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Finding Inspiration at the Museum

Foundation students visit LACMA
First Year Otis College Students Visit One of LA's Coolest Museums

A group of Otis College assembled in the open courtyard of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) on a sun-filled Tuesday morning. They were visiting the museum in what has become a cornerstone of the Foundation year at Otis College.

The Foundation program is part of the core curriculum and provides an opportunity for students to build a platform of skills, knowledge, and experience that supports them in the future, both educationally and professionally. It provides an experiential understanding of the rich relationships between all of the art and design disciplines.

In the first semester, the Foundation curriculum includes Life Drawing, Drawing and Building Form and Principles of Design. Students take these three studio courses along with two Liberal Arts and Sciences courses: Writing in the Digital Age and Introduction to Visual Culture. They also participate in an enrichment program.

“The Foundation Enrichment Program has four parts: The Orientation presentation, "Look, Think, Make, not necessarily in that order;" Museum Experience; Foundation Forward; and the Contemporary Experience,” explains Katie Phillips, the chair of Foundation who is retiring this month after 32 years at Otis College. “The purpose of the Museum Experience and the entire enrichment program is to provide examples of artists and designers, both contemporary and historical, to motivate and inspire students starting the trajectory of education which leads to a professional life in the visual arts.”

Every Foundation section makes the short trip to LACMA for a presentation by Michael Schrier, artist, designer, educator, and a former Chair of the Foundation program. Schrier is a textile designer who has designed tapestries for large-scale architectural environments. He has exhibited nationally.

LACMA is the largest art museum in the western United States, with a collection of nearly 130,000 objects from antiquity to the present day. The open air campus on over 20 acres was established in 1965 and provides an important source for research for artists and designers. Schrier’s task is to help students provide a context for this further engagement with the museum.

The lecture begins in the corner of a small gallery in the Art of the Ancient Near East gallery in the Hammer Building, with the class huddled together on folding stools not far from Ashurnasirpal II and a Winged Deity from Northern Iraq, Nimrud, 9th century B.C.

Foundation students visit LACMA

Left: Students in front of Ashurnasirpal II and a Winged Deity. Right: Students in front of The Lansdowne Athlete

The conversation begins with Schrier discussing the earliest recorded images of visual language—the cave paintings—and moves through history to then take a deeper look into the reliefs in front of them. How were they created? How did their creation connect to the changing tools available to them? How were they transported? Schrier helps the students look behind the work to understand their origins.

The theme that emerges as Schrier moves the class around the gallery and then into the adjoining galleries is that everything can be reexamined with more context and understanding. He explores why the art objects have been chosen for display and how their placement tells a larger story than might not be apparent at first look. 

The morning ends in front of The Lansdowne Athlete a sculpture from Rome, 1st century B.C. or 1st century A.D. copy after a Greek original of circa 340-330 B.C. by Lysippos. Schrier explains that through new technology it is now understood that that the classic statues were once in full color. Suddenly the room of monotone statues come alive in Schrier’s description of how color was celebrated in this cultures.

Schrier’s remarks take a very small section of LACMA and opens it up for students. Suddenly every art object in the museum comes alive in a new way. An object that might have been walked past for the latest installation is suddenly alive with new meaning.

Following the Museum Experience, Foundation students receive a one-year membership to LACMA. This reflects the College’s commitment to introducing all Otis College students to the museum as a primary resource and initiating what will be a lifetime engagement with the museum as students progress in their studies and their careers as artists and designers.