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Creative avenues

"Creative avenues" Continued...

Issue: "Upside down," April 9, 2011

That's a message Silvis, Dickinson, and other faculty members are continually reinforcing. But they are also exploring the tensions of creative freedoms and emphasize artistic thought and critique rather than moral censorship of the student's work.

At the spacious loft-style gallery of the NYCAMS campus in midtown Manhattan one Monday, workers scurry about on creaky wooden floors, using drills, levels, and screwdrivers to install art on freshly painted white walls that rise to the 12-foot-high ceilings. This gallery space sometimes displays work by NYCAMS students and sometimes that of other artists.

The show going up this particular day will feature work by students from several top art schools in New York City, such as The Pratt Institute, the School of Visual Arts, and the Fashion Institute of Technology, all members of the College Art Association (CAA). The 10 pieces of contemporary art are not necessarily Christian in nature. In fact, one of the paintings-perhaps the best in the show for its colors and forms-features the F-word and a hand flipping its middle finger toward the viewer.

"That painting wasn't painted by one of our students," said Dickinson. But, in concept, "it could have been."

As host, NYCAMS' leaders Silvis and Dickinson judged the art and curated the show for the CAA. The affiliation, they say, helps their students see and understand the work of their peers. "We bring New York City into the gallery space," said Dickinson. "We really push our students to question a lot of boundaries that they've set or others have set for them." Beyond recognizing crassness in a painting, he wants students to understand and critique what an artist might be expressing in such a work without necessarily rejecting the work for its vulgarity alone. He wants them to think about how their own work reflects their faith, their thoughts, and their personality as well.

NYCAMS is expanding with post-baccalaureate residencies and an emerging curator program for top graduates. NYCAMS is also planning to expand its writing and design programs and to launch exchanges and residencies for artists in Beijing and Berlin, two cities Silvis considers to be leading edge in visual arts right now.

As a launchpad NYCAMS has worked for some: Jennifer Mills, an alumnae from 2006, has shown her work around the world, received a Harvey Fellowship, and is completing her Master's in Fine Arts at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Reid Strelow, 25, thought he would be a "Sunday afternoon painter." But his time at NYCAMS in 2006 was "a real eye-opener for a guy whose summer job only months before was pumping sewers in his rural Minnesota hometown of 3,500 people."

Strelow got a job working for a high-end design firm in Manhattan and is now pursuing a Master's in Fine Arts in sculpture at Hunter College in Manhattan. "The making of objects and images is a very immediate exercise in exploring the truth to having been made in the image of God, a creative God," he said. "I understand making art to be a direct participation in this creative story."

Meanwhile, Dahlin takes a break from her illustrations and says her visits this semester to contemporary museums make her yearn to live in New York someday. "For now, so long as I'm creating good art and being a good influence, that's the biggest thing."

Conversation starter

By Paul Glader

Brent Dickerson (Photo by Elbert Chu)

"The Protestant church has been much more accepting of other arts than visual arts," says Brent Dickinson, a Brooklyn-based artist and assistant professor at the New York Center for Art and Media Studies.

Dickinson came from a long line of pastors in Pine Barrens, N.J., and initially attended a Bible college in Philadelphia before switching to a painting program at Maryland Institute College of Art and getting a Master's in Fine Arts at Yale University.

Dickinson doesn't agree with notions that realism or the Renaissance paintings of biblical scenes are the pinnacle of Christian expressionism and should be the sole aim of Christian artists. "Art is the kind of physical embodiment of ideas," he says. "Some artists make work about their Christian faith. Some of our students do this. But this is not the only work one can do. Much work that aspires to be about God and the Heavenlies does not rise to that," he says. Often "it ends up being just bad art work."

He draws a distinction between NYCAMS and other programs that send Christian college students to Italy to study Renaissance art: "Our thing is really contemporary art." While the influence of Renaissance art is undeniable, contemporary art is driving the conversation and economics of present day art.

Contemporary art values have risen as much as 800 percent in a few years to $20 billion a year in sales in recent years, the most at any point in history, as wealthy collectors and hedge funds have seen art as an alternative investment and have snapped up pieces by artists like Damien Hirst and the late Andy Warhol at record prices.

"The art world is one that is pretty open and inclusive. You have to speak the talk. You have to demonstrate that you're in it and know it. The way art talks to other art is a different way of conversing," says Dickinson. "Art historians look at it as a conversation that is unfolding. I think it's important our students know the history and conversation."

Logan Phillips

A multimedia interview with an art student assisted by NYCAMS

By Elbert Chu

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