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Art education—from two perspectives

For her senior thesis, studio art student Elizabeth Howland wanted to create a stop-motion film that focused on her interpretation of transition and identity. But she wasn’t sure she had the tools to make the film she envisioned.

“I wanted to be able to have motion in my shots, which is a technical limitation of stop motion for most rigs,” said Howland. “The existing techniques are very constraining.”

Instead of giving in to those constraints, Howland designed and built a rig of her own: A five-axis motion-control camera gantry, which allowed her to incorporate motion into a short film. Both the rig and the film were on display last month in Northeastern’s Gallery 360 as part of a thesis exhibition called “Augmentation and Atrophy,” which also included the work of classmates Amanda Brack and Juliana Valle.

The exhibition, entitled “Augmentation and Aptrophy,” showcased a wide range of artistic disciplines. Photo by Brooks Canaday.

Howland and Valle graduated last winter with a bachelor of fine arts degree through a joint program offered by Northeastern’s College of Arts, Media, and Design and the School of the Museum of Fine Arts Boston; Brack graduated from the joint program at Tufts University.

“That kind of work is exactly what we like to see from the collaboration between these two programs,” said Nathan Felde, chair of Northeastern’s Department of Art + Design. “When I think of the future for this relationship, I see tremendous opportunities for our students to look at interdisciplinary possibilities and emerging practices, some of which will be invented by these students as they collaborate.”

The joint BFA program between Northeastern and the SMFA was established in 2007, produced its first graduates last year, and currently enrolls about 20 students. It consists of 84 credit hours of art courses at the SMFA, 20 credit hours of art and design history through Northeastern’s core liberal-arts curriculum, and 16 credit hours of elective courses. The joint nature of the program means that students can supplement their traditional studio art classes with courses from a range of disciplines, from digital animation to mechanical engineering.

The program enabled Valle to study art and business—a discipline not often available to fine-arts students. “Northeastern offered that, so it was perfect,” said Valle, a native of São Paulo, Brazil.

Through the partnership, Northeastern and the SMFA have combined their efforts to expose students to the art world’s latest developments through visiting faculty, workshops, and lectures by famous artists such as photographer William Wegman. The partnership also gives students the chance to approach their art education from two different angles.

“That rare combination gives our students access to courses and disciplines that would be difficult to attain at such a great convenience and at such a high quality anywhere else,” Felde said. “Here, you just have to walk across the street.”

Howland agreed. “I think I’ve hugely benefited from getting both sides,” she said. “Northeastern provides a strong academic course load and access to the resources of a big university, and the SMFA gives you the traditional art school curriculum.”