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Seigfred Hall in Athens, Ohio, housing the State of the Arts exhibit.

'State of the Arts Exhibit' emphasizes important relationship between art teachers, students

Until Nov. 2, Ohio University’s College of Fine Arts will hold the “State of the Arts: Mentor + Mentee Exhibition,” which is available to view in Seigfred Hall on the fifth floor at the usual gallery hours. 

The exhibition, which has occurred bi-annually for several years, features artwork from art educators around the state in addition to work created by their students. The specific mentor and mentee theme was implemented in 2019 and was utilized once again this year.

Hillary Gattian, interim gallery coordinator, said the approach to the event has evolved over the years to not only encourage attendance at OU but also to showcase diverse artwork from around Ohio. 

“It got started as a way to connect with other schools in the state, hopefully as a way to encourage interest in instructors sending their students to us at Ohio University,” Gattian said, “But also as a way to give them an opportunity to exhibit their work.”

Matthew Shaftel, dean of the College of Fine Arts, said the importance of this event is to encourage teachers to pursue their artistic creations outside of the classroom. 

“Art belongs to everybody,” Shaftel said. “And so to value that and to show how important that is in our educational system and what an important tool that is for helping to create relationships and develop relationships is important. But also, we really wanted to make sure that art educators felt empowered to be fully creative artists because, sometimes, the daily work of being an educator takes you away from your own creation. And we want to really highlight how creative and artistic and important it is for educators out in the field to continue their practice … and how inspiring that can be to young artists.”

Shannon Fish, a visual art teacher at Lancaster High School, is one of the 16 instructors in the exhibition. Fish, who graduated from OU in 2007, emphasized this idea that art instructors, once they graduate, often are not able to flex their artistic muscles as freely. 

“As art teachers, it's a lot of times hard to also think of yourself as an artist because you spend all day making messes and giving away creativity,” Fish said. “But I think it's also important that as an art teacher that you practice your craft. So, this exhibit showcases that not only do we teach this content, but we also create art as well.”

The requirements for the show’s submissions, Shaftel said, were very broad and enabled teachers and their respective students to submit work that does not follow a set medium or theme.

“It could be sculpture; it could be photography; it could be painting,” Shaftel said. “And what is typical is that the teacher and the student will submit in the same medium. So, one submits a painting, the other person submits a painting, but that's not required. Sometimes, the two artworks seem related but, lots of times, you can imagine what the shared influences are.”

Fish chose to submit prints as her medium for her artwork and then selected one of her senior students who also created prints to accompany her in the submission. Fish had a specific creative process to formulate the work she submitted. 

“I have a solar plate etching, (and) etchings traditionally are made with acid on metal plates,” Fish said. “And, in this case, the metal plate is treated with a light-sensitive material. So, when it's exposed to light, parts of it harden, parts of it are soft still and then it washes away and prints. The other piece of mine is a collection of around 150 minimono prints, and they are portraits of my students.”

Gattian said the significance of the exhibition is to inspire current students at OU to continue pursuing their work and also to challenge their traditional perceptions of art. 

“Instead of the show just being a singular medium, the artists are just working in whatever they choose to do as independent artists,” Gattian said. “They also have artists' statements, which I think is a great learning tool for students working on their own work to see the visual outcome of a work and then the intended content behind it, so they can apply that to their own work as an artist as well.”

For OU students who may attend the exhibit, Shaftel said it is impactful in that it exposes them to different local art and the importance of students and teachers connecting through art. 

“I think it's a great way to engage in an exhibit because then you can see how teachers and students work together, that shared influence, or the mentor-mentee relationship often comes through in the art,” Shaftel said. “It's an opportunity to see artwork from artists from around Ohio in a way that maybe you don't see in some of our other exhibits because (they) get to see different influences and different connections from across the state.”


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