Arts students face virtual learning woes


Britni Dunn

The world has changed a lot in the past few weeks, especially for students. With the suddenness of the COVID-19 outbreak, many students left NYC in a hurry, unaware that they would not be returning for the rest of the semester.

Now that virtual classes have begun, University students are facing a new set of issues. The toll of a whole new system is affecting students mentally and academically, especially students who need to be in certain spaces to work or need access to resources only available on campus. The Pace Press asked art students to explain how their classes are going and how they are navigating online learning.

Sophomore Luke Petronella is a Film major at the University and is currently taking a 16mm film production class. “For the most part, Film majors have it pretty hard,” Petronella said. “But it’s not as bad as some of the photography students. The most unlucky are the people in the film production classes. In 16mm film production, the first half of the semester was spent teaching us how to use the expensive Bolex cameras. But now that we don’t have access to them anymore, it’s a bit of a waste.”

Petronella continued, “The plan we’re getting from a lot of production professors is to simply use whatever camera you have at home—most people have iPhones—and rewrite and shoot the film that you’ve been planning for a month and a half.”

The new structure of the class, however, is not what students expected going into the semester. “The biggest downfall is that everyone is asking themselves if this is really the class they paid for. You don’t need much training to learn how to film something with your iPhone,” Petronella explained. “Most of the other film classes, however, are mostly writing/analysis based, so those will remain pretty much the same.”

Film majors are now having to work with whatever they have, and their visions for films at the beginning of the semester are mostly unattainable. Sophomore Pratul Kalra, another University Film major, spoke with The Pace Press as well. “Currently, I am enrolled in a film class which requires us to shoot a film with the proper equipment as a major part of the grade. However, due to the recent complications with the coronavirus, and classes being shifted completely online, the core curriculum of the class has also changed. Now, since we are not allowed to rent equipment from the campus, we have to shoot either a documentary or a short narrative film with any equipment that is available to us (including DSLRs and iPhones),” Kalra explained. “While a major part of the class was learning how to use the aforementioned equipment, it is still very fascinating to learn more about the theory of films and then practically apply it to the ones we are making.”

The set up for Sophomore Art major student Kayla Bugeya, including her digital camera and Adobe applications on her iPad. Photo by Kayla Bugeya.

Isaiah Smith, University sophomore Biology major with a passion for photography shared, “I was very disappointed by the news that classes were going online. Amongst all of the other reasons to not want to have online classes, my photography class was one of those classes that really engaged me and actually showed me new things that I didn’t know,” Smith said. “This class is through the International Center of Photography. It’s called Portraiture my Way. It was taught by Neal Slavin, a very wise, well-rounded artist who had made an amazing career out of photography. He held the first two classes in his personal studio where all of his works were on exhibition, then the rest were in the ICP school.”

In light of the University’s closure, Smith’s ICP portraiture class has had to move online. “After having two online classes, I can say that it’s an interesting experience and it took time to get used to. Also, there are aspects of physical class that are impossible to recreate virtually. Being in an institution like the ICP school and museum (they’re in the same building) brings me, and likely other photographers, the feeling that I am an artist and that I am doing something that means something. These feelings aren’t ones that come around often for artists.

Smith continued, “The resources and technologies that are available at the ICP school are more plentiful and complete than anything that Pace provides, and, likewise, anything that I can afford. Without these resources, I’m unable to make prints, develop and scan film, as well as many other things. Not only has this change affected my class, but it has also made me unable to shoot in the environment of New York City which has driven my art for the past two years.”

Outside film and photography, other Art majors have been facing similar challenges. Imani Nelson, a sophomore BFA art major with a focus in drawing and painting has had to overcome many challenges during virtual learning. “To say the least, this quarantine has been very disorienting. Everyone is doing their best, however, but taking classes like painting or graphic design online was never anyone’s intention. It’s really difficult to progress as an artist without the studio time and your teachers present to guide you, especially for graphic design (learning illustrator by myself has been… a process). I was also disappointed that we won’t be able to show our artworks in the Gallery at Pace for the end of the year exhibit, but again, we’re all just trying to do our best from home,” Nelson shared. The gallery is currently closed to the public, but it will be transitioning to a virtual experience.

“The chaotic energy of what many people are feeling while in quarantine and using what’s around us to represent that accurately.” Photo by Kayla Bugeya

A number of Art majors have had to go home and buy all new supplies, a hefty expense, including sophomore Psychology major and Art minor Lauren Quattrochi. “My Painting II class is really weird to do online. It’s not bad, but it’s not the same as doing it in person. There is only so much of the painting that the camera can capture. Paintings always look different in real life than they do in a picture so it’s hard to properly critique paintings when we can’t physically see them. My professor is being really nice about it. She’s giving us two weeks to work on things and then we will have a critique. We’re just working on our final projects now instead of doing that and having homework. Overall it’s not bad but it can be kind of frustrating especially because sometimes when you photograph a painting not all of the details are visible in the photograph.”

Studio Art major Desiree Rousseau who is currently enrolled in digital photography shared, “I am only in one art class this semester (I feel terribly for those in more). Over half of my class could not get equipment from their dorms, we’re all unable to get studio time and it’s difficult to safely go outside in order to learn and experiment with our photographs.”

Rousseau also brought up the point that University freshman are not getting a traditional first year. She continued, “I am also deeply saddened for prospective Art majors and minors who have taken an art course this semester to discover whether they want to truly follow this path because none of the art classes are remotely the same anymore.”

University students are doing the best they can to cope with online classes, but it comes with many expected obstacles. With film, photography, graphic design and art classes being very personal and requiring materials, it has been a difficult transition to online learning. Despite the challenges, University Art students are making the best out of their situation, inspiring students to get through the unexpected online semester with creativity and grace.