Past Commentaries

April Issue 2000
by Tom Starland

National Student Art Month

Across the Carolinas - that includes North and South Carolina - separate and unequal - more exhibits are featuring student work than any other month of the year. I don't even know if there is a national student art month, but it sure would seem like there is one with all of the facilities that are featuring works of art by college and university students, as well as art from students in public and private schools (k-12). And, it's not always work from art students. Many of these exhibits include works by students who have just taken art classes - perhaps just one hour a week or in some cases one hour a month.

Whichever the case, I'm always amazed at the low priority placed on these exhibits compared to other exhibits presented during the year - especially when it comes to colleges and university programs. Some of these institutions of higher learning don't even bother to send out press releases for student exhibitions, while others take them very seriously. I wonder why that is? I've never met an art faculty member who was embarrassed to cash their paycheck which is paid by these same student's tuition - which isn't cheap these days. Since it's art students tuition that pays for art departments, art facilities, and art instructors - I would think that student exhibits would be one of the most important events at such facilities. Yet, I know the attitude of some, not all, professors is, "I'm paid to let these talentless kids watch me do my important work, using the institution's facilities and supplies."

Let's face it, probably 80 percent of the students graduating with art degrees won't ever make a living as an "artist". Most, if they are lucky, will find jobs in areas they didn't get training for in school as graphic artists, illustrators, layout designers, interior designers, sign painters, etc. Many of those stubborn enough to hold out for the "fine arts" may spend half of their life existing on part-time jobs or depending on a spouse to bring home the bacon. Being an artist is a tough life and one with very little prospects for the many who pursue it. And for many, that student exhibit might be the last exhibit they ever participate in. So why aren't they treated with more importance?

In this issue we have a review of one such student exhibit - that of Charles Ailstock which was presented in the Student Gallery of the Simons Center for the Arts at the College of Charleston, located in the heart of downtown Charleston, SC. The exhibit was up from Feb. 25 through Mar. 30. (See review on page 14)

When I first saw this exhibit I was struck with the thought that this didn't look like your typical student work - I've seen a lot in my travels. It could have been the work of a faculty member or that of a seasoned artist on view in one of our institutional exhibit spaces or even a more contemporary commercial gallery space - they do exist. But there were signs of student efforts - one was that none of the work was labeled - extending the viewer information as far as titles or mediums used in the creation process. Another was that there was no price list offered - a sign of too much academic living - the hard, cold reality of the after life of the real world will soon set in.

The School of the Arts at the College of Charleston is one of the institutions which takes annual student exhibitions seriously. They not only sent out a press release, but separate invitations too. This month they will present their annual Young Contemporaries exhibition in the Halsey Gallery which will feature works selected by Michele Rowe-Shields, Executive Director of the Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art in Winston-Salem, NC.

I expect to see work by Charles Ailstock in this exhibit as I suspect that my singling him out by suggesting to one of our reviewers that they might want to take a look at his show is no mistake. Ailstock was also included in an exhibit on view last month at The Gallery at Print Studio South, in Charleston, featuring entries for its first College of Charleston Scholarship Exhibition and competition.

Print works by Ailstock and other College of Charleston art students: Gina Alvarez, Keith Lopez, Hays Reynolds, Melissa Mills, and Katherine Schneider were selected for this exhibition and Gina Alvarez and Charles Ailstock were chosen to receive scholarships at Print Studio South and Keith Lopez was winner of a merit scholarship. The scholarships will provide free use of the PSS facility for the summer for Alvarez and Ailstock and one month free use for Lopez.

I hope this isn't the last we hear of "artist" Ailstock and his other fellow students at the College of Charleston, but unfortunately, Charleston doesn't presently offer too much promise for these contemporary artists. They will find public exhibition space almost nonexistent, representation in commercial gallery spaces doubtful, and few support organizations willing to nurse them through the transition period from academic life to the real world.

I'll have more on that sad situation in our next issue when I use our biggest issue of the year to embarrass Charleston and South Carolina for its lack of support for the Visual Arts. I can't wait!

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