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Student Art Association Classes Spur Creativity

By Baruch Feldman

The students in Susan Anderson's "Life Drawing: from Klutz to Genius" class peered forward and frowned. They'd never worked with color oil crayons before and were scrambling to recreate what they saw before their time in the class ended.

The Klutz class, held last Monday, was one of many offerings by MIT's Student Art Association this Independent Activities Period. Every year, SAA provides students with choices among ceramics, photography, and drawing and painting courses, said Director or the Student Art Association Edward McCluney.

But this January student response has been overwhelming. McCluney's office has been forced to turn away more students than it has in a decade. What's more, McCluney has seen the enrollment in SAAcourses rise from 35 percent students and 65 percent faculty and their spouses up to 75 percent or so MIT students this year. Our student body is definitely "getting more well-rounded," he said.

Eto S. Otitigbe '99 may well be proof. Otitigbe, known on campus for his exhibit in the Student Center, "The Suntoucher Tragedy," started his collegiate art career when he wandered into SAA during his freshman year.

"A lot of people here are creative," Otitigbe maintained. But he complained that an MIT education only does a good job teaching the scientific side of creativity. Speaking of his mechanical engineering major, "they want to teach you design but they don't teach you to draw."

To Otitigbe, his art and engineering are just components of the same whole. The inventor, he explained, has the same goal as the artist - to make a design that produces "the desired effect."

Otitigbe has created art since high school, but he discovered his love for linoleum printmaking when he watched McCluney doing it. McCluney, a practicing artist, often does artwork in the office precisely so he can inspire the students to come "out of the closet" - that is, to try it for themselves.

An unlearning experience

Anderson teaches her students to draw - but first she has to teach them to see. "We all come equipped with a lifetime of experience. A six-year-old" would be more creative than most college students, she said.

Anderson's students are asked to unlearn the "preconceptions" they've picked up since kindergarten. A work can be pretty, she pointed out, but contain preconceptions that distract from what the artist really saw. There is no mistaking a good picture, though. "You feel like God on the seventh day," she said.

Incidentally, both McCluney and Anderson have had substantial education in science. Both came to MIT because they liked the idea of introducing scientists to art. "I said, Whoa, what a great place," McCluney remembered.