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Art students challenge creativity in nature

Arts May 20, 2022
flowers made from fabric
flowers made from fabric

KOKOMO, Ind. — Cybil Johnson admits she was skeptical about her summer class, which required her to spend three days away from home at the Camp Tecumseh Leadership Center.

Minimal cell phone coverage and a requirement to create art from materials found in the woods seemed less than appealing.

But after completing Indiana University Kokomo’s  New Media, Art, and Technology (NMAT) Connected Foundations class, she calls it a life-changing experience.

“It really gives you time to think about who you are and what you want to do with your life because you are disconnected from the world,” she said. “It gives you time to get away from things that are pressuring you, to focus on what you want to do in the art world, and what message you want to send with your work.”

Johnson, from Kokomo, was among 15 NMAT students who spent four days with faculty at Camp Tecumseh, near Brookston, to challenge their creative process. Each day included time for journaling, drawing, and reading, shared meals, and daily projects that began in the morning, and had to be presented after dinner.

Gregory Steel, associate professor of fine arts, said the faculty’s goal was to tie together the foundations courses the students have just completed and push them to think in different ways.

“We want to get them out where they aren’t in a familiar environment, so they are forced to use their creativity in ways that may be uncomfortable,” Steel said. “You get in the habit of always doing something very familiar, with the same media, and it gets very stale. We’re taking them where they aren’t around any of that stuff, and they must rethink their creative process.”

As a graphic designer, Michael Larios found it challenging to create art without his laptop, but soon found he enjoyed the physical work of making something from found materials.

“It was uncomfortable not being able to hit Code Z and start over when you made a mistake,” the Logansport resident said. “You had to drag a log somewhere to start again. It was challenging the first day, but once we got in the swing of things, it was so much better.”

He enjoyed the assignment of taking random objects provided on a table and incorporating them into a nature-based art project. His items included a pair of binoculars and a land line phone line. He used the phone line to hang the binoculars from an existing structure, pointed towards his artwork.

“As artists, we’re used to seeing the work right in front of our eyes,” he said. “This was a unique approach, to look at it from 100 feet or more away. It was a different perspective.”

Johnson said having to complete a project, using unfamiliar materials, in less than a full day was intimidating at first, but it also didn’t allow time to overthink what she was doing.

“I would say this whole experience was very spiritual,” Johnson said. “You were going back to when you were a kid, playing in the sand and the creek. You could just naturally let yourself do the art, and not try to create the next big thing. You were just making something for the joy of creating.”

Catie White, from Greentown, appreciated having faculty available as they were creating, to bounce ideas off and discuss possible plans.

Being away from home and campus made a difference, she added.

“I think putting us in a new environment broadened our horizons, and created a whole experience,” she said. “I got out of my comfort zone. I tend to stay with things that are familiar to me, things I know I can do. Here, I couldn’t do that. I couldn’t just make a drawing of the landscape. I had to do something completely different. I feel like it helped me think outside the box.”

It also turned classmates into a creative community, she said.

“A lot of my acquaintances turned into good friends over this trip. I feel like I got to know the people in my major better,” she said.

Steel said faculty hope students gain more assurance in their abilities because of the experience.

“It’s a big confidence booster,” he said. “It’s kind of our boot camp. You go through this experience, and you are transformed. The idea is to get them to that point, so their junior and senior years are much more productive and positive, and they are doing the kind of work they should be doing when they graduate.”

The NMAT Connected Foundations class was funded through the Kokomo Experience and You, the KEY program, which provides students chances to connect with people and participate in real-world experiences.

Education is KEY at Indiana University Kokomo.

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