And the Snow Falls

Snowfall

Every beginning has its end. On February 25, I put up my first post. Now 10 months later, this is the last. This is my last post I will have this semester and most likely the last post of mine here on WordPress. We, as in Cougar Diaries, are moving on to a new platform, Facebook. There, we hope to connect to even more people and share the small moments of life here at Saint Xavier. It was fun doing this blog. It has given me time to think with workloads that sometimes prevent me from thinking of myself and of what is the world around me beyond the classroom. But as an end to this blog, as it may be, it is also a beginning.

 

It is the first snow, a fitting beginning for an end. The snow is white, fluffy and has a gentle coldness to it. There is no dirty or uncomfortable slurry of freezing rain. There is just a silent falling that sounds in the air. No cars are out heading to 103rd Street. No people are out to disturb the blanket of white snow. Only the hum of exhaust from steam above on the roofs of buildings and the ambient sound of the wind tells me I am not deaf. It is more than just frozen water constructed in beautiful and unique shapes, but the end of a time. The campus is empty, not a soul out as I walk slowly through the cascade of gentle powdered sugar. It is fitting that on this day that the first snow fall is the last day I am to be here on this site.

 

There is sadness and anxiousness within me. I am somber to the fact that I no longer will be on this site. And with the load of finals on my back, I find it hard to finish this. But I also find a comfort in the quiet snowfall. The end of the semester seems so far away yet in only a few days I will be leaving this school for home once more. It’s quiet as I sit by the window watching countless snowflakes fall to never be seen again. And in the haze of the snow, I smile, knowing only at this moment in time will it be so. The day is drawing to a close and I have much to do. But let me take one last look outside and remember the day I first wrote to you here. It’s not the end of Cougar Diaries. We will continue on here. It’s only another beginning for stories of this school and its people. The day draws to a close and the snow falls.

 

An Art Talk

When you enter Saint Xavier’s Visual Arts Center, you often are met by silence and the occasional sound of the extremely noisy ventilation above the nave. The smell of paint thinner and charcoal present in the air tells of the place’s purpose. But this week was different. Instead of the tranquil silence of the VAC which would allow artists the quietness they need for work, there was a steady murmur of focused dialogue. The smell of paint is replaced by caramel and apples. The nave, empty of all but the movable panel walls for paintings and photo prints, is now filled with chairs and people intent to listen and analyze.

This week, we had a very important and memorable event at the Saint Xavier Art Department. Every semester, the Art Department hosts two senior seminar art critiques, one for the midterm and another for the final. It is always exciting to see the progress of fellow students and getting inspiration from them. There was a lot of interesting projects and theses.

This year, we had a smaller graduating class of seniors than the year prior, eight in total. Seven of them I knew on a personal level. It was amazing seeing the hard work they had pushed out this first half of the semester. As an artist, it proved an invaluable experience as I prepare to take their place next year. It is often said among the seniors that senior critique is a grueling and terrifying time to be at hand. While that may be true in certain regards, it is also a very rewarding and liberating time as well. The professors giving detailed and poignant advice and critiques on certain pieces, which opens one’s eyes to what is to be expected and what areas one should focus on.

Open to the public, the art critiques are wonderful events for people to come by and see what exactly goes on in the Art Department and what our promising young people are dreaming up. Here at Saint Xavier, we’re known for our Nursing and Education departments. But it should be remembered for its artists as well. Often times, the works of art that decorate Saint Xavier and give the walls and halls color are from the people that once walked those same halls wondering of what the next painting or sculpture or photo would entail.

Beverly Art Walk

Gray dusty-looking clouds, an unpleasant dampness in the air, there’s a cold chill in the wind that never gives a reprieve for those outside. That’s what it should have felt like. But the sounds of rain pattering on the sidewalk and the skidding of tires on wet asphalt was drowned out. I heeded no sounds of sirens or of disconcerting chatter and fits of cigarette-induced coughing. I saw no stoic men in blue or sad dirty faces or the frail forms of old women outside hurrying to wherever they were going. There were all inside, away from the cold chatting and laughing at a common thing to behold. All I heard and saw was the common love for art. This weekend was the annual Beverly Art Walk, a one-day event that brings together the local artists of the Beverly area and the greater community of Chicago.

