Art as a Way of Learning at Vol State

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Volunteer State Community College

Go ahead and open the creative flood gates. Just ask artists at Volunteer State Community College why art is important. You may find that they are skilled at crafting words, as well as working in visual mediums. “There are images everywhere,” said instructor Nate Smyth. “You can view artists as cultural workers. You are out there to contribute something to your culture. It can be really uncomfortable for students at first. They have to take responsibility when they are creating art.” “You get into this because you love making things and you want to be creative,” said professor Sue Mulcahy. “Creating art is a way of thinking. Many people can go through their whole education without experiencing the direct, hands-on problem solving that art provides. It’s about becoming a person who will bring creativity to whatever you do.” Mulcahy has 23 years of experience teaching at Vol State and has had her charcoal drawings exhibited at the Frist Center for the Visual Arts in Nashville, the Parthenon in Nashville and in the Netherlands. Smyth recently joined the Vol State faculty from Dayton, Ohio. He often works in digital imaging. He has a show currently at the Dayton Visual Arts Center. You may expect experienced teachers to have quite a bit to say about the importance of art. But the students at Vol State are just as passionate. “To me art is a visual language,” said Lauren Wiese of Murfreesboro. “It’s a personal way of speaking to someone without having to say anything verbally.” “The arts have helped in my whole life. Art appreciation gave me an appreciation for world art and how people think in other cultures,” said Brenda Oakes of Hartsville. “When I first started here I wanted to do graphic design and web design,” Josh Frieberger of Gallatin said. “Now I’m studying 2-D and 3-D design. It’s helping me to conceptualize things.” Frieberger eventually wants to do computer assisted design (CAD). The Vol State Visual Arts program has classes in design, drawing, ceramics, printmaking, photography and painting. There are several studios and a specialized Mac Lab with software for digital arts. Faculty members stress that art classes are not just for people who want to have a career in the arts. They can provide a new way of learning for students that could have an impact in many fields. It’s a question of learning how to create and also realizing the connection between art and culture. “Students can look at current pop culture and never put together that everything they are seeing is connected to what has happened before,” Smyth said. “We teach a process of thinking,” said Mulcahy. “Students have to find the answers. One of the things you learn in art is to observe things closely. That’s a skill people can use in many jobs.” The Art Building at Vol State can at times be loud, with the chipping of plaster or the pounding of clay. At other times there is a hush, as students work on a figure study or a still life. Many student artists combine practices to create something and then manipulate the image digitally. No matter what the end product, instructors say that the process of learning to create something may be the most important take-away. “I am an explorer,” said Oakes. “I can never get enough of trying new things.” The public can view Vol State student art in April during the annual student exhibition at the Ramer Building on the Gallatin campus. For more information about the visual arts at Vol State please visit or call 615-230-3201. Pictured: Bailey Katzman of Gallatin and Gage Harkbreeder of Portland work with plaster in a 3-D Design class.