An integral part of any education is hands-on experience, particularly at the university level, where students are preparing themselves for future careers. This hands-on experience can translate differently from field to field, however, any school would seem horribly negligent to offer a major in chemistry without including access to a laboratory, or a medical degree without experience in an actual hospital. For a student majoring in the arts, hands-on experience means access and exposure to art objects. However, often this fundamental access is viewed as merely secondary to other university concerns. In order to correct this, universities must realize what an asset art collections are to their campuses. Where a chemistry lab is only truly essential to a science major, an art museum or gallery may play host to the education of all categories of students, faculty, and the community at large. Exposure to art can inspire persons from all walks of life, and easy access to these objects should be a great concern of the universities.
In educating Art majors, obviously art would play an essential part. Merely viewing works in the pages of a textbook, however, is not enough. To understand the impasto of a Rembrandt, the sheer size of a Gericault, the tactile qualities of an African mask, students must be able to view these items in person. No photograph or slide can due proper justice to the real physicality of a work of art. Student access to art is a necessary practicum, especially in the study of art. The position of an art collection, and the gallery or museum space that holds it must be viewed as an essential part of the university campus. This connection between art object and art education must be respected and promoted. A student researching a work of art has as much right to access as a student researching science or medicine. Any neglect on the part of a university to create such an atmosphere is to seriously impair the abilities of its student, and to limit their educational tools. Art objects are a vital necessity on any liberal arts campus, and access to these objects should be considered in all university development.
Access to works of art should extend beyond art majors and faculty, public access should be guaranteed as well. Football stadiums and basketball courts open the campus up to the surrounding community, but a university art museum or gallery could offer another means of connection. Exposure to special exhibitions, permanent collections, artist talks, and objects on loan opens a gateway to the public, inviting them into the academic side of the campus, and creating a connection to the outside world. Just as the public and the campus may come together to cheer on the university team, so to can they come together to discuss an art exhibition. If a university utilizes these possibilities, the opportunity to establish an open and multi-faceted dialogue between all sides of the campus and the public at large could exist.
It is important to recognize artworks as a vital part of any campus, whether it is a work by a master painter, or a student-created sculpture on the quad. Access should be guaranteed to these objects, and pains should be taken to integrate collections into a more active role in campus life.
by Taylor Horak
B.A. Student, Art History
Virginia Commonwealth University
Department of Art History, School of the Arts