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'Just What Are Those UC Irvine Grad Students Up To?'

June 04, 1988

I have been teaching the graduate seminar here at UCI this year and have come to know the students Ms. Curtis interviewed--coming to know the department itself in the process. Only the disapproving tone of Ms. Curtis' account differs from my impressions of the department. Indeed, only that tone differs from my experience (gained over a decade of guest teaching and lecturing around the country) of all normal studio art departments in the United States--and, in fact, my experience of most normal graduate departments in any discipline.

What Ms. Curtis' tone reflects is less an accurate evaluation of the UCI Studio Arts Department than it is a misunderstanding of how a graduate department at a university should operate. Graduate students are young adults and are budding professional artists. They have already been taught the rudiments of their disciplines--their craft, their history--and need intimate but not constant professional feedback. My impression has been that virtually all UCI faculty professors go to great lengths to make themselves available to graduates, and do so gladly. Faculty members maintain set hours on campus, keep the graduates informed of any extended periods of absence, try valiantly to compensate for such lost time, and consult frequently, officially and informally on technical as well as aesthetic matters.

The laboratory that is the UCI Studio Arts Department is indeed less than ideally equipped or situated--thanks mostly, of course, to space and financial resources that are limited throughout the university and throughout the whole University of California system. Students and faculty alike, however, have proven flexible and inventive in compensating for these shortcomings in the physical plant. The students and faculty, after all, are prepared to live in the real world. And they are prepared to sacrifice comfort in order to make art and to engage responsibly in the contemporary artistic discourse. Even the most cynical observations and complaints Ms. Curtis chose to quote have not persuaded me of the students', or their faculty's, irresponsibility or enervation.

PETER FRANK

Visiting Lecturer, UC Irvine

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