Here in Chicago, the arts scene is very much alive, and Beverly is no exception. Artists working in oils, others in ceramics and others working with what they’ve found lying on the sidewalk all coming together for a whole day showing their practice in a massive open reception for all to see. A stone’s throw away from Saint Xavier University, the Beverly Art Walk was a sight to behold. Packs of people hopping onto the trolly on a scenic route through the major parts of the Beverly area with stops at the studios and homes of many prominent local artists.

Portrait in Broken glass by Dalton Brown

Portrait in broken glass by Dalton Brown

One such artist I met was Dalton Brown, a prolific black artist whose primary theme in his works is “seeing and feeling.” Working in oil paints, he began dabbling with broken glass due to his background. The picture above is of one of his portraits. What first caught my eye was that it was done in broken glass he collects. The glass is from alcohol bottles which are a meaningful part of the piece since he said the portraits were of members of his family who were or have dealt with alcoholism. He had a lot of good advice for fellow artists: He said it’s not enough that an artist paints or does their craft; they also have to be able to “see and feel” what it is they’re doing. Without that passion for art, it will show in the quality and the heart of the heart.

Wall dedicated to prospective Saint Xavier Students from neighboring high schools.

Wall dedicated to prospective Saint Xavier students from neighboring high schools.

 

Wall dedicated to Saint Xavier

Wall dedicated to  Saint Xavier students.

SXU Beverly Art Walk Mural Wall

SXU Beverly Art Walk Mural Wall

One of two pieces of mine showcased at the SXU Beverly Art Walk Gallery.

One of two pieces of my work showcased at the SXU Beverly Art Walk.

Here at Saint Xavier, we didn’t have that problem. While renowned for our education and nursing programs, SXU has a thriving and well-respected artistic community of which I am part of. For the past three years, SXU has had its own gallery location to showcase the art of current students, alumni and of prospective high schoolers. It was a wonderful thing to see professors from the University and members of the community come and support us and the school and those hopefully soon on their way to join the SXU community. We probably had a good 300 people come through over the course of the day. We had a huge wall, which we left blank for anyone and everyone to come and leave their mark. Children barely able to walk and elderly folks in walkers and canes all came together to create art filled with more than skill but heart. The most meaningful part of the whole event for the SXU Gallery, in my opinion, was being able to talk to the high schoolers, the fresh faces on the block, and learn about their art endeavors, see where they were coming from in their mindsets and give them tips. For now, it is done. But the future is unknowable and uncertain. I just hope to see those fresh faces on campus here at Saint Xavier.

Opposites Unite!

There is a part of Saint Xavier University that most students don’t even know exists. Or if they do know where it is, might not ever go see it. Nestled in a quiet tree-lined street with the sounds of children coming home from school and a lawnmower is the Visual Arts Center. A former church turned school building, it is one of the most unique locations here at Saint Xavier. As an art major, the Visual Arts Center, or VAC, is much more than just the building for the Art Department. On the SXU website, it is called a “sanctuary” of studios with a computer lab and student art gallery. It is a place in which art majors can get away from the hustle and bustle of the main campus and focus on their craft with their fellow artists and friends. With the smell of oil paints and the cheery whistle of a certain professor, it has a special charm that draws students on the weekends. And it is this place that allows myself and others to showcase our talents.

Every year, there are a number of art shows taking place at the Visual Arts Center. There is the Scholarship Recipient Art Show and at least one themed art show to accompany it. The most recent art show took place for the past four weeks. This week, we had the closing reception to the Opposites Unite! Art Show where six pairs of art students collaborated and created six unique, binary works of art. Over the last four weeks, the students who received the opportunity to be part of the art show took time out of their days to work tirelessly to create these enormous works of art. For myself and my partner, the theme we chose was dreams and nightmares. It was a thrill to work together to create something as expansive and ambitious as our artwork. Dozens of people showed up to take a look at the show, and we even got to give a little speech on our work. This being the first art show I had participated at Saint Xavier proved to be both a rewarding and exciting experience.

