The Department of Visual Arts (DOVA) is concerned with the making of art as a vehicle for exploring creativity, expression, perception, and the constructed world. Whether students take courses listed under Visual Arts to meet a general education requirement or as part of a major in visual arts, the goal is that they will develop communicative, analytical, and expressive skills through the process of artistic production.
While the major in Visual Arts builds on the UChicago tradition of emphasis on critical thinking and the development, testing, and revision of ideas, we shift the emphasis to place paramount importance on critical perception in an environment that is now more than ever dominated by the visual. All of our Visual Arts courses underscore the fact that perception involves the complex interaction of the senses and the intellect as reflected in art and in our understanding of the larger visual world. Teaching students to “see” critically through making images is as integral to our practice as textual analysis is central to academic practice. Our course of study develops a powerful set of means which allows students to become sensitive and consciously aware of phenomena such as the relative nature of color; the particular measure of space, both real and illusionistic; and the ways in which our perceptual experiences give meaning to forms in the visual field. As these means are acquired, the visual world fuses with the world of ideas, becoming a site of aesthetic pleasure, philosophical inquiry, social critique, political activism, and psychological understanding.
It is crucial that students learn the observational skills for making precise phenomenological distinctions in the constructed world and within works of art. These skills are acquired by making images/objects, by watching others make images, and through regular critiques in which student works are critically discussed by all members of the class. As students gain observational skills, they literally see their world differently, experience it differently, and, thus, think about it differently.
Once the basic language (color, space, line, figure ground, weight, mass, volume, form, composition, narration, etc.) is in hand, the student is prepared to tackle the intricacies of making expressive objects which communicate an understanding of their location in the world. Painting, photography, drawing, printmaking, and sculpture courses provide students opportunities to understand the expressive potential of the visual world through a particular medium. In these courses they begin the process of learning to engage their imagination and articulate their insights through the physical limits and the language specific to that medium.
Students in other fields of study may complete a minor in Visual Arts.