By Madelyn Jones
Being a student on a college campus means experiencing the discovery, growth and perseverance of the the people around you. It is a time when people are finding and developing their passions. For many, it is when they discover a love for the arts or start taking their passion seriously. “I think we are an artistic bunch of people, which I think is very exciting to be around,” commented theater major Reilly Resnik (‘20).
Some artists on campus, like senior and creative writing major Felicity Helfand (‘18), have had art at the center of their life for many years prior, but others, like Tyler Zehrung (‘20), are at the earlier stages of their creative journey.
Some students came to Willamette with a specific creative interest but decided not to pursue it in this academic setting. For example, Abigail Lahnert (‘18) explained, “before I came to Willamette I had never really done visual art before… I took a creative writing class and I really didn’t like it, but then I took a drawing class and I loved it. It was a lot of the same brain exercises of thinking about images and how you put images together and how do you express really complicated, personal ideas so it felt like the same type of texture of experience but represented in different ways.”
Since art is extremely subjective, it makes sense that certain artists do not mesh well with the different art-based departments. Callum Johnston (‘19), who has dedicated many years to music, decided not to be a music major because the curriculum does not line up with his specific interests. However, it is not uncommon for a student to feel right at home in the department they expected to be in. This is the case for Helfand, who began her college career as a creative writing major and is currently writing her thesis for it.
The discussion of creativity on campus, however, does not exist only within the walls of art-based majors. Many students in other disciplines are interested in art and actively working on their own.
The varying levels of experience and prior exposure is not the only aspect that makes Willamette’s artistic culture an interesting character to study.
If you belong to a major, it is no secret that you get many emails about opportunities, lectures and upcoming events that have to do with your discipline. Because of this, while many artistic majors get detailed explanations of where to submit their work or see their peer’s work, artistic students who are not a part of these majors get much less information and therefore less of an opportunity to be involved with Willamette’s artistic culture.
Zehrung explained, “I was kind of on the fence if I had a place in the overall artistic community at Willamette and sometimes it’s easy to not notice it.”
He attributed this feeling to not being in the majors that are more often exposed to art opportunities and events. He recalled how he wished “all of last year that I had access to the art building outside of normal hours because I would’ve loved to spend more time in there. Walking around campus and all the other academic buildings… there’s just not a lot of art to see.”
As a studio art major, Lahnert also noticed this separation as a weakness of the creative culture on campus, commenting, “it feels really separate from a lot of other parts of campus. I feel like things could be more connected in a lot of way but I don’t know exactly what those ways are.”
Having access to the art building is one way non-majors could be one way to bridge that gap. Lahnert also pointed out that events like the open mic are equally available to everyone, and stressed the importance of showing up to these performances and showcases to support.
Lahnert explained, “I love events where I can see the stuff that people who [do not have a] structure built for them for us to get to see their art … like their work gets to be seen which was kind of the idea behind the Bistro gallery, was to like, make a space that is more accessible to people who aren’t just art majors.”
The call for submissions in the Bistro/Mill collaboration was sent out to every student on campus, so people only had to check their emails to find an opportunity to showcase their work. This opened up opportunities for students like Zehrung, an undeclared CCM major whose poem titled “the one about guns” is currently on the Bistro wall.
However, one creative field that is well incorporated into campus is the music department. Johnston expressed a satisfaction of inclusion and opportunities in music on campus even without being a music major: “I think in general music it’s pretty inclusive. They put out a lot of jazz combos that are all different levels …so a lot of musicians get a chance to do it… Not being a music major doesn’t bother me in any way because I can still play in as many ensembles as a music major would.”
Resnik expressed a want for more casual and inclusive places to showcase art. They cited the Bistro chalk walls as a way Willamette students get to interact with art every day, whether is it scanning the walls to find new additions or creating one of their own. They range from pieces that are small and took seconds to create or full of detail and obviously time consuming. Introducing more spaces like this onto campus could be one way to make the art community more visible, accessible and comfortable on campus.
It seems as if the Bistro is the epicenter of creativity on campus. It is currently the easiest place to create something and have it be seen with the chalk walls and joined together with The Mill to showcase students art, and open the showcase to any major. It is also a place where many people feel the most inspired on campus.