Now that the show is over, there is a certain emptiness about the VAC’s gallery. The walls are now bare again as the artworks are rolled up and stored away for safe keeping. The sound tape being pulled and paper being rolled up just has a certain sadness in my thoughts that made it almost feel like a goodbye or packing up to move away. The last month of work was now in a few minutes being put away only for the cycle to return again. But perhaps like spring, there always has to be winter. Without one part dying off, how will another grow in its place? And so the walls stand empty, and I’m forced to clean the mess we left behind only for it all to begin again with a brand new flyer on the door.

Senior Art Show

This week marked a very important occasion for the Art Department at Saint Xavier of which I am a part of. This Saturday, April 23, was the second half of the senior art show of which the artists of the Senior Seminar course showed to their instructors as well as their families and friends all of which they have achieved this year as well as what they have done since they begun their education at Saint Xavier. There were beautiful traditional drawings, informative and beautifully designed information posters, digital design and more. The reason why I enjoy these shows and why I encourage all students and anyone really to check them out is because of what they represent. These pieces are the products of nearly half a decade of work here at Saint Xavier. It shows what the school has to offer in the old field of fine arts. While SXU is known for its nursing program and its business program, the institution has a thriving and strong Art Department that I am lucky to be a part of. Below will be some examples of the art shown in this half of the art show. What I want to discuss in this blog is the significance of this show and the SXU Art Department as a whole for us art majors. The reason I am writing about this is because of the thoughts that have begun flowing in my own mind of what it will be like for me in Senior Seminar in two years.

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The Art Department at SXU is small. The entire department is located within a simple protestant church down the road from campus. Due to its small size, both location and faculty-wise, there is a much more casual and close relation between students and teachers. Most of us who are in the department are on a first name basis with our professors, cracking jokes and snarky comments unheard of in other departments. As a result, we realize that a professor does not have to be the distant and hard-to-approach mentor we once thought but a human being that like us who shares the same hopes and aspirations and fears we do. There is no need to be afraid to talk to them, but we are them and they are us. Education is not a one-way transference of information. It’s a collaboration, a sharing of knowledge to better ourselves. That is a major reason why I feel that I made the right choice. I’m sure other universities have similar going ons at their art departments but I feel that with our small size, there is more room for connections that could not be possible if anywhere else. There’s a lot on my plate but seeing some of my close friends succeed in this endeavor has given me some steel to push on steadfast.

The Canvas is Blank

Art has been a very important part of my life growing up. But I never saw it as a viable career path since, to be frank, I was not very good at it. It was only during my last two years in high school that I was able to fully appreciate the craft as it pertains to me and bring myself to the level of which I am now. Now, it is my second year at Saint Xavier, and I am fully engaged in my path toward becoming an art teacher. As an artist and an appreciator of art, museums and art galleries are a welcome change of sight from the normal pace of school here at Saint Xavier. This week, I had a fantastic opportunity to see both. On Thursday, my Digital Imagery class went to the Art Institute of Chicago. There we went and saw many pieces of wonderful and intriguing art pieces. My favorites include, “Festival in Montmartre” by Gino Severini, “Terracotta Decorative Panel” by Louis H. Sullivan and “The Banquet” by Rene Magritte. Here are the three pieces:
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This wasn’t the first time I went to the Art Institute. In fact, I’ve been there about six times and each time I’ve learned something new. But like my art professor said, museums are where art made by dead people hangs; galleries are where art made by living people hangs. You can only learn so much by looking. Sometimes you have to ask and listen.

