Gromotka: UI should promote student art

BY ADAM GROMOTKA | MAY 05, 2014 5:00 AM

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Despite the overly generalizing party-school ranking received this year from the Princeton Review, the University of Iowa and Iowa City are both cultural hot spots — a duo that produces, consumes, and displays works by some of the best and the brightest creative minds the nation, and the world, has to offer. Where being a UNESCO City of Literature, housing one of the best Writers’ Workshops in the country and hosting a number of concerts and reading series fit — or why that all fails to fit — into the Review’s equation is perhaps one of the greatest mysteries of our time.

Sweeping and seemingly damning generalizations aside, we’re certainly making up for the negative vibes on whatever ambiguous cultural spectrum people could bother imagining — at least once they do a little digging — especially when it comes to putting pen to paper. The spillover from our shining creative graduate programs — not to mention the effects our hospital, clinics, and medical programs have on students — into undergraduate studies would be a silly thing to ignore. But what of our other artistic endeavors? The studio arts? One of the largest and most popular programs at the university?

What has it been up to?

On the surface, it’s hard to tell. In a town teeming with painters, and sculptors, and graphical masterminds, the only art your average connoisseur might experience is a group of sweatered trees or the brain statue on the T. Anne Cleary Walkway — both wonderful, by the way. But where’s the student artwork? Hell, even my middle school made the effort to display student work where it would be seen on a daily basis. Why not tap into the creative abilities of our art students to pretty up campus and, literally and figuratively, change our image?

We have art shows and galleries, yes, but the problem — one that writing and performance art accept as inevitable — is that people have to consciously make an effort to attend such events at, often, out-of-the-way venues. There’s a much larger discussion to be had about art and society, but I’ll focus on the issue from an art student’s perspective. Much like their counterparts in more pragmatic — for lack of a better word — studies, art students are often forced to create work for a small audience — a professor, teaching assistant, or their class — have said work graded, and then tuck it away like an academic paper, hidden from the rest of the world.

There are a lot of walls, TVs, and structures on campus that could use some sprucing up. I’ll give an oddly specific example: On the corner of Iowa Avenue and Highway 6, there’s a spiraling walkway that leads to a path allowing pedestrians to cross over the busy traffic below. On top of the center pillar that supports the walkway sits a metal sculpture of two people melded together. While it is visually pleasing, it’s been there for a while. Why not let a group of lucky students design a new sculpture from semester to semester or year to year? Injecting art — to be seen — around places of heavy foot traffic would add excitement and energy to the studio arts.

The University of Iowa is impressively creative and artistic regardless of simplemindedly negative lists. Not allowing art students to help show that off is a wasted opportunity.

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