Final projects garner inaugural MFA-Viz degrees for two students

Art as therapy for chronic pain and “the disembodying effects of the digital age” were themes of final projects by Natalie Pittman and Jose “Weecho” Velasquez, who will walk the Reed Arena stage Dec. 15, 2012 as the first two graduates of Texas A&M’s Master of Fine Arts program.

Launched in fall 2012, the degree, offered by the Department of Visualization, is a technology-infused program designed to prepare artists for careers in the fine arts, art education, the entertainment and media industries and other art-oriented vocations.

Pittman’s final project, an artistic expression of chronic pain she experiences because of a medical condition, was displayed at the J. Wayne Stark University Center Galleries at the Memorial Student Center in November 2012.

“I was diagnosed with De Quervain’s tenosynovitis in January 2011 — an inflammation of the tendons in the thumb,” said Pittman.

The chronic pain that accompanied the inflammation, which struck the thumb in her primary hand, meant she had to alter the way she created art.

“My desire through this body of work was to find a way to take that which limited my ability to work and transform it into something creative and beautiful,” she said.

Through a series of paintings, she created a chronological history of the inflammation by developing and systematically repeating a language of line work and form.

“This record documents the pain, elevating the art to serve as a sort of medical record as well as performing a therapeutic function,” said Pittman.

The series of sculptures in her exhibit, she said, brings the project to the tangible realm.

The project also included an interactive piece, allowing exhibit patrons to create a visual representation of their own chronic pain.

Velasquez’ final project, projections of the human form and geometric shapes exhibited at downtown Bryan’s SEAD Gallery, is a reaction against what he calls “the disembodying effects of the digital age.”

His project considers the lightness of being, the experience of freely floating in cyberspace, as described by the philosopher and cultural critic Slavoj Zizek.

“The ‘relief/alleviation’ Zizek describes, the ability to transcend our body, is something that misleads us,” said Velazquez. “We achieve it easily in cyberspace only to find that it is unsatisfactory. It is the opposite of transcendence.”

Being weightless, said Velasquez, is like not existing.

“We need to have weight to exist," he said, "to stake a claim and leave proof that we were here in order to transcend our own mortality.”

The real "lightness of being," described by Zizek comes from surpassing one’s own weightless existence and becoming a part of a greater whole.

“I find that there is a beauty in the struggle to transcend," said Velasquez. "I use the tools of my generation to ease this struggle by reminding us of the bonds of our common humanity.”

Velasquez and Pittman began their graduate studies in the Master of Science in Visualization program and switched to the MFA program when it was established. The MFA program began with 12 students, including recent Bachelor of Science in Visualization graduates, students from out-of-state and international art programs.

Although it’s an art degree, said Richard Davison, professor of visualization and the program’s coordinator, the MFA-V maintains the art and science symbiosis that makes the Master of Science in Visualization program so effective.

"The MFA-V projects aren’t radically different from the MS-Viz program projects,” he said. “There are more references to the 'art world,' but not necessarily less science and technology involved."

The new degree is designed to prepare graduates to meet the global demand for digital artists and art educators.

A 2008 Dun & Bradstreet report noted an 11 percent increase in art-related businesses and a six percent increase in employment in the previous two-year period. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 612,095 businesses nationwide involved in the creation or distribution of the arts in January 2008, employing 2.98 million people; between 2007 and 2008 the number of art-related businesses grew 12%.

posted November 29, 2012