On December 1, 2016, I was privileged to attend the first Visual & Performing Arts Showcase at The Studio’s Blackbox Theatre in Sellery Hall. For those who are not familiar with the Creative Arts and Design Learning Community, also known as The Studio at UW-Madison, visit this website:

The Studio residents, faculty and staff at the Visual & Performing Arts Showcase in December 2016. Photography credit: Aliza Rand

The Arts Institute is proud to sponsor and support the Studio. The Studio is a program that forms part of the wider arts community that thrives at the university. As it evolved, it has provided a stimulating environment for the arts and has helped define unique ways by which the arts at UW-Madison help realize the great potential that students bring into their various majors and programs.

While The Studio’s is not a surrogate class in a specific art form or medium, its art-based ethos brings students together as a community that focuses on making and doing. The result is not just an artistic product, but a community through which participants relate and create forms of associated living. One could say that this is a form of performing arts practice where the artwork happens through those open-ended and dialogic participatory moments which characterize The Studio experience in all its aspects and dimensions. As a maker-space, The Studio becomes a venue that communicates, but also an occasion where the arts, as forms of human living, become horizons of understanding — widening how we relate and communicate with each other.

This is not done by some magical coincidence. The Studio is carefully managed and facilitated by members of academic staff, dedicated faculty and invited arts practitioners who, through their expertise and interests, provide environments where student learn, understand, dispute and unlearn, create and re-create their sense of being through the community.

Forms of life

In Art and its Objects, the British philosopher and art theorist Richard Wollheim brings the idea of art close to the notion of a form of life, which he takes from his engagement with Ludwig Wittgenstein’s notion of language-games.

As a form of life, art gains a different value from anything that is strictly defined. This means that in being one of the many forms of life with which we identify the world as a living universe, art not only gains its own degree of freedom, but gives us all a wider sense of autonomy that would help us identify how we define ourselves and each other.

This freedom brings us to understand, through our art making, how the notion of life is not enough to explain the act and being of living. At a time when many are too quick to use the word “life” in a reified way, where life becomes an object if not an instrument by which some even begin to make statements of power over others, it is becoming even more urgent for us to understand the distinction between life as a reified notion and the act of living as a form of engagement with the self and others — in other words, with a sense of community.

While those who live are often regarded as a detail in the greater contexts of a nation or society as they are reduced to numbers in terms of legality or occupation, the act of living becomes markedly akin to what we do when we engage in art making.

Acts of living go to the root of what and who we are as human beings. This remains central to the mission of a university where notwithstanding what stance we take, this must always be welcomed in a wider dialogue expressed in freedom and mutual respect.

This is how we conceive a maker-space, whether it is a visual artist’s studio, a printmaker’s shop, a theater, a performance space adopted in the subway or indeed a room in one’s home or a space in one’s dorm. In doing art, we are always transforming it into a space where we make the world. The deeds are equally singular as they are plural; individual because they are social. They may well be intimate or public in intent, but in their difference, they remain equally important because they are all valuable to us as human beings who are growing and sharing one world.

Beyond the discourses of identity by which people often make generalist points against each other, the specificity of living requires that as we do in art, we also do with regards to others. Here we consider, in every detail, what others mean to us and how we learn to live with and respect others’ art as if it were our own, because this is how we want others to treat our own view of the world.

The challenge to practice art as a form of life must also be practiced from within day-to-day living, where we seek to gain meaning, and in return, give meaning to others. This is what happens in spaces where the arts become a space of making.

A community of doers

The variegated and exciting pedagogies that emerged from maker-spaces like The Studio and other similar programs that run across the university are emerging as a new dimension within academia. While the idea of experiential learning has always been central to student life, students are increasingly participating in new ways of engagement in these programs where the experience is not simply one of “learning,” but where new life skills are provided from within the interstices of what is traditionally attributed to academia.

Partly because of the average age that students come together and partly because at this stage of their education they are faced with new forms of understanding, the pedagogy of the learning space must be studied even further as a new way by which the artistic sphere as a way of knowing begins to fuel new energy into the university sector.