Expert Voices Winter 2014


– by Margo Miller, Associate Professor of Art and Chair of the Department of Art

Margo MillerSomething happens to my mind when I make art. That something is difficult to describe but it’s a stimulus that releases me from tension, outside influences and centers me in a thought process that is systematic yet intuitive. One might connect it to a runner’s high.

When students (majors and non-majors) begin working in the arts – actually making things like drawings, paintings and sculptures – they begin to exercise the brain in an entirely different way than what one would do in a data analysis or history class. In a studio art class, students develop eye-hand coordination, craftsmanship and intuitive skills. These skills are critical if a student is majoring in art or has plans to go out in the world of fine, applied or commercial arts. Students in the visual arts develop a broad spectrum of skills related to their field, as well as the ability to think beyond the obvious, solve problems and look objectively at any situation ranging from subjects related to humanity to totally ambiguous abstract thoughts.

With that in mind, consider the importance of studio arts for students entering the applied arts, engineering, the sciences or professions that are related. Recently, I had a conversation with an orthopedic foot and ankle surgeon and teacher of future surgeons. He mentioned the importance of prior eye-hand experience achieved through the visual arts for our future physicians, and in particular, surgeons. A mere two weeks later, I happened to catch an interview on NPR with a different physician and teacher who shared his belief that our future doctors can benefit greatly by broadening their undergraduate education to include the arts along with the required science courses. The creative student with empathy toward others. The art student that has keen visual awareness. The intelligent student with keen eye-hand skills and strong skills in the sciences. These are the individuals who could become our future physicians, physician assistants and nurses.

These activities of drawing, painting and sculpting bring focus to one’s world and the world around us. It helps us see in new ways, further develop empathy and exercise our brains through the physical act of doing. If thoughtfully executed, the end product, a “work of art,” gives the viewer an avenue to contemplate, stare in confusion or simply appreciate the work created. If art has touched you in the past or if it’s a recent interest, it’s never too late to revisit your passion.

Here are a few tips to start getting you in touch with your artistic side:

  • Just do it. Buy a sketchbook, pick up a pencil or a portable watercolor set and start recording the everyday things around you. Include a few notes and dates and soon you’ll have a fully illustrated journal.
  • Find subjects to sketch. Go no further than your kitchen for possible subjects. Fruits and vegetables are interesting organic forms that lend themselves well for possible subjects. For a more challenging, yet interesting, subject, consider an old pair of hiking boots or shoes.
  • Enroll in a workshop. Signing up for structured time to make art will inspire and motivate.
  • Attend art lectures at museums or gallery receptions. These will enhance art appreciation and stimulate ideas.
  • Expand your horizons. Check local calendars to find upcoming art gallery openings, art walks, special exhibitions and open studio events.


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