As a wrap-up to the coverage of my visits to Minnesota colleges, I try to write a post summing up my impressions of the campus and its students.
This time, though, after visiting the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, I realize I need to highlight an essential part of the students’ lives: their studios.
They seem to be what typifies students here: their grinding work, their independence from society, their total immersion in what they do. They’re all working and living close together, so they can cooperate and exchange ideas.
Yet each has his or her own space, because deep down many are pretty competitive and need to go it alone.
Junior Josh Meillier, a drawing and painting major from Northfield, was kind enough to give me a little tour of his.
He brought me into what seemed to be a large office area that had been split up into a couple dozen “pods” through the use of partial walls. (Some of the designer studios were smaller and resembled office cubicles.)
His studio space, about the size of a family dining room, is actually just half of a larger pod. He and his podmate have essentially mirror-image studios separated by a supply table, so they see each other as they go to work.
To Meillier — as with many other MCAD students — his studio is his world:
“I live, eat, sleep — do everything in my studio. It’s the home of making.”
He explains further:
“You have to be surrounded by your work. What’s around you is a nurturing environment. … If you’re not looking at the work, what are you looking at?”
Here Meillier gets down to business: 40 paintings a year, 40-50 drawings plus around 30 prints. (He says he’s often working on more than half a dozen paintings at a time.) That, of course, is in addition to whatever reading, essays and other coursework he has to do for school.
That’s a huge investment of time. So for students working around the clock, as President Jay Coogan has noted, it’s natural that studios become a fairly social place. Meillier tells me:
“If I have a question, I can go to a neighbor’s studio and ask, or say, ‘Hey, come look at my work.’ It’s an environment that’s just all about what we do. I hang out here after class, when I eat lunch. We hang out here during non-party times, but it’s not a partying atmosphere.”
The size of students’ studios and when they can get them depends on demand, students’ majors and seniority. Painters and others who need a lot of creative space might get them as early as sophomore year when they declare a major. Others, such as cartoonists, might need less space and only get them when they’re seniors.
Most students are assigned a new one each year, and usually begin with white-washed walls and clean floors, Meillier says.
By the end, many floors are covered with paint splotches, the walls covered with paint streaks and various markings.
Staring down, Meillier tells me:
“So you can look at the floor and say, ‘Hey, this is the pallet that Josh is using today.'”