Paul Chapman was first exposed to photography in second grade, when his dad turned his closet into a dark room for a science fair project. This year, Chapman will be utilizing everyday household items, such as dryer lint, to depict the molecular beauty of the universe through a lens.
Chapman is completing his final semester as a master’s student in the fine arts department but if you asked him in second grade, he would have never predicted the path he is traveling.
“I developed my first photo using a pinhole camera. I found it interesting right away, but I didn’t immediately think that I would make a career out of it,” he said.
In a town rife with political hacks, lawyers and lobbyists, it’s not surprising that GW’s art department can go relatively unnoticed. But art here flourishes. With institutions lining the blocks of Foggy Bottom and beyond, art majors are able to draw inspiration and have their worked displayed. Like the political science majors, GW’s art students utilize Washington institutions to further their education. Opportunities such as this and GW’s urban location are both major draws for art students.
“Washington, D.C., as a city, represents American culture, and that includes art,” said Sarah Hubbs, a master’s student getting her degree in painting. After completing an undergraduate degree at the University of Arizona and taking time off to do showings in Italy, she decided to make the move to the East Coast.
“Washington, D.C. has so much to offer – museums that are free, a strong contemporary presence, and the diversity that comes with living in an urban environment,” Hubbs said.
Despite these advantages, GW’s art department still flies relatively under the radar, for reasons both in and out of student control. The Dimock Gallery for example, which displays student work in the basement of Lisner Auditorium, is permitted to open only two hours a day – and that’s if students volunteer time to run it.
“Sometimes we run into a lot of red tape” Chapman said. He provided several alternative solutions, such as turning the position into a paid work-study job, or increasing student involvement.
Several art majors commented that the art department tends to be self-contained. This would appear to be a disadvantage to both the art students and the student community. GW students have the opportunity to take advantage of some truly impressive local talent, as well as the ability to help the art program expand to its fullest potential.
There are a variety of ways students can get involved. First is the Student Gallery Association, which is responsible for putting on shows and running the Dimock. Even the staunchest political science major can join, as it is not necessary to be an art student. In addition, the openings during the school year are often accompanied by free food and live music.
This summer several shows were presented in and around Foggy Bottom. Kenny George, a graduate student, was one of the artists who put on an exhibition right on campus, in Gelman Library.
“For the two-person show specifically, I had to cooperate with the other artist [Gina Tibbott, a graduate student] to create a new body of work inside of a theme that we conceived together,” he said. Brown works in photography, as well as other media, such as video and sound.
GW art students are doing great things off campus as well, like Hubbs, who was one of twenty students selected to put on a show at the Cooper Union Summer Residency in New York. She has high esteem for GW’s graduate program and also urges students to take advantage of local galleries and get involved on campus.
When asked what she wants to be doing in five years, Hubbs paused. A GW law student on the fast track might outline a five-year plan, but somehow her answer is both less specific and more satisfying.
“I want to be continually growing, bringing diversity to my art, being constantly stimulated, bringing beauty to the world and basically just putting myself out there in a genuine way,” she said finally.
Now try to get a poli-sci major to tell you that.