The State of Student Art

 "Coexist" by Kaori Freda

"Coexist" by Kaori Freda

Despite the passion of students for various artistic endeavors, the Reed campus lacks space dedicated to displaying student art pieces year-round. This seems to clash with Reed’s “artsy” reputation, the popularity of RAW and the plethora of students puffing on cigarettes outside the Paradox or lounging on the lawn with dried clay and paint on their clothes. 

Currently, the only spaces at Reed in which students are able to show original art are the Paradox, the art building, and the ever-changing mural walls around campus. Cooley Gallery Curator and Director, Stephanie Snyder, is looking forward to a change. “I personally believe that we need a teaching museum,” says Snyder. “Within that museum, students could become involved in a multiplicity of projects, including the display of their own work and the curation of each other’s work.” Though she believes the Cooley is a “wonderful museum,” she emphasizes that “it is one room, it can do one thing at a time.” The creation of a new space, for Snyder, would mean “a large lobby, that is large enough for assembly, seating areas, that has a reception desk, and a bookstore” with an area on that first floor for “project space that could either be for student art or work curated by students.” She stresses that “a teaching museum would have multiple floors so really projects could take place throughout the museum.” Snyder sees the creation of this space as a goal that could be accomplished in “not too many more years.” 

At an ideal Reed, different people envision different methods of art display but students and faculty agree that the best version of our campus would include a more visible presence of our art. “We probably need two kinds of spaces,” says Snyder. “A space that…can be carefully tended and controlled by students, but I also think we need a really dignified space that is a portal to the larger world, like the Cooley is, where students can exhibit their work and celebrate each other’s accomplishments, and hold themselves at a really high standard,” said Snyder. In contrast, art major Liana Clark ’15 believes one cannot “say ‘this is a space for making art.’ If students are invested in making art and showing it, they will do so. And that happens in some places more than others.” In terms of creating new spaces, and encouraging students to create their own, Snyder says, “I don’t think there is any administrative opposition to this.” Paradox manager Anna Baker agrees that “it would be great if there was administrative support,” but is “not sure in what way they could support it that wouldn’t feel overbearing.” 

Baker thinks that the campus-wide emphasis on academics eclipses the desire to focus on art. “I feel like we are busy in a way where it is really hard to have these kinds of...outside of school projects. Time is really precious for Reed students and to put in that extra work of...setting something up or being a curator...is a lot to ask. Even though it shouldn’t be, it is,” she says. Snyder agrees, “everyone is extremely busy… if you have a thesis in a different department, if you have a course load, if you are just trying to have a life, eat well, and find a date, how do you have time to start another revolution?” She also cites a similar problem in the theater department, with “students working tirelessly on theater productions and not getting credit for it. We need to think really hard and carefully about what we’re offering and how we’re facilitating students to be involved [in the arts].” 

The Paradox has taken steps to combat this apparent academia-fueled artistic apathy. Although the Paradox has traditionally shown student artwork, last year they took a brief hiatus. Baker believes that, because “we have this space…and it is the only...purely autonomous student-run organization at Reed” that it is important “to incorporate as many students as possible.” In that spirit, “this year we hired [Syd Low], and when we hired them we were like, okay you are a barista and a curator,” says Baker. Low says, “I’m less interested in ‘curating’ in the sense of ‘selecting worthy art,’ but more in the sense of coordinating students sharing in the potential of the space. That came out really academese; what I’m trying to say is I want to give anyone who wants some shine time a closer audience than Tumblr.” Despite Low’s efforts to encourage students to submit their art for display, response rates have been lower than expected. “We actually haven’t been getting that many responses from SB Info. I think people are just tired and don’t want to put in that extra work,” says Baker. “Since individuals haven’t turned up, I’m thinking of asking for submissions on a theme,” says Low. “If that doesn’t work I’ll try something else. It’s an experimental place and the managers are really down with letting me do whatever. Apparently the Paradox has this weird rap of being full of ‘cool kids’ and people who work there, and I want to think this is an opportunity to make it more open.” 

“I think Reedies want to be able to ‘know’ something about the art they’re seeing,” continues Low. “People will pull out all kinds of BS in their poli-sci classes but don’t know how to approach a photograph. And that’s not to say you should just BS more about art,” says Low, but rather begs the question: “why don’t people want to integrate art as something to have an opinion about?” 

 "Nestle" by Kaori Freda

"Nestle" by Kaori Freda

Kaori Freda is among the students who have taken the time to display their art in the Paradox. “I showed three pieces in the Paradox which I created my senior year of high school with collage and ballpoint pen,” says Freda. “I exhibited the pieces with bright upholstery fabric I scrounged from SCRAP [the School and Community Action Project].” For her, the experience was a positive one. “I like seeing student art in the Paradox and would love to see the art change month to month, with an artists’ reception to celebrate the artists and draw attention to their work for the remainder of the month,” Freda says. 

Though the creation of a new space and potential renovation of the studio art building is at least a few years down the line, Reed art enthusiasts emphasize that there are steps students can take right now to bring art closer to the forefront of campus life. “It would be very interesting to see people… curate their own exhibits” says Baker. “Whether it be in the ping-pong room or whatever, whether it is a part of class or anything, just as a form of art making that we don’t really participate in that much,” Freda also thinks “student-organized shows in community spaces like Vollum, Eliot, and the PAB would be a great outlet for students to show the work they create on their own time or in class.” Snyder is an eager proponent of any student-driven initiatives. “If there were a kind of association of student artists, it could spring up tomorrow, and if they were to come to me and…say ‘would you help us organize ourselves, locate some spaces that art exists on campus, set up some deadlines and protocols, get out the word,’ I’d do it in second” if students are passionate about this, and the administration is supportive, it seems to only be a matter of time until campus is awash with art for more than just a week each spring.