February 05, 2022

Inside a course about the fleeting nature of art

Students painted Chinese water calligraphy on a sidewalk and let it dry in the sunshine, performed improvisational music, and strutted their stuff at an outdoor fashion show. It was all part of a fascinating course which challenged students to explore transitory artistic practices, then create impermanent art themselves.
  • Students in the “Ephemeral Art” course had the opportunity to explore multiple art forms, including drawing, painting, and performance.
    Nico Doret’24

Assistant Professor of Music Yiheng Yvonne Wu says she created Ephemeral Art: Study, Creation, Experience as one way to challenge the idea that art needs to be durable. The course is cross-listed in music, art history, and theatre/dance.

In Ephemeral Art, students completed reading assignments and held discussions about sound, dance, theatre, visual art, street art, land art, digital art, and installation. They studied a wide range of material, from G. Gabrielle Starr’s book Feeling Beauty: The Neuroscience of Aesthetic Experience to the relationship between mourning and loss and ephemeral art.

Students honed their collaborative and performance skills as they put on a fall fashion show, par... Students honed their collaborative and performance skills as they put on a fall fashion show, part of a course called “Ephemeral Art.”
Credit: Nicolas Doret’24
One bright September day, the class gathered in the Poetry Garden to present their own ephemeral art. The event opened with a class fashion show organized by Derrick Walker Jr.’21. Each student was tasked with adding a song to a collective playlist and dressing in their favorite fall attire.

A group drawing performance, led by Mason Svedin’25, took a similar approach. Participants had one minute to add anything they wanted to a class art piece. With little time to think, students created a melting pot of colors and lines. The performance felt more about the movement of creating the work than the image itself.

Tzu Ting Lin?24 demonstrates ephemeral Chinese calligraphy using water as her medium. Tzu Ting Lin’24 demonstrates ephemeral Chinese calligraphy using water as her medium.
Credit: Nicolas Doret’24
Sophie Wray’23 and Tzu Ting Lin’24 each put together performance art pieces, including a mosaic and Chinese water calligraphy. Students broke ceramic dinnerware on the pavement before Wray put the mosaic together, while vocalizing why she chose each piece and where she chose to place it.

Then with each delicate brush stroke, Lin created beautiful characters that dried and disappeared within minutes. She showed her peers how to draw their names in Chinese characters, explaining the meaning of each line. The lasting element of her work was its memory.

“Human experience is already fleeting,” says Wu. “But what happens when art — often considered to capture something of human experience — is intentionally made to be short-lived?”


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  • Carla Davis

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  • Amy Ward’22, center, had an opportunity to do applied research in Minnesota’s Boundary Waters last summer. A group of creative writing students also sharpened their craft in the wilderness.

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  • Caitlin Rankin’14

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