Art students find inspiration in Ireland

By Jennifer Ruggiero

The green, rolling hills and stonewall fences served as an ideal backdrop as 16 visual art students had the opportunity to simultaneously perfect their craft while immersing themselves in traditional Celtic culture this past summer.

Under the direction of visual arts professor Mira Cantor, students who were selected to participate in the program were granted studio space at the Burren College of Art in Ballyvaughn, Ireland. The four-week program spanned from July 15 to Aug. 12 and also included students from the Art Institute of Chicago and the San Francisco Art Institute. They also earned eight credits toward their majors.

Cantor described the experience as “using travel as an impetus for creation.”

“It’s not just learning about another culture, it’s responding to the culture,” she said, noting that America’s appreciation for art stands in stark contrast to what she and her students discovered abroad.

Christine VanEtten, a middler multimedia studies and graphic design major and one of the 16 students who traveled to Ireland, said she was surprised at the difference in attitude.

“They value art so much more over there,” VanEtten said. “They were so interested, so involved. It was the complete polar opposite of what we have here.”

In the United States, VanEtten said people have a narrow-minded view of art majors.

“They don’t really think it’s serious, they think it’s not worthy of a college education,” she said.

Patrice Bedard, a sophomore graphic design major and another student on the trip, agreed. While Americans underappreciate art, she said, the Irish are taught from an early age to value it.

Art is held in such high esteem in Ireland that the Irish government exempts artists from paying taxes. According to the law, their artwork – including books, music, paintings, or sculptures – must be “original and creative works generally recognized as having cultural or artistic merit.”

The difference in attitude, as well as improved studio space, aided the students in producing high quality work, Cantor said.

The visual arts department at Northeastern allots students three and a half hours a week in the studio on campus with a professor available to critique and advise. Outside that time, students must bring their work home to finish. Cantor said students become accustomed to the policy, but it still “hinders the art process.”

In Ireland, each student was granted her own studio, allowing them to work morning, noon and night at their own pace, Cantor said. She was also able to check their progress every morning.

“I could see the difference in how they progressed in four weeks, as opposed to a semester where I only see them once a week for three and a half hours,” she said.

Students used the studios to their greatest advantage while inspired by the unique landscape of the Burren, a 10,000-year-old geological site of limestone hills on the western coast of Ireland, Cantor said.

The combination of green farmland, grazing cattle and limestone – the material used to build the stone walls dividing each farm – sparked each student’s creativity.

“It was really stunning

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