UVA Arts, University of Virginia

Vol 14 Summer 21 Library
Detail of Katie Forward's oil on Masonite
Studio Art

4th and 5th Year Thesis Exhibitions

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Any artist will tell you that making art is only part of the process. It is only through sharing it that the circle is completed. 

This year’s graduating class of Studio Art majors learned this lesson all too well. When COVD-19 shut the world down in March of 2020; it also shut down their avenues to take their work from studios to gallery walls. This was a particularly painful loss for 4th- and 5th-year students who would normally be preparing for their final exhibitions where they could share and discuss their work with large crowds at the traditional receptions that accompany them. 

“Last year’s students did not get to put up their own shows, which was obviously devastating to them,” said Liza Pittard, Marketing and Visiting Artist Coordinator in the Department of Art. “So it became our goal as a department to make sure this could happen this year because it is such a special part of being art students.” 

Pittard knows firsthand just how special that opportunity is. She is a 2017 graduate in Studio Art and Art History and then served as an Aunspaugh Fellow. The pandemic changed her job from largely coordinating guest artists to taking on more of a marketing role that allowed her to use her own experience to advocate for students in a year where they needed the support most. 

Ruffin Gallery installation shot, Greer Moore, Home, 2021, installation with linoleum block prints on wood siding with house paint and performance over a week and Nicholas Hall Untitled no. 6, oil on canvas

“It was really special to me because I know what it feels like to be in this moment as an artist, and it feels so intense. There is a lot of insecurity around being an art student who is about to be out in the world. You are suddenly supposed to be a working artist, and that can be a hard concept to wrap your head around.” 

Alden Myers, Untitled, photograph

Pittard and her colleagues provided an additional platform for the students by creating a catalogue that she oversaw. “It was a chance to give them something tangible that highlighted their work since they could not celebrate together,” she said. But Pittard and her art department colleagues were able to take it a step further by bringing back the year-end exhibitions, supervised by Professor Neal Rock, that are such a critical part of the students’ artistic development, in addition to serving as a thesis project. The exhibitions were held in Ruffin Hall from April 5 to May 7 and showcased their work over their four years at UVA. 

“For a lot of these students, it is their first time putting something together that really represents them as artists,” she said. “A lot of times in their classes, they are working off a specific prompt that a professor might have given them, so this is a chance to really explore who they are. It was a really special moment, and I am so glad we were able to keep this tradition alive, even during COVID.” 

The pandemic affected the students in multiple ways, Pittard said, and time and again, they rose to the challenge. “I am just so proud of them because their work was really amazing this year, and they were able to do it without having the usual 24/7 access to the studio that art students normally have. I didn’t really know what to expect and would not have been that surprised if they were not able to give as much to their work as they would in a normal year. They really pulled it out and made fantastic work.” 

Pittard credits the entire Studio Art department faculty and staff with creating an environment where the students could thrive and said that, as history has shown, challenges to artists often result in the most memorable work. “There was a lot of grace that happened in the department. It was a total team effort. And if you think about it, a lot of amazing work is made because and in spite of difficult circumstances.”

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