Professors bring art to life through New York City field trips

Students in Professor Robert Mattisons class spoke with artist Lydia Dona during their recent trip. (Photo courtesy of Robert Mattison)

Students in Professor Robert Mattison’s class spoke with artist Lydia Dona during their recent trip. (Photo courtesy of Robert Mattison)

While most college art students only study photos of paintings in class, Lafayette art students get to see them in person. With the college’s close proximity to New York City, many professors have ventured to the Big Apple for a more hands-on and immersive artistic learning experience.

”One of the reasons I came to Lafayette, besides liking the school size, was its location — this incredible location where we’re near New York, which is the center of the cultural world, and near Philadelphia, which is pretty great, too,” Robert Mattison, professor of art, said. “And so we do lots and lots of trips.”

Art professors such as Mattison, Sun You and Nestor Gil have taken students to the city this past semester and returned with positive stories.

Mattison, who will retire soon, has been taking his students on trips into the city for the past 40 years. Most recently, he took his art history and modern art classes to see contemporary artist Lydia Dona’s studio, where students got to meet Dona and learn about her work.

Through Mattison’s experience of nearly five decades in the art world, he has made connections with various artists. Because of these relationships, he feels that he has been able to get students to participate in larger, public art events, as well as a variety of more personalized events.

According to Mattison, students have been able to network and launch careers through meeting artists on these trips, as well as experience what type of learning can happen outside the bounds of a classroom.

“Artists … give us sort of special events behind the scenes,” Mattison said. “And we’ve had a huge number of students over the years who’ve gone on to great careers in the arts — a lot in New York City, but other locations, too. So I think this has been a contributing factor.”

Though Mattison is retiring at the end of the semester, he hopes that the department continues to make available these immersive experiences for students as they “keep the class alive.”

Studio art classes took a trip to see an exhibition by Wangechi Mutu in the New Museum, which they would otherwise only have seen a picture of in the classroom. Gil took his Sculpture I and Art and the Environment classes and You took her Painting I and II classes. 

Outside the bounds of the exhibition, students also had free time to get lunch and visit other galleries of the museum. According to Gil, it was a “day of looking at art.”

You feels that an important impact of these trips on studio artists is the new insight they return to class with. You said that one of her students came back from the trip and decided to change the project she was working on.

“I literally saw one of my students actually changing her project based on the trip … As soon as she saw Wangechi Mutu’s show, she was super excited about the idea of dissecting, cutting and rearranging and reconstructing the body in a different way … I was super excited about that immediate impact,” You said. 

You and Gil are excited by the possibilities of what kind of trips they can go on in the future.

“[I am] thinking about the CaPa Scholars Program, taking the trip to Storm King Sculpture Park, which is an outdoor sculpture center in the Hudson River Valley. I want to lead that trip soon,” Gil said.

After coming back from these immersive experiences, Gil believes that students have a greater capacity for increased engagement in their art.

“It’s hard for me to imagine exposure to what’s going on or what has been done being somehow not beneficial to our ideation and imagination,” Gil said.