On Saturday, there was the Senior Art Seminar gallery opening. There were dozens of people who came to the SXU campus gallery to see the hard work of the seniors in the Art Department. A lot of my friends were there and it was nice to see their progress and what the future for myself entailed. One of my friends displayed a beautifully constructed miniature house with a film projected on it displaying his pet insects and arthropods. Another student displayed dozens of black-and-white photographs of locations across Chicago in which a person was murdered. It was hauntingly beautiful — the serenity of the photos – while knowing full well that someone had lost their life there. It really broadens my understanding of the media and the depth of an artist’s concept.

For this week, I’d like to discuss the importance of exploring the field in which we pursue. I often hear people entering careers as a result of their parent’s urging. It’s a problem we all might face. Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with a parent having high expectations for their children. In fact, I would encourage it as it shows that anything less is unacceptable, at least for me. But there needs to be a restraint on that notion. Students need to be able to fully examine their own path and horizons if they are to be happy with the career they seek. Leave no stone unturned on your path and be sure to never regret it. This path we seek is ours, not our teachers or our parents. It is ours of which our lives will revolve around. The canvas is there; we just need to think of what to paint.

Introduction and First Introspection

Before I get into what I want to talk about, I guess I should introduce myself. My name is Chris Thach. I am, as of the 2015-2016 school year, a sophomore here at Saint Xavier University. I am an Art Secondary Education major and a resident student. My hobbies include: writing stories, playing video games, drawing and painting, fishkeeping, gardening, and remembering. I’ll get into detail on that last one in a little bit. Throughout my time on this blog, I will share my thoughts on topics that I would find relevant to students and young people and introspection onto aspects of my own life that others may find meaningful as well as various events and current news on things pertaining to the university, the world and myself. Now onto my first introspection on this blog.

I’d like to think I have it all planned out, at least when it comes to the outcome of my time here. Sometimes, I wish I would never leave and have my friends and I just chatting away in the diner until the end of time. But I know that cannot happen. Time never stops for anyone. In my limited time here, I expect a few things of myself and of the school. I have expectations to complete my education here and receive my teaching licensure and begin teaching art at the high school level or work somewhere in my field, the fine arts. However, life takes twists and turns and it would be naive of me to think everything will go as I wish it. My parents are old, as old as some of your grandparents. In fact it is safe to say that I was literally born in the wrong generation. They may be gone tomorrow or next week; I don’t know and that reality is taxing on a person. Time is an elusive fox that continues to evade me. It cannot be helped. But, what I can do is give myself a wide berth in case life throws a maelstrom against me. It’s not a matter of if they’ll occur but what can I do in response. What that entails is engraved into me from memories and whispers of a dead song that only I remember.

Memories are a hard thing to analyze. Was what I was remembering actually what happened? Or was it just me ciphering the least damaging bits? I don’t open up to people. I do, but like everyone else, you don’t tell everyone what you’re thinking. I simply laugh and tell him he’s being a, well you know, and needs to stop worrying. But the truth is there are things I just won’t talk about, even with family. There are moments in our lives that we take to our graves or, at least, do not discuss with people we will actually have to meet at least semi-frequently. It’s not a matter of trust or love but rather a protection. Humans have engrained in our brains a self-preservation mindset, the flight or fight instinct. For myself, my memories and thoughts that I refuse to share with familiars are not something overtly dangerous like situations of bodily harm or even mental trauma, in fact, they are universally pretty pleasant. Tiny moments of picking up a worm that wondered onto the washed out sidewalk and tossing him back into the grass or drinking that artificial cherry drink while father takes a leak at the edge of the biking trail. Those tiny moments, islands of timeless stability in the raging tempest of time are what I keep to myself. I do it because they are mine. They are lyrics to a dead song that only I remember. The genes we inherited were from our parents, our chances of illness are inherent. And those memories are ours alone. Our memories, how few and blank they may be are ours. So there no wonder we all keep a few to ourselves. That is why I like sitting alone and just remembering. We don’t have much and so the world keeps on spitting out lyrics for us to grab but be careful not to let go of your old ones because they were yours.
— Chris Thach