The Foundations Program at New Hampshire Institute of Art: Hard Work and Lots of Glory

By Suzanne Lenz,
Vice President of Development, New Hampshire Institute of Art

image 5Joel Gill, chairperson for the Foundations Department at New Hampshire Institute of Art, Manchester, N.H., knows that successful artists don’t follow rules, they break them. “The word foundation is a metaphor for the building blocks that all students need. It gives students a core understanding for the rules of art making so they can break them more effectively.”

What is a Foundations program?
At some art colleges, the Foundations program is content driven — heavy on promoting ideas with less emphasis on technical expertise. At the Institute, the Foundations program builds necessary skills and visual perception to ensure professional success in an otherwise very competitive environment.

Gill’s goal is to instill a strong work ethic in his freshman students while giving them the technical skills that will help their artwork stand out from that of other artists. “The important thing that we try to teach our students is that art is not magic. It is hard work. The difference between most artists and non-artists is not some sort of born or inherited ability, but the amount of time spent drawing or painting. By the time most people get to art school they have been drawing in sketchbooks and on notes in class for hours and hours.”

The Foundations program is the core for freshman academic studies, giving students the opportunity to explore a variety of materials and concepts as they prepare for their concentration. During the Foundation year, all freshman students develop knowledge and language through art making that will propel them forward through their college experience. Essential classes in color theory, 2D and 3D design, drawing, writing and history are explored. Drawing I and II teaches a student how to see; 2D and 3D design teaches a student the theory behind making art; and materials and processes gives a student an introduction to a variety of mediums.

image 6According to Gill, the most successful and famous artists think and create outside of the box—take Impressionism, Dadaism and Abstract Expressionism. Gill says that even Jackson Pollock, the consummate abstract expressionist, had to go through a process of learning the rules before he could break them. “He knew how to draw. His teacher was Thomas Hart Benton, who painted naturalistic figural art. In his sketchbooks, he copied the paintings of El Greco.”

As a renowned abstract expressionist, Pollock broke three conventions — space, representation and technique. “By playing with light, shade, space, value and application, Pollock challenges the way we see things.”

Regardless of whether a student is interested in concentrating in a specific area, he or she must take all the required foundations courses. For example, a ceramics student must take Drawing I and II to learn how to see. Gill believes that an artist can’t just be passionate and be great. “You need to know how it works so you can better impact people and push their emotional buttons,” he says. Young artists are in competition with all their classmates so we try to instill that work ethic in all of our students from day one by telling them that they must be prepared to be entrepreneurs and work hard.” ■

At New Hampshire Institute of Art, the Foundation Year courses are broken down over two semesters. First semester, in the fall, is Foundation Drawing I, 2D Design or 3D Design, Color Theory or Material Processes, Math and English Composition I. The second semester, in the spring, is Foundation Drawing II, 2D or 3D Design, Color Theory or Material Processes, Introductory Studio Class and English Composition II.

The Foundations Program at the New Hampshire Institute of Art embraces the necessary experiences critical to building language and skills for our upper level classes. The program fosters the building of necessary skills and heightened visual perception imperative for aesthetic problem resolution. The program serves as a preface to concepts that function as underpinnings for a creative life in art. Through the specific courses in the program many materials and concepts are explored and specific skills are generated. These courses expose the student to skills and concepts necessary for their area of concentration.

Department Goals
• To foster students with an understanding of the history and visual language of art.
• To support students in the passage to higher education.
• To supply facilities and equipment that encourage students to acquire and rehearse skills essential for drawing, color exploration and two and three dimensional design.
• To enable students to select an area of art making to specialize within.

• Develop the knowledge and language to discuss concepts and critique art projects.
• Develop technical skills that can be applied to advanced study in concentration.
• Develop the confidence to fully utilize advanced college classes.
• Develop the skill to foster and clarify concepts so that they can be explored through the art making process.
• Develop the skills necessary to commence research and utilize a broad range of art making materials.

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