The first registered art major began her studies at ORU in 1965 and graduated with the first class in 1969.
Since then, 564 students with art-related majors have followed in her footsteps and proudly call themselves alumni.
Laura Voth, a 2013 studio art graduate, is one of these students. Voth works at the Philbrook Museum in Tulsa and is doing freelance artwork.
“I was talking with a museum educator the other day about the struggles of an artist, and she stated that ‘artists always have been and always will be greatly respected, appreciated and treasured for their skill and influential voice on society… but only after they’re dead.’ Perhaps this is the artist’s true curse, that they will not be understood or appreciated until after they pass,” Voth said.
Although artists face struggles in any setting, ORU students and graduates speak of the unique environment of creating works of art at a small, private Christian university.
The issue of respect comes particularly into play.
“The students themselves are supportive, and usually pretty excited when they hear that I’m an art student,” said senior studio art major Evelina Lundqvist. “But once the conversation turns toward the future and what I want to be, it’s hard for them to understand that I’m not studying art to land a job; I’m studying art because I love it, and whatever I end up working with I’ll enjoy it because it will include art.”
In spite of the support of the arts at ORU, there are still artists who have felt underappreciated by their peers.
“So many times I have heard someone from the ORU faculty say, ‘You’re majoring in art? Well, that’s a worthless major,’” said Voth. “Having been a studio major at the university, I can say many people at ORU do not appreciate what skillful students and brilliant professors they currently have.”
Voth said she has been inspired by other students.
“I’ve been in classes with wonderfully talented artists and had intelligent and creative conversations with students about powerful and meaningful works of art yet to be created,” said Voth. “
However Voth suggested there are several hurdles to Christian artists. The issue of nudity is one of these.
“Being at a Christian university and not an art school, nudity will be a problem,” said Lundqvist. “It is not the art department itself, or even the art students that have a problem with it. It’s the people who are not artists that will. Artists see nudity differently. It’s a form, and it’s a shape.”
“[Nudity] is also the basis for the clothed figure,” said Lundqvist. “How will you understand the folds of the shirt or how the fabrics of the sleeves fall in creases over the mass of the arm if you don’t understand the shape underneath?”
To support ORU’s point of distinction, male models are required to wear shorts, and female models are required to wear a one-piece garment covering one-third of the body. Some art majors choose ORU because of this.
According to the University’s Catalog, the Studio Art major “validates and nurtures each student’s call to be a Christian artist or art teacher.” The major emphasizes building students’ professional technical art and writing skills which culminate in student portfolios.
Lundqvist also spoke of artists’ lack of recognition on campus.
“Another challenge is the apparent silence when it comes to the art department,” said Lundqvist. “Whenever a speaker mentions the departments of the school, the art department is often left out. And whenever a chapel speaker talks about bringing Jesus to our world, and to our future workplaces, it’s always through the other departments like business and theology.”
The art major is now located on the second floor of the Graduate Center with a painting room on the first floor. Originally this was housed in the Classroom Center.
Another challenge lies in dorm life for the artists.
Despite the many issues facing ORU artists, the art major is not shy of its accomplishments.
Students like Lundqvist see their money being put to good use. Students are being provided with materials and tools needed, and the department is in the process of creating a mock-gallery space where students will be able to display their work. A brighter future awaits the program at ORU.
“They’re trying to get funds to remake the art room itself, which will make a huge difference for getting more art students enrolled in the future,” said Lundqvist. “The faculty at the art department has such big dreams for the spaces and the students, and it’s just so sad that money would stand in the way of that.”
The Art Department merged into Communication Arts in 2009 and is now part of Communication, Arts and Media.
Laura Holland, chair of Communication, Arts and Media Department, said, “Over the last year we have begun working with our grants and sponsored programs department to raise funds for improvement in several art areas. Earlier this year renovations began in our largest art room, and we created a new student art gallery from a second-floor office space.”
Holland suggested other facility recommendations are under consideration.
“I’m excited about the potential renovations of our facilities,” Holland said.
Lundqvist said coming to ORU has still been worthwhile despite the apparent hurdles.
“Even through all the challenges, I don’t regret it one bit. I’m going to graduate in December, and after that I’m going to look at taking my master’s in an art school in Europe. I knew coming to a Christian university wouldn’t be like going to an art school. But it was definitely worth it,” said Lundqvist.
Great professors have helped make this student satisfaction possible.
“Yes, the art department is underfunded, and there are other challenges, but the things I’ve learned here have transformed my art to new heights,” said Lundqvist. “I owe it all to the fantastic art teachers. The teachers here are amazing. Not only are they great artists themselves, but they’re also great at teaching. They have a way of seeing the potential in your work, and knowing what to say to bring something even more amazing from it. I thank God for them.”
Voth also said she hopes others at ORU will come to recognize her department’s true worth. ORU students may see these in the fall and spring Senior Art Show housed on the LRC’s 3rd floor.
“I encourage all of ORU to view the art department the same way a person would consider a painting; with fresh eyes, an open mind and a heart willing to be moved,” said Voth. “Maybe then they would realize what good thing they have in the department.”