Charles Addams Fine Arts Hall sits tucked between Walnut Street and Frontera. If you’ve never taken an art class, it might be just another building you pass on your hike to Van Pelt, and the art department might hold a certain mystery. Street is here to paint the picture.
If you think an art class seems like a fun reprieve from lectures and recitations, the truth will surprise you. With six hours a week of in–class studio time, plus outside project time, art classes are highly intensive.
The art department isn’t a laid–back, bohemian escape. Although fine arts seems like the polar opposite of pre–professional, art students are not removed from Penn’s pressurized environment. For students without a clear–cut path after graduation, it's hard to avoid self–doubt.
We’ve all heard the joke about the unemployed artist, and in our pre–professional world, unemployment after graduation can sound like the end of the world.
Many art students tack on extra minors or majors, to be “more employable,” says Jolie Gittleman (C ‘19), who’s pursuing a minor in biology. She gripes with this, not finding herself as passionate about biology as she is about art. But she feels the need to “justify” her choice of major. Jolie worries that studying art is “irresponsible,” saying that she often feels condescended to in her hard science classes for being an art major.
Heidi Lee (C ‘19) also feels the pressure from an outside source. She says “I don’t care what other people think, but I want to be able to take care of my family once I graduate.” She’s not one to compare herself to others, so her experience questioning her path doesn’t necessarily come from pre–professional concerns.
Heidi came to Penn as pre–med, but quickly realized that she didn’t want to spend the next 10 years in school or paying off student loans. She heard a mentor say to “find the intersection of what you love and what you’re good at, and stay there,” and it was clear that art was at the center of her intersection. “My mom was actually really supportive,” says Heidi, who hopes to go into design.
Many students feel pressure to do more than just make art. Caroline Kuchta (C ‘19) is a fine arts major who is double majoring in urban planning. “I’m applying to internships at galleries, which is the business side of art,” she says. Caroline isn’t sure if she’ll thrive in a business environment, but feels that she should give it a try.
Bianca Jimenez (C ‘18), a visual studies major, is currently at a crossroads, choosing between internships in the consulting world and in the design world. She feels caught between her passion for design and what she feels she “should do.” Bianca studied at Goldsmith’s College in London last semester, and studied in the art school. “I had a very different abroad experience. I was in the studio 10–5 every day,” she says.
She “purposely went abroad during the fall to avoid OCR.” Even across the ocean, she felt second–hand stress, worrying about her summer plans instead of focusing on her art.
Fine arts majors are a small group. “I wish there was more of a community,” says Caroline. She is part of a Fine Arts Major Facebook group, but even that only has a handful of people. Although she doesn’t know many other Fine Arts majors, Heidi has had a different experience. She’s always become close with people in her studio classes, saying that the long hours provide great excuses to bond.
“My art classes are consistently my favorite classes,” says Jolie, covered in paint from her morning in the studio. Other art students echo that sentiment. “I couldn’t imagine not doing art,” says Caroline. She’s found a way to follow her passion, even if it means straying from the path of most Penn students.