Earlier this week, I shared my thoughts on the recently launched Illinois Art + Design MFA exhibition website. I wrote about the surprising advantages of this COVID-19-inspired format change. And I journeyed along with these critically-minded artists as they investigated their interior and exterior landscapes, many of which, not surprisingly, spoke so well to our current situation and the equally problematic issues it has highlighted. Of particular note were artists working to expand the boundaries of their chosen disciplines. 
 


Today's review celebrates the accomplishments of the Illinois Art + Design BFA students. It is, in a sense, a portrait of the artist at an earlier stage. They share the same commitment to critical inquiry and new methods as their more senior counterparts. They are a larger and more diverse cohort, spanning across a broader swath of disciplines. 

The School of Art + Design celebrates the creative accomplishments of the class of 2020. Our graduating seniors have successfully navigated their way through the various curricula in our school, exploring visual literacy, design thinking, critical inquiry, and material problem solving.

The works in this exhibition display a broad range of practices by artists, designers, educators and historians, showcasing both new and established technologies in material and virtual realms.

This exhibition demonstrates the school’s commitment to excellence and innovation in the practice, study, and teaching of the arts, and confirms the advantages of professional studio programs taught in conjunction with the interdisciplinary resources of a top-tier research university.

The students, faculty, and staff in the School of Art + Design are committed to elevating and sustaining the arts as a distinct and necessary approach to understanding, as well as a vibrant expression of diverse human experiences.

We celebrate our 2020 graduates and the development of their intellectual and artistic goals as they embark on their careers in the arts. We believe they are ready and able to make significant contributions in broad areas of culture, scholarship, and professional practice.

Alan T. Mette

Professor and Director

School of Art + Design

The online exhibition includes work in the fields of Art Education, Art History, Graphic Design, New Media, Painting, Photography, Industrial Design, and Studio; and, is rightly organized across these lines.

Image: Black and white photo collage of work from the Illinois Art + Design BFA exhibition. Image from website.
Image: Black and white photo collage of work from the Illinois Art + Design BFA exhibition. Image from website. 

The online experience, similar in look and feel to the MFA exhbition site, is asignificantly more extensive; and, may therefore be best enjoyed over several sittings. It stands as a testament to the evolution of fine and applied arts education, its value, its scope, and its continued relevance. It may expand, if not explode, many of your preconceived notions about these programs and the work and crtiical skills they produce.

With an exhibition this rich, my goal is to give you enough of a taste to inspire your own experience of it. Following along with the structure of the site, and with the spirit of my previous review, I offer one work from each of the categories. Each has been chosen because of the way it surprised me, either in terms of subject, material, technique, or collaborative nature. They spoke to me at this moment, and of this moment. They are representative of the excellence of this exhibition, but by no means exclusively so. 

There is much to explore here, and I hope that you will do so. And should you feel inspired to share your thoughts or congratulations with these graduates, consider follow their social media or website links and reaching out to them. This site is spectacular, but its very existence reminds us that they missed out on the celebration and joyful energy of a live opening. Consider joining me in doing our small part in making up for that. 

Art Education


Image: Like a Broken Record, paint, by Jade Browning, commissioned mural in a music room of campus residence hall. Image from website.

Jade Browning's music room mural inspired me to consider the role that the physical environment, and its design features, impact a student's learning and creativity. Learn more about the artist here

Art History/Graphic Design

Image: Book design of bleeding pleading cursing by Elliott Stokes, designed by Andrew Yates Harlan. Image from website.
Image: Book design of bleeding pleading cursing by Elliott Stokes, designed by Andrew Yates Harlan. Image from website.

If you've followed my reviews you know I love a good collaboration, and this one is does not disappoint. Not only does Andrew Yates Harlan bring a unique design vision to MFA colleague Elliot Stokes' work; but the collab also represents a blending of discliplines—graphic design and art history.  Learn more about the artist here

New Media

Image: Book design of bleeding pleading cursing by Elliott Stokes, designed by Andrew Yates Harlan. Image from website.
Image: Social Distance Cow, zine, by Chloe Chan. Image from website.

Perhaps it comes as no surprise that I was immediately drawn to Chloe Chan's zine. Chan shares this about the work's vision and inspiration. 

My focus as an artist in quarantine is to spark happiness in peoples’ everyday lives, especially during this strange time. I emulate patterns, trends, daily activities, and behaviors that I observe myself and others exhibiting — and recreate them using my stuffed cow who is occasionally accompanied with the rest of my stuffed animal collection. I think about how seeing our behaviors recreated in a stuffed animal’s life affects how we view our own behaviors. How do we feel about our own behaviors after seeing them exhibited in the cow?


Read the zine in full here. Or, learn more about the artist here

Painting

Image: Reverie, painting, by Keeyan Haack. Image from website.
Image: Reverie, painting, by Keeyan Haack. Image from website.

Haack's artist statement declares "an effort to liberate the subconscious and reveal true human nature." For a artist who "make[s] art as a means of self-exploration," there seemed no truer image than this. As someone who has been spending her stay-at-home time engaged in personal writing, this almost violent representation of the union of artist and tool struck a deep chord. Learn more about the artist here.

Photography

Image: The Natural Look, photography, by Sarah Dominguez. Image from website.
Image: The Natural Look, photography, by Sarah Dominguez. Image from website.

Sarah Dominguez "creates photographic art to understand the strained relationship between humans and nature." Her work powerfuly explores the connection between the personal and the political, by reframing everyday consumer choices in this larger context. Learn more about the artist here

Industrial Design

Image: The Hermit, lamp design, by Ningyu Yu. Image from website.
Image: The Hermit, lamp design, by Ningyu Yu. Image from website.

Ningyu Yu's"The Hermit" lamp is a poignant example of the power of design to creative problem solve some of our most timely issues. In a time when staying-at-home has left so many feeling lonely, Yu's lamp is designed to help people "release their pressure and other feelings." Learn more about the designer here

Studio

Image: Prairie Scene, reductive linocut print, by Colleen Mary Lappe. Image from website.
Image: Prairie Scene, reductive linocut print, by Colleen Mary Lappe. Image from website.

Collen Mary Lappe, the sole studio artist of the exhibition, uses her work to explore the hidden complexity within the natural world. Working in a variety of media, I was particularly drawn to this reduction linocut print, not only for the complexity of its technique, but for the spirit of joy and interconnectedness it inspires. Read more about the artist here

Top image: Black & white photo collage with exhibition information. Image from Illinois Art + Design BFA exhibition.