The Hallie Ford Art Museum is also an inclusive, artistic space for any one on campus to interact with art, especially since it is free for students.
Being an active participant and showing up to events, like art shows and theater productions is a major component of the artistic culture on campus. Being exposed to art whenever possible seems to be important to the community. This is to support friends, and other artists in general, in their endeavours and to keep inspired. Willamette’s campus seems to be calling for more artistic events, so it seems like if you have an idea for one, there is a good chance people will be interested and show up.
Even though Zehrung does not feel the presence of artistic culture everywhere, he is appreciative of the pieces that he does experience. “I feel like no matter where I am I can kind of sit down and start working on my own very personal writing projects or art,” he stated.
Feeling comfortable to create on campus is an important aspect of the culture since many artists take advantage of small windows of time to create. It’s no hidden truth that the average Willamette student has a packed schedule and can have difficulty finding spare time.
“There’s always a little bit of time between anything to just draw something, do something,” said Johnston, which seems to reflect the mindset of multiple artists on campus.
Helfand is the chair of the Butt-In-Chair Writing Group (BIC), which meets Monday-Thursday for 45 usually silent minutes of writing. “One of the reasons BIC works really well is that is essentially forces you into the habit of setting aside some time each day in order to write. It doesn’t have to be a super long period of time, the main goal is that you write at least a little bit every day,” she explained.
Another way artists make time for creating is by making it self-care. “It really keeps me sane, so it’s like one of those things that if I didn’t do it I would get kind of anxious … I don’t feel like I am really processing what is happening to me if I’m not writing, ” explained Lahnert.
Resnik echoed these ideas when they said, “when I get really stressed I try to make something out of that.”
Using creativity and creation as self-care could be helpful to Willamette students who do not already do that. If you are bad at relaxing or taking time to yourself, this is a way to do that while feeling productive.
It is not surprising that many artists feel their art has improved while on campus. One major way that happens is by the influence of professors. Johnston shared a story about being a part of Professor Sean Flannery’s jazz combo: “what he really shined light on is that there’s really no such thing as jazz, rock, pop, these categories they are only defined by the way you choose to define them. They don’t have exist if you don’t want them to. In other words, music is just music, why not let it be….He let me bring my compositions to the table that were not necessarily jazz… but you could still play music on, you could still improvise around. He helped me develop things and figure out a good process, so that was really amazing.”
This is one of countless stories about how Willamette professors have helped students in their artistic endeavours by lending advice, wisdom, trust and support.
Resnik also gave an example on how conversations with peers has improved their art: “Being around other people who are creating and so smart and being in dialogue with them… is very impactful on my personal view of performance and creation. I don’t think I am as influenced when I go home and try to make something, so I think it is definitely the people here that impact the way that I view my work and art as a whole.”
Johnston commented on how his trust in his ability and uniqueness rose: “It used to be I would hear these records and think like I have to play like this… and then get really disappointed when I couldn’t do it that way. Since I have come on campus, I have realized there’s things that I can do and things that I haven’t learned how to do yet, but if I focus on the things I can do, some of them are pretty cool, and I can just do my own thing.”
Since being on campus, Helfand as found significant growth in work her work. “I find my art has become more refined and polished in terms of a final product. I’ve also figured out what personally works for me. Before coming to campus writer’s block was definitely a problem for me,” she said.
This growth in student art also brings new ideas, outlooks and revelations about art. Johnston shared his new outlook on creation, saying, “creativity as a concept is really just embracing being weird or silly and not being afraid to do that.”
If you have been wanting to be more a part of the art culture on campus, this article has shown multiple ways you can get involved. If you are interested in joining The Mill, you can email Abigail Lahnert at firstname.lastname@example.org. They are also currently looking for submissions.
BIC meets in the humanities hearth Monday-Thursday from 4:15-5 p.m. You can email Felicity Helfand at email@example.com to join the mailing list. See Reilly Resnik in the theater department’s upcoming show “Burn This,” playing Feb. 15-24.