With a banana in his pocket, Assistant Professor of Art Michael Oliveri assigns his Hypermedia class to go on eBay and find three of the weirdest things they can. The next part of the project will be to make something, put it on eBay and actually trying to sell it.
Oliveri teaches courses in art X, a major that allows students creative freedom, but few know exactly what it is. He explains that art X has a long but credible history.
Famous designer Charles Eames was asked to evaluate the foundations program at The University of Georgia in 1957, but he decided to he wanted to teach with different methods. He put together a classroom that included slide projections, scent running through the air vents and various sounds. Eames wrote a curriculum on this multimedia art form and called it art X.
“It was just like an overload of media,” Oliveri says. “Just blitzing. And it was the first time in history that it had ever happened; like anything like that had ever happened. And, [here at our school], was the first place it happened.”
Oliveri started the program at UGA in 2002, naming it after the work of Charles Eames. Oliveri designed the program to be conceptual so students could use any medium they wanted. He says the X in art X stands for “interdisciplinary, like crossing of things. I would say the intersection of media and ideas. It’s also used as a variable, like in math, so anything goes.”
As of now, UGA is the only school with a program called art X.
“There are schools that have similar concept driven programs,” Oliveri says. “They might call it something else, you know it could be expanded media ... I’m not sure. There are a lot of different names people come up with. They have programs that are similar to this, but it’s the only one that I know of that’s called art X.”
Oliveri says he is not sure of the number but thinks there are 12 or 15 students who are currently in the art X program. Only two students are currently using space in the art X studio, one of which is planning on lighting her car on fire in the near future.
Senior Michelle Hutchings plans on using her car that recently broke down as an art piece. She describes art X as “the out there art,” but says that the freedom it allows has benefited her and allowed her to convey her imagination. Hutchings says the art X professors are supportive and allow students to take ideas and run with them.
“The professors are really just easygoing and encouraging,” she says. “And if you come up with an idea that they don’t think you can do they’ll be like ‘I don’t know, but sure, if you feel like it.’ They’re always open for help and suggestions.”
Although most students are unclear as to what art X is, the ones who do have some knowledge have varying views on the major.
Third-year Art student Abby King says she doesn’t know much about the art X students themselves.
“They’re kind of ambiguous when it comes to describing themselves,” she says. King has an opinion that sheds positive light on art X. “I think it’s a really neat major,” she says, “I appreciate that it provides an outlet for students who want to explore different mediums and allows for a lot of creative freedom that other traditional art majors don’t have.”
Other students, such as fourth-year art history major Meredith Drury, think this “new phenomenon” is not yet respected by most working artists.
“At the risk of sounding pretentious, from what I’ve seen these mixed medium majors have become increasingly popular. It’s a new phenomenon, and I think it’s because schools can make more money off the students who don’t know what they want to focus on,” she says.
“It’s stressful for a student to decide to study only one medium, and the schools are changing the curriculum to cater to those students,” Drury says. “But, to many people these majors, like art X, aren’t taken seriously. The students are stereotyped as being lazy and lacking technical art skills. I don’t think it’s a reputable major in the art world yet.”
Photo by Laura James
Oliveri sets the record straight.
“It sounds like it’s just a free for all, but it’s really not,” he says. “It’s just a different way of teaching, like they teach each other. It’s more like a graduate school. We see them as adults. That’s what probably sets it apart. They’re kind of in charge of their destiny. And we give them whatever they want. If somebody is really passionate about something we’ll find them the space to do it ... I would say we probably have the highest rate of successful people working in the creative field.”
Oliveri is echoed by his co-worker Martijn van Wagtendonk who teaches an E-gadgets class where students are taught the basics of using gears, lights, sensors and motors and then are allowed to follow what they are most passionate about.
“Its not that it’s free range but the class determines the parameters of what’s going on instead of just the authoritarian teacher,” he says.
Van Wagtendonk shows a movie to his E-gadgets students about a man that builds a high tech boat for a solo sailing competition. Ultimately he fails and ends up killing himself but van Wagtendonk says that’s not the point.
“I don’t show that movie to show what electronics can or cannot do, but its more the attitude that comes with it and the commitment that you show for something that I hope gets picked up,” he says. “Cause if you’re committed to anything then it’s starting to become worthwhile.”
Most students who get into the art X program come from other majors because they are either frustrated with their major or they are looking for a change.
Ted Kuhn, a 2012 graduate of the University who is now in grad school at the San Francisco Art Institute says that art X helped him realize his creative nature. He began at UGA as a journalism major but soon decided that wasn’t what he was passionate about.
In high school he remembers enjoying using a video camera that a professor gave to him. “I had a friend who got into art X, well it used to be called digital media. And I thought oh, digital media, that sounds like a camera.”
He recalls one of his first classes being Hypermedia with a project that revolved around walking. “I think that’s where I really got drawn into the program,” Kuhn says. “It wasn’t just like hey, here’s the technical way to use the adobe suite; here’s the technical way to use the camera. But here’s how to build ideas and here’s how to find a way to teach yourself to find ways to engage with your own ideas in a way that kind of amplifies them a little bit.”
Although the art X program may seem odd, with its variety of mediums, the main drive for the curriculum is the concept of ideas.
“It’s a great place to be creative in places that are not necessarily art oriented,” Oliveri says. “Like you don’t have to know how to draw … I don’t know how to draw. It’s all about ideas. So you could have a great idea and we’re going to figure out how to make it happen.”