Creating Masterpieces and Lifelong Connections

Stern College Students Discover Unique Voices as Artists in Studio Art Program

A visitor going through the double doors into the Department of Fine Arts at Stern College for Women might initially be disoriented by the visual chaos of materials and color and computers and artwork spilling out along the floor and walls. But it doesn’t take long for the space to feel familial, a word that Traci Tullius, associate professor of art, uses to describe the close-knit relationships students build with their professors and peers during their time in the program.

The idea of community figures largely in many works by the students, she said, and it also impacts how constructive criticism in this art department differs from other places she has taught.

“There is always such a generosity of spirit when our students critique one another,” Tullius noted, and the comments are truly offered “in the spirit of helping each other get better. Sometimes in other places, there’s a tendency to get a little too competitive or to try and one-up someone, but I don’t see that here. Our students practice the kindness and thoughtfulness that is so essential to becoming better artists and better people.”

The department also nurtures students’ individual journeys as artists by allowing them to build shaped majors, constructing their own curriculum based on personal goals.

“We have students shaping their majors for fashion design, film and video, graphic design, pre-architecture, interior design, art therapy and photography,” said Tullius. “And the flexibility of the shaped major has really allowed us to develop a curriculum where we can focus on the foundational studies in drawing and painting and design that everyone needs but then offer upper-level electives in the areas in which our faculty are experts. That’s the beauty of the shaped major.”

In addition to Tullius, Mary Creede has been an instructor in the studio art program at Stern College since 2009. Creede co-owns Jerard Studios, a design business that has been creating high-quality props, puppets and costume armatures, sculptures, and custom furniture for more than 25 years. This means that “my work is often cross-disciplinary, which qualifies me to teach a variety of subjects, such as painting, introduction to design, color theory, model-making, 3D design, methods in media and watercolor, to name a few,” said Creede.

The program also has an agreement with the Fashion Institute of Technology, through which Stern College students can take up to 10 credits (minors may take up to five) in 3D animation, fashion, interior design and illustration and other areas.

According to Creede and Tullius, the core values of the artistic process match up very well with a Yeshiva University education. Creede pointed out that there is “a lot of language and a lot of spirituality in the work, certainly iconography and philosophy.”

In addition, taking an art class has benefits outside the worlds of the studio and museum. “Every single class of ours inherently involves creative problem-solving, involves a creative process that can lead to new discoveries through an active process of investigation,” said Tullius. “I think this is exciting for most students because it’s not something they get in every course that they take.”

Creede added that “the act of making is essential for people to identify their own capabilities, and creativity is a calling of humans beyond just existing. We should all really flex those muscles and practice creation as opposed to destruction, something which I know is a core part of the University’s mission.”

The culmination of students’ undergraduate work in the studio art program is the senior art show, an exhibition of capstone projects (the equivalent of a thesis) presented by graduating seniors which traditionally opens the day before the University’s commencement. Insight, this year’s show, opened on May 15 and runs until August 8 at the Yeshiva University Museum, 15 West 16th Street.

“The senior art show began nine years ago, partly to build a strong relationship with the YU Museum, where the exhibition takes place, and partly to create teachable moments for the students,” Tullius explained. “To participate, the seniors have to prepare their work as if they were going to submit it to the curator of an actual juried show. In this way, they learn about deadlines and standards and handling criticism as they prepare to deliver their art to the world. They also help design the setting of the show, from wall colors to the typeface on the placards.”

“The senior art show is where our senior artists come full-circle and unite with the viewer and the rest of the world community, which makes their work feel ‘real,’” said Tullius. “Not that it isn’t real in the studio, but it’s good to get your work in front of different kinds of viewers so you can say to yourself with confidence, ‘People are asking me questions and people are interested and I’m not just spinning my wheels.’ ”

“What thrills me is that by getting the work out of the department, people can realize the mission and the breadth of the creativity of our students,” she added.