After years of coffee shop-set exhibitions and classroom-bound exercises, the University’s art students are readying for one final public display.

“The exit show is supposed to be the culmination of your entire education in a studio art program,” said Jeff Gess, who is exiting in photography. “The final required course of each studio art major is an ‘exit’ course, in which you are supposed to create a body of work to be exhibited with your classmates.”

Thus, graduating students in the University’s art programs have been preparing the proper showcases for their work.

“It is important for an artist to be able to create a cohesive body of work,” said Rachel Cook, who is exiting in printmaking. “So while many studios are more assignment-oriented, we are given this opportunity to bring our ideas together as a representation of what we have learned and how we choose to channel that knowledge in our work.”

In many ways, it hasn’t just been a semester of preparing for this cumulative representation. It’s been years-long: the culmination of all their time thus far working with and learning about artistic media.

“The exit shows are the most heavily attended shows the school puts on. Hundreds of people come to see the art, and for most of us it will be the biggest audience we’ve had for our work,” Gess said. “So there is definitely reason to be both excited and intimidated. All of the students have been to exit shows for classes ahead of them, so there’s no delusions about how it can go.”

Additionally, participating artists are required to organize nearly every aspect of their exit showing — but not without good reason.

“We must coordinate materials, studio time, as well as promotional material,” Cook said. “It is like a preparatory show for the professional artist, so students are responsible for all aspects of the show, from personal work to the reception tables.”

The continued effort involved, across weeks and months, has also provided some perspective on the requirements of professional art-making: that is, of making and marketing yourself to the world.

“I think it can be a good reality check for all of us,” Gess said.

Still, it was always the art that mattered most.

“The process of planning and preparing are the most difficult part of an exit show,” Cook said. “In the first month I made drawings. I would draw at least six hours a day outside of class. I was pretty sick of it within two weeks.”

Across the varying works and media represented in the exit show, this artistic persistence seems to be a unifying trait.

“Everyone has gone through a lot to get their work ready,” Gess said. “And a lot of the time goes into the details that you don’t notice if they’re done well.”

More, the students’ drive has led to wildly different presentations — including works on gender, celebrity culture, Cook’s own exploration of the power of storytelling and Gess’ retrospective on Athens.

As the exit shows are usually the biggest shows of the year, each student artist is also afforded the opportunity to have eyes see their work — not in coffee-shop corners, but up-close.

With the possibility of a captive audience, there’s also the chance to connect.

“It’s a pretty ideal situation for an artist to just get to make what you want and have an audience of hundreds see it in person,” Gess said. “Most of us won’t get that again for a while.”

And with this semester’s final, cumulative show, those participating hope that there are as many available connections as possible.

“It is best that the Exit Show is the last semester, but life isn’t always neat,” said Georgia Strange, a professor of art and the director of Lamar Dodd. “The intensity and momentum of the Exit Show propels students to the next stage of their life.”

When: Tonight at 7 - reception; runs through Dec. 13

Where: Galleries 101 and 307 at Lamar Dodd School of Art

Cost: Free

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