Graduate art students say stereotypes discourage potential artists


Jevon Cooper

Assistant Professor of Art and Artist in Residence Steve Prince introduces the speakers at a student art presentation in the Doane Hall of Art on Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2017. Five Edinboro graduate students presented their work and spoke to Allegheny students and faculty about their experience in the field of art.

Five Edinboro graduate students — Jim Dunn, Henry Gepfer, Ashley Bevington, Royce Hilderbrand and Didem Mert — traveled to Allegheny to speak with students and faculty about their experience in the field of art on Wednesday, Feb. 22. The Student Art Presentation was held in the Doane Hall of Art  and was organized by Steve Prince, assistant professor of art and artist in residence at Allegheny.

One year ago, Prince came into contact with the art department at Edinboro University. Realizing that the school held a well of talent that could be shared with artists at Allegheny, Prince began to organize the presentation.

“I thought it would be a wonderful opportunity to have graduate students come onto campus so students here can begin to see what it’s like on the other side and connect with people who have actually gone through programs,” Prince said.

Determined to show his students that building a community of artists is as important as having a passion for art itself, Prince said he was thrilled with the response from Edinboro.

“This is a start of more connections like this. I want to make connections with Slippery Rock. I want to work with Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh. I want to make this a trend to draw on the resources all around us,” Prince said.

In offering his own advice to students, Prince said they should always pursue their passion and recognize who they are and what their strengths are as artists.

“Looking at yourself in a clear way, you’ll be able to find out where you fit in the marketplace. As an artist, work toward your passion, know you who are, and know that, of course, a lot of these things take time,” Prince said.

Jim Dunn, one of the Edinboro students who spoke, echoed the idea that a career in art can take both time and dedication.

“I think majoring in art can get a bad [reputation] from parents and from the media,” Dunn said. “There’s the idea of the starving artist and I think that that can kind of crush people before they even get started. If it’s really what you want to do, I can guarantee that you can find a way to make it work. It’s not easy, but it’s rewarding.”

Using metal fixtures — such as the drains jutting from the sides of buildings — as inspiration for jewelry, Dunn is using his time at Edinboro to learn as much as he can while he prepares for his future. One piece of advice he hoped Allegheny students would take away from his portion of the presentation is that networking is the key to a successful art career.

“I’ve been talking with other people who have started their own companies, businesses and practices,” Dunn said. “At this point, my dream is ever-changing, but I hope to one day have my own studio, and I hope this talk is motivational in the sense that people will leave thinking that if I can do it, they can do it too.”

One aspect of Edinboro that Dunn appreciates is the diversity in the students’ artwork.

“A piece of advice I had when looking for grad schools was to look at the work that the students and professors were making and not only to make sure I liked both of them, but also to make sure that they weren’t too similar. I noticed that I liked the work coming out of Edinboro, and it all seemed to look distinct,” Dunn said.

Graduate Student Didem Mert shares Dunn’s view of the unique art coming from Edinboro.

“I liked that there was a clear differentiation between everybody’s work,” Mert said. “No one was really making the same body or had the same aesthetic.”

Although Mert began as a sculptor, she now works with functional pottery. With the changes she made to her own style of art, Mert said artists should try out as many art techniques as possible.

“It was cool trying these different avenues that are in the same realm. I could really figure out what I wanted to be making and what I wanted to do,” Mert said.

When she was presented with the opportunity to speak at Allegheny, Mert volunteered as a way to speak with new people.

“We try to do as many off-campus things as possible,” Mert said. “It’s just another way for us to reach out into the community and show people our work.”

She said she prepared for her speech with the hope that students at Allegheny would see and understand her work.

“I hope the students take away what each of us do individually and see how diverse our program is at Edinboro,” Mert said. “I hope they basically get a feel for our work.”

Henry Gepfer, the final graduate student to speak, echoed Mert’s desire to have students at Allegheny see his work.

“I’m always interested in sharing my work,” Gepfer said. “At the very least, it’s great practice to speak in front of people you don’t know. In the end, I hope potential art majors realize that with art you can do ridiculous things and have people take you seriously. You can really pour who you are into what you do.”

Gepfer has participated in art programs at Edinboro that are open to the public to view.

“It’s a way for our community to understand what we’re doing,” Gepfer said.

To expand his work to the communities surrounding Edinboro, Gepfer has partnered with Jim Dunn to plan a show that will open April 22 at the Meadville Council of the Arts. Fully dedicated to his passion, Gepfer offered a piece of advice to students at Allegheny.

“If you want to do it, do it,” Gepfer said. “You don’t have to be the most talented person in the world. You just have to be somebody who is passionate and clever. If it’s really in you to do that, you’ll find a way.”