Fine Arts Seminar (Houghton College)

thinking critically and building community around art and design

Irina Rozovsky-Natalie Benson

Irina Rozovsky is a photographer who was born in Moscow, Russia but grew up in the U.S.  She has gone to many places around the world and has been inspired by the people who lsurround her.  Irina stated that she looks in every crevice and place she goes to and finds meaning about things that usually slip under the radar.  She also likes to making serious work with minimal means, for example, using her iPhone.

In her first book she made called “My mother and other things from the sky”,  the title intrigued me and when I learned that its meaning was both personal to our own mothers and also broader in the sense that a mother is an earthly being it gave a stinger meaning to me.  The name itself told a story along with the everyday people and things that she took photos of, including her own mother.

In her work “One to Nothing”, Irina took photos from a point of view that doesn’t take sides due to Israels’ political and social struggles.  Her photos reveal how people live their every days lives and takes a look at the landscapes of Israel from a unique compositional structure.  This book is my favorite because Irina found a new perspective to take on Israel besides its political hardships and made meaning out of the little things that this place has.  One photo that caught my attention most in the book was of a couple standing in the street giving each other a strong embrace.  This photo showed great emotion from these two people and left me wanting to know more about the people in the photo, which is something that Irina strives for.  She states that she “likes the disturbing quality that hinders our ability to read a photograph”.  Her photos give us the opportunity to inquiry and make our own stories from the photo.

Irina also made a video called “Who is He?”. This video showed the difference from one generation to the next  using a a Russain musician that was so important to people decades earlier, but the now generation didn’t know who we was.  This man reminded the older generation of when they were young and the influence he had on them.  Irina again chose everyday people to ask on the streets.

Irina inspired me to look at the little things in life and make meaning out them.

On Knees, Gospel Choirs, and Blankies

Two semesters ago the Fine Arts Seminar class was introduced to The Belfry, “an artist-run exhibition venue located within the sanctuary of what was once the Spencer Methodist Church in Hornell, New York (,” by its co-founder and co-owner, Ian McMahon. This past Thursday the class had the opportunity to listen to Ashley Lyon, who partners with McMahon in the running and organization of The Belfry. Lyon is a sculptor who primarily works in clay; much of her work consists of life-size human figures that have been altered. She often utilizes photography and installation in conjunction with her ceramic work. Lyon is particularly attentive to texture and the effects of time on objects, which is why many of her sculptures are exhibited in fragments or take great care in imitating the appearance of different surfaces.

Lyon made two points during her lecture that stood out to me. The first is in regards to the way people perceive artwork. In her installation piece, Marian Marian, Lyon expressed her desire to render a figure realistically enough that it might be mistaken for a real person. Her hope for the piece was to elicit a sense of empathy in those few, brief seconds between the viewers awareness of presence and their realization that the being is inanimate. “Art doesn’t exist within an object; it exists between you and the artwork,” said Lyon. Since one of her goals is “to locate the sensation of being human,” she sought to achieve this goal by designing a piece that would engender certain reactions between the viewer and her artwork.

During a creative dry spell, Lyon was encouraged by her partner to “make something dumb” as a reprieve from the stress of her artwork. This suggestion inspired her sculpture series entitled Knees. Through the process of making the series, she came to the realization that she didn’t always need to have a grandiose idea before beginning a project. Exploring a topic that attracted her was just as good a reason to make artwork as any. Creating art is an act of exploration/examination and can be both the source of a concept and the method of expressing it.

Stacia Gehman

Irina Rozovsky | Hannah Folkerts

Irina Rozovsky, born in Moscow, raised in the US, is a well-recognized photographer and professor at the Massachusetts College of Art, and is publishing her third book in a few months. She prefaced her talk by showing us one of the first images that made her seriously think of photography as an art form important to her, an image taken by Milton Rogovin of Buffalo area. She said she was struck by the portrayal of the relationship between the two people in the photograph, and the mysterious personal narrative behind. These sorts of themes I think play into a lot of her work.

Two things I especially appreciated about her talk was how she was openly interested in hearing feedback, and how so much of her work has a social quality, involving people and their different lives and characteristics. Before showing us her series One to Nothing, photographs taken in Israel in 2011, she wanted to gauge our image and understanding of Israel. Her photographs however, are a completely different way of looking at this place–each unique narrative snapshots, rather than in a sort of journalistic style. She said that she was looking to see and reveal a new view of Israel by having a sort of “empathetic neutrality” in her outlook, unwilling to subject the setting to another political agenda through her photography.

The “social qualities” are also evident especially in the series in Prospect Park, and her documentary style video on the Russian singer Vladimir Vysotchy. In Prospect Park, she was interested in seeing how someone’s aura affected a place, and how to capture it. In the documentary, it was not so much about Vladimir Vysotchy as it was examining reactions of individuals who may (or may not) have been affected by his music.

I struggled wondering if she could actually photograph Israel, Russia, and Cuba with complete “neutrality” and avoid the political, but at the same time I believe that’s not really the point. From what I could tell, she’s most interested in seeing the more personal, and relational aspects that are separate, but yet still tied to the political background of the setting.

