For some, the College’s age-old tradition of Winter Study is a time to hibernate before the harsh spring semester and is dedicated to going out, sleeping in and seeing exactly how little one can achieve in a month. However, for most students who are undoubtedly more productive and conscientious than this writer, it represents an opportunity to explore interests that we do not indulge in during the regular semester. Namely, many who describe themselves as non-artists choose to take a class that caters to their latent creativity, and allows them to delve into subjects that their schedule would otherwise not allow.
Between the art studio, music, theatre and art history departments, a total of 32 classes ranging from “Glassblowing” to “Jazz Choir” were offered for this year’s Winter Study, a trend that the College has sustained for a number of years. These courses are appealing for a number of reasons; to begin with, they cover very specific, intriguing and sometimes peculiar subjects, such as “35mm Film Photography” or “Printmaking on Paper Clay.” For many, this is an opportunity to discover something new and exciting. Andrew Langston ’13, a prospective philosophy major who is currently taking “Making Art Together: Collaborative and Collective Practices,” and who last year enrolled into “Sources of Inspiration: Shamans, Beatniks and Analysts,” cited his main motivation behind these choices as wanting “something different, less academic.” Speaking about last year’s experience: “We produced very interesting things which I had never done before. I do not consider myself an artist, and until then I had never really thought about creative ventures.”
Another attraction is, undoubtedly, the undemanding nature of these classes. The fact that they are not graded, are taken alone and usually give out little to no homework make forging into unknown territory relatively comfortable and risk-free. Chad Lorenz ’13 is a prospective math and environmental policy double major currently enrolled in “Architectural Model Making.” “This is definitely not my comfort zone,” he assured me. “A semester would be way too much; I would not be able to handle a graded art studio class for that long. In that kind of class, I would be catering to how the professor grades and not doing it my way.” This lack of grades clearly gives students a much greater freedom regarding the direction their project can take. Rhys Watkins ’13, who is enrolled in the same class, agreed: “There is no strong outside influence – I can explore the subject more.”
In addition, the class format is often very conducive to a highly valuable academic experience. In these courses, enrollment often peaks at a dozen, so students have frequent, personal access to professors who would otherwise be busy or swamped. All College professors are required to teach a Winter Study at least every other year, so the subjects are not only varied but numerous.
Nonetheless, the novelty of the courses is generally the main attraction. “Using my hands to build something tangible was very refreshing,” Watkins said.
“We are made to look at things that I don’t usually pay attention to,” Lorenz added. “Everything is highly personal: There are no textbooks, and the work is very applied. The whole learning process is just so active. Also, last year we were working with a level of abstraction that I was not familiar with, which made it very exciting.” For some, these taster classes can even have a bearing on the rest of one’s academic pursuits. Langston insists that his “Shamans, Beatniks and Analysts” class last Winter Study is what encouraged him to take “Drawing 101” that spring, which led to “Oil Painting” last fall.
More than anything, it’s apparent that these experiences are not lived as some kind of alternate reality, somehow divorced from the rest of the “real” school year. They are considered as genuine academic pursuits, and can have a very real impact on our overall time at the College. For a college that prides itself on a broad liberal arts education that encourages branching out and exploring, these programs stand out as a valuable asset to its purpose.