Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
August 13, 2020

Center for Visual Arts adjusts to virtual classes

By DYLAN KWANG | April 30, 2020

When Hopkins announced that classes were moving online for the rest of the semester, professors in all departments were forced to think of ways to keep students engaged while still being able to effectively teach material. Perhaps this transition was most difficult for instructors in the Hopkins Center for Visual Arts (CVA). Students, some used to working with a variety of mediums from oil painting to charcoal, suddenly had to leave many of their art supplies behind. 

With lockdown orders in effect in almost every state, student artists were forced to think of ways to be creative while mostly remaining indoors, as professors brainstormed assignments that were both feasible and engaging. Students replaced live models in Life Drawing with YouTube videos of ballerinas and figure skaters over Zoom’s screen-share feature. Those in Introduction to Digital Photography were encouraged to create “quarantine abstractions” and still-lifes. 

Margaret Murphy, head of the CVA, is dealing with the difficulty of transitioning to a virtual presence. She explained that this process has been much more difficult than expected, particularly because of the amount of preparation that is involved with teaching a visual art.

“Demonstrations I would have done in person had to be done outside of class and through video. It lessens the spontaneity of the class and ability for immediate instruction when a student needs help with a technique or concept,” Murphy said. 

Without the ability for direct interaction, students have been submitting their work through Blackboard and holding critiques through Zoom. 

According to sophomore Lily Zhu, who is taking Studio Drawing 1 with Murphy, the class is mostly as it would have if the class was still meeting in person.

“The general structure of our class hasn’t changed too much,“ Zhu said. “Through Zoom, we are still able to do a lot of things that we normally did during class, such as critiques. We’re able to view each other's work, point out things we like and give advice on what to do next.” 

She also complimented Murphy for handling the abrupt change of plans and creating enjoyable new projects. 

“I think our professor and class has done a really great job adapting to this situation,“ Zhu said. “For instance, we recently did a series of drawings called ‘Zoom Portraits’ where we drew friends and family members during video calls. It’s been really interesting to see how versatile art is and to find inspiration inside our homes.”

According to Murphy, the hardest classes for her to move online have been the painting and sculpture classes. Many students do not have the luxury of a dedicated art studio necessary for such projects. 

“Students have the challenge of finding and setting up work areas at home that don’t necessarily lend themselves to working with oil paint like the kitchen table or bedroom,“ she said. “[It] is a messy process... ”

Senior Ben Evans is enrolled in Introduction to Digital Photography. He noted that the virtual environment is challenging during quarantine.

“It’s really been difficult to try and photograph while being confined to my own home. Having to rely on your own computers to properly run Photoshop and other programs definitely makes it frustrating as well,” Evans said.

Without the ability to visit museums or take field trips for photoshoots, photography professors have also altered assignments. Students in Phyllis Berger’s Black and White: Digital Darkroom class have been creating images by collaging four artworks from a museum collection into one complete photograph, utilizing their research and Photoshop skills. Howard Ehrenfeld, taking inspiration from a viral challenge, had students in Introduction to Digital Photography recreate famous paintings.

Thankfully, student artists are adapting to these limitations. Without the availability of traditional media, instructors at the CVA have shown that even household products can be used in art.

“We used found materials such as homemade inks and drawing materials (eye liner, soy sauce, eye shadow, lip gloss, coffee), brown grocery bags, wrapping paper, it’s been quite fun and adaptive,” Murphy said. 

Tae Hwang, instructor for a class called Exploring Line, even mailed students a kit consisting of a piece of string, black paper, a pre-stamped envelope and instructions. Students were told to create a stop motion animation assignment titled Line Quarantined

While Murphy laments the cancelled events and guest artists that were initially planned for the semester, she also mentions that an online senior art minor exhibition is still being planned to honor Class of 2020. 

She credits the CVA faculty for meeting the challenge and adapting to the situation as best as possible.

“As creative people and educators, the CVA faculty have risen to the occasion and reinvented our regularly scheduled assignments for assignments that still meet the course objectives, but were adapted to the home as a source of observation and inspiration,” Murphy said. “Artists are very comfortable with being flexible in challenges and that has shown in our student’s work this semester. It has been a creative challenge and opportunity! Who knew Beyonce, weightlifting and hip hop videos were great for figure drawing.”

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