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Our Fine Arts Seminar class recently had US Collective come and speak to us. US Collective is a group composed of three artists. They do collaborative exhibits and work. I was very interested in hearing first hand about how a group of artists can work together to produce great work. They said that one of the biggest challenges for them was finding the time to get together and talk as they are all located in different cities across North America. I also especially enjoyed hearing their lecture since we do not as frequently get designers or digital artists to come speak at Fine Arts Seminar. US Collective placed a high standard on form saying: “form is a byproduct of process,” and “Avoid anticipating what it’s going to look like.” This method was especially interesting to me as I suspect that I often limit my creativity by focusing too much on how I want a project to look like instead of allowing it to be less regulated and develop more organically in its process. I thought that practical advice such as “put a timer on and work for a half hour,” was a beneficial challenge to set for ourselves to help us keep from getting overly delayed in details. I also appreciated advice they gave concerning networking, making new connections with other makers after moving to a new area, and advice on how to contact artists we admire. In summary, I benefited greatly from US Collective’s presentation and have been thinking about what they shared.

Us Collective | Maggie Reynolds

US Collective was definitely an amazing attribute to our Fine Arts Seminar class. I was very much inspired by the ways that they work together but also separate and how they keep up their own individual inspiration.

As collegiate artists I believe that we all struggle with staying inspired and also, in some cases being over inspired. Us Collective really opened my eyes to ways in which I can take control of inspiration. Some of these things happened to be doing the exact opposite of what I started out doing on a project. Another thing they stressed was doing research prior to starting a project and continuing that research through the completion of the project. A very important piece of who they are is about conversation and also about trying to reach and connect with people through communication. With this in mind they try to open up the “bigger conversation” through their art pieces.

I was one of the crazy persons that took off the entire morning to go to their workshop. At first it was a bit nerve wracking because I wanted to make a good impression on these professionals, with credentials such as working and studying overseas to working for Urban Outfitters. But as I started working they came around and showed me simple ways of doing things and that I did not need to work like a professional in order to be a professional, but to be open to all materials and ways in which to use them. Therefore in the end my art piece ended up being a messy collage that expressed to me what a “thank you” looked like.

If I could say one thing that I learned from this experience it would be to not just omit an idea because it seemed like a “bad idea” or not professional. Any idea is a good idea, and that failing is one of the best things you can do for your artwork.

– Maggie Reynolds -

Faculty Panel

To wander around the Faculty Exhibition and observe each piece in careful detail is a special experience for any art student—to hear about the inspiration and origin of each work made it even more intriguing. Each professor took questions, comments, and engaged in discussion with one another to give us a better idea of the intentions and process behind each body of work.

A focal point of the exhibit was undoubtedly Professor Murphy’s wall dominating sabbatical pieces easily spotted upon entering the gallery. I looked at each one attempting to discover the similar themes and objects within each piece and the same similarities in differing pieces. After walking away puzzled and listening to him take questions about the work, we learned the subject matter and titles he change go along with much of the reading he completed while on sabbatical—despite the lack of direct meaning which was intentional by Murphy. Regardless of the confusion and slight frustration, it is impossible not to be interested in his work from this exhibit. The quirky objects, puzzling titles, and incredible attention to detail and neatness allow one to look at each piece and appreciate at least one of these qualities. His choices of color are whimsical and exist wonderfully with each other from piece to piece.

Gary Baxter’s work, just a few feet from Murphy’s, also could not help but stop people from stopping and observing each carefully crafted bowl. At first I just appreciated them for the design and craftsmanship that Baxter never fails to disappoint with, but was later pleasantly surprised to hear him talk about the idea behind them. The fish designs and water placed in the bowls makes a comment on the loss of fish species and th e process of bodies of water no longer able to support these species drawn on and inside of the bowls. One can come back into the gallery and notice the water that has evaporated, going along with the concept of the slow but tragic loss of fish in the natural world. What a beautiful way to make a comment on a rather sad phenomenon.

While these two professors stood out to me, it was undeniable that each body of work was completed with diligence and passion, from Ryann Cooley’s eye-decieving lit photographs to Alicia Taylor’s visually pleasing prints in pops of color as well as traditional black and white. It was a rewarding experience to hear and observe the work from the professors we work under each day as well as gave greater meaning to being involved in the art department at Houghton, student and faculty alike.

–Jennifer Zacchigna

Professor Alicia Taylor

So i thought that this being the third time that Alicia was showing her work and process to us, that it might be a reiteration of what I already knew about her artistic aesthetic, but i was horribly mistaken. Yes she did talk about her blind contour portraits and plaster bodies but their was something different. Her recurring theme of searching, may it be for answers or for herself, they’re was a melancholy to what she was talking about this time. She talked about the impact of her taking care of her ailing grandfather and his subsequent passing affecting how she worked. I felt really touched, i definitely can relate to a lot of what she said given that i not only have lost my grandfather but also a uncle in a matter of a couple months. So I myself am searching for answers, which is ridiculous but is a viable form of grief. These losses have greatly impacted my creative drive in so many ways, i’m thought that i almost lost my drive completely. I honestly thought i wouldn’t be able to go on creating because to be honest, i didn’t want to do anything. With her talking about how gesture and line being important with emoting feeling is how i feel when i do my senior works that consist of different shapes and thickness. These lines are very therapeutic, i started doing them a lot to calm myself and take my mind off the loss. I just like how Alicia is willing to open up her whole self and let all of us in, the poem she did for her grandfather was really heartfelt and relative to how I’ve been feeling the past couple months.

– carrie fuller


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