The Art of Potter Hall: Why Western’s Art Department is Thriving

By Jourdan Ryan

February 5, 2013

When you walk into Potter Hall, the hub of Western’s art department, you might see decoupaged newspaper sculptures in the hallway, massive canvas paintings on the walls, or clusters of students talking about their latest masterpieces, using words and phrases like “palette knife,” “darkroom,” and “crosshatching.” Beyond these visuals, you might not know much about Potter Hall or about Western’s art department. but after looking deeper, you may discover that this department is exactly where you, and your creative mind, belong.

Western students show what they are made of with creative pieces.

Western students show what they are made of with creative pieces.

“The art department offers students a well-rounded, interdisciplinary approach to making art, providing them with experiences in a variety of media in addition to their chosen major,” art professor Geo Sipp said. “Our program is well-respected and growing fast. It has excellent synergy.”

Sipp has been a professor at Western for 12 years. His artistic journey took him to a lot of different places before he ended up teaching on our campus. He began his collegiate career at Clemson University in South Carolina and continued his education at Georgia Southern University, The Portfolio Center in Atlanta, Georgia and Indian River Community College in Florida. Sipp enjoys teaching at Western because he is able to teach diverse courses lead the programs that he oversees on his terms. He spent more than 20 years working in New York City as an illustrator.

“Western’s art department is unlike others because the professors are all established artists themselves and the small class size allows them to form relationships with all of the students,” senior Ellie Green said. “I know I’ve learned a lot from them, but it doesn’t really feel like school because it’s such a friendly environment.”

Green is an art education major who plans to get a job teaching art at the elementary or high school level when she graduates. Eventually, she wants to get a masters degree in art as well. She feels that the general knowledge in art history and basic artistic concepts that she has gained at Western have really prepared her to pursue being an art teacher in the future.

“I think my major will benefit me because I was exposed to a good base of knowledge in most forms of art making, so even if I’m not great at certain things myself, I will be able to explain it to my students,” Green said. “I think that’s an important part of the art education program. It focuses on pedagogy, but you’re also expected to have hands on experience in a wide range of media, so you will at least be able to know how to do it.”

The courses offered by Western’s art department delve into a ton of different hands-on mediums to give students a well-rounded knowledge of their crafts, mediums like drawing, painting, ceramics, printmaking, photography, sculpture, and digital animation. By marrying studio courses with history courses, the art programs at Western give students a wider range of both information and personal experience.

“Prospective students should consider majoring in an art-related field because the program is set up to give you all the tools you will need to pursue any discipline in art or a combination of many,” Green said. “However, you should be prepared to work. I think a lot of people major in it because they think it will be easy, but they don’t really know what they’re getting into.”

The major programs offered by the art department may seem intense, but for a student who is wanting to pursue art as a career, they are very beneficial. Among some of the department’s most popular major programs are graphic design, studio art, and digital animation, which is the newest addition to Western’s list of art major options. There are a wide array of courses offered, ranging from typography to woodblock printmaking.

“Based on the production of art, I really enjoyed woodblock printmaking because I’m not big with working with technology, and this was exactly the opposite,” Green said. “Carving into wood is a very visceral form of art making and it was so much fun.”

Even though there are a plethora of majors, minors, and emphases to choose from, students don’t have to pick just one. In the art department, students have the ability to overlapping degree programs. In fact, this is embraced by the art department, so that each student is able to finish with a program that was tailor-made for them.

“A student may emphasize in a variety of specialties including Drawing, Painting, Printmaking, Graphic Design, Digital Animation, Photography, Sculpture, Illustration, plus minor in Art History,” Sipp said. “We have a program that can be designed to fit students’ needs and aspirations.”

For students who are passionate about art, or who have been on the fence about pursuing it as a livelihood, Western has a home for you in the art department. Potter Hall is bursting at the seams with talented artists and experienced professors, so if you’re willing to put in the work and creativity, you can follow your dreams of mastering a paintbrush, a piece of charcoal, or a chisel all the way to graduation day.

“Work diligently; don’t ever let up. Be intellectually curious, well-read and hone your writing and communication skills,” Sipp said. “Aspire to be the best, not just among your classmates, but among all those you admire working professionally in the discipline. Being tenacious at improving one’s skills in all the above-mentioned will help greatly.”