters must close at 5:30 p.m. when the museum does.

"Still, it's a great place for us," Whitney Davis '80, a Fine Arts concentrator, says. "It allows us intimate contact with great artists' works and also provides opportunities for training in museum-related fields."

Neal A. Levine, head tutor in the department, says students are often assigned to individual tutorials, adding that the department encourages them to opt for his set up.

Unfortunately for the continuity of the program, the department's permanent staff is small, with many of the professors visiting for a limited period of time. "There's not always balanced emphasis on all areas of art," Levine says, "but our faculty is extremely diverse and they represent a varied group of ideas and approaches."