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Free expression or free explosion? Why the art wall in C building attracted chaos, not creativity

This fall, the visual arts department approved a request from VA students allowing them the use of one of the walls in C building for the purpose of free expression.

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By Brittney Hensman (The Cascade) – Email

Print Edition: October 15, 2014

Images: Valerie Franklin

Images: Valerie Franklin

This fall, the visual arts department approved a request from VA students allowing them the use of one of the walls in C building for the purpose of free expression. The request was approved for the entire academic year in hopes of fostering a place that would encourage students to express themselves through an ongoing conversation. But what started off as a blank canvas quickly morphed into a magnet for vandalism. After it was made clear to students that the wall was a free-for-all, brainless comments, vulgar sketches, unkempt penmanship, and rotting food smattered the wall in a little under a week.

Every morning that week,when I passed the wall, the same scenario popped into my head, in which a student ambassador has been allotted the task of giving a tour of UFV’s arts facility to a prospective student. “And this is C building, our fine arts building,” the student ambassador would say as he and the new student pass the art wall, which immediately catches the student’s eye. If this is the type of artwork that results from UFV’s visual arts department, I’d rather go to Emily Carr, the student thinks. And that’s how UFV loses its VA program.DSC_0674

Art is so much more than impulsive expression.

Like any other field, art needs structure in order to be successful. If art is to be shared with society, it must have a purpose and a goal. With structure, art can convey a message, help people connect with each other, or take people on a journey. However, art created without time and thought is completely narcissistic. How do a person’s ramblings or “free expression” reach people in a beneficial way? More often than not, rambling and thoughtless behaviour create problems, not pleasure. Free expression is often an excuse for impulsive behaviour, and I am tired of the arts being impulse’s mask.

Impulse does not think. He has no filter, nor does he abide by rules. When impulse comes to greet you he does not hide anything, and he uncharitably prefers to release whatever feelings are within for momentary gratification.

In the arts, we need a filter. It takes many layers of paint to form the depth and shadows of a portrait; it takes writing a lot of cheesy lyrics before a meaningful song emerges. Journals, private blogs, rough drafts, and sketch pads are the building blocks of art — spaces where impulse can have its way before the final product is seen by others. These are tools to be used as stepping stones to the grand finale; they are not the final work themselves. So why display the process instead of the final work? And why provide a place for people to brainstorm and call it art? Is an art wall purposed for “free expression” really what students need? If you take a look at how quickly that wall got out of hand, you should have your answer.

VA staff and students, we need to step up to the challenge and create good works of art, pieces that are worthy of display because of the time, effort, skill and technique devoted to them. We mustn’t reduce our potential as artists by using “free expression” as an excuse for crappy art. That’s a cop-out, and we can do better.

If the art wall comes back into business, I hope students take advantage of the blank canvas to work on a piece that will perhaps take the entire academic year to complete. Leave your free expression to your private journal — trust me, people don’t want to see that.

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