A search for meaning
Critique process helps sculpture students see art in new ways
January 31, 2017
As a budding
interior designer, Alyse Shelby someday will design spaces and be responsible
for choosing the complementary art and other objects to fill those spaces.
A sculpture class
Shelby took recently at University of Wisconsin-Stout helped her see art in a
whole new way, teaching her an analytical approach that could help her go a
long way in her career.
“I began to think
about what a piece of art might mean and what the artist was trying to say
rather than, ‘Oh, that looks nice,’” said Shelby, a sophomore from Buffalo,
Shelby was one of 18
students in Contemporary Sculptural Practices 1 taught by Assistant Professor
Kelly O’Brien from the School of Art and Design. Students were required to make
four sculptures during the semester and then face their peers after each
creation during a live critique, one at which they couldn’t even defend their
efforts until everyone else had a chance to speak.
Shelby found the
critique format enlightening. “That’s 18 different minds bouncing off each
other. It’s nice to see what might have ended up working or being problematic.
I felt like after every critique I had something beneficial to take away,”
During a recent
final round of critiques, tension was ever-present as students moved from
sculpture to sculpture, offering their opinions on each other’s work in the
Applied Arts Building.
Respectfully, but certainly
not patronizingly, students and professor gave their honest impressions. With
the sculptures being abstract as opposed to traditional three-dimensional
figures, room for interpretation was broad.
piece, “Search,” was a sloping design of parallel strands of blue yarn extending
from a wall. She based the design on research she did on philosopher Albert
Camus and his story “The Myth of Sisyphus,” about humans’ eternal struggles to
reach their goals.
Shelby’s classmates came
close to connecting her piece with her research, describing it as a “loop of
energy” and a “search for answers.” O’Brien was impressed with the research and
“conceptuality” but not as much with the execution of the design.
critique was a little bittersweet for me,” Shelby said. “I had this really
philosophical concept that people couldn’t quite reach because of the title,
some knots in the yarn I had used and lighting. A nice take-away I had from it
though is the importance of research and knowledge and how it can really take
your sculptures, or any piece of artwork for that matter, to a whole new level.”
Other student sculptures included four small cubes on two
pillars; a bust of armor made with strips of metal; a tiered box with colored
strips of wood; and a large “leech.”
The leech was a black blob cradled and petted throughout the
critique session by artist Caleb Cravens. Classmates described it as “super
gross,” “a parasite,” and a “coddling or addiction.” Cravens, of Prior Lake,
Minn., explained that it represented a leech and that it was symbolic of a
person in his life.
O’Brien told students that the purpose of the class was to teach
them how to conceptualize art and how to critique it. “I hope that you take
these ideas with you,” she said.
O’Brien, who has degrees in sculpture and philosophy, has
exhibited her work around the U.S. and in 2015 received a McKnight Fellowship.
One of O’Brien’s
colleagues, Assistant Professor Ursula Murray-Husted, who teaches comics and
sequential art and directs the entertainment design program, observed a critique
session in the class. “Professor O'Brien is to
be commended for her dedication to the artistic process and building a
community where challenging work can be appreciated and critiqued
respectfully,” Murray-Husted said.
Shelby liked the way O’Brien encouraged
students to think creatively. “She never let me take the easy way out.
My second sculpture involved a door, and I had gone out looking to buy one and
install it. I went to ask Kelly where I might be able to find a cheap one to
buy, and her response was ‘build one.’ So I built a door and a frame and
installed it. I never thought that’s something I would do. It ended up being
one of my favorite projects.”
in the Contemporary Sculptural Practices 1 class at UW-Stout examine “Search,”
by classmate Alyse Shelby.
Second: Alyse Shelby
and Assistant Professor Kelly O’Brien, right, talk about the sculpture “Loose
Ends” by Morgan Brantner.
Caleb Cravens holds his sculpture, “Leech,” during the class critique.