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Interpreting 2020 Through Line Language

During the Fall 2020 semester, Stamps students are doing what artists and designers are challenged to do every day: give form to feeling.

In Stamps instructor Liz Guilmet’s studio 2D class, students exercised this skill through “Line and Language,” an assignment created by Guilmet, where students choose a news headline and explore their emotional response, creating an abstract composition using only black and white paper. 

According to Guilmet, who is also a Stamps alumna (BFA ‘08), the assignment allows learners to explore the expressive possibilities of line in non-representational form while demonstrating competency in the basic principles of 2D design. It also provided the class with space to find connections through the challenges presented by current events. 

"I designed the assignment to allow the students to speak to each other and share their anxieties and concerns through their creative process," Guilmet said. 

After reading about the forest fires in Oregon, Oliver Shapton (Dual Degree with Stamps & LSA, BFA ‘24) felt the need to express the intense anxiety he felt about the future of the planet in his work, “Everything’s Gone.” Using a paperclip, Shapton pulled ink across the page to create long lines that extend from a dark circle. “I wanted to show something that grows and becomes such a huge part of someone’s life even if they don’t want it to,” Shapton said.

Image: Oliver Shapton

After reading an article about the discovery of small microorganisms that could be life forms on Venus, Hayden Erich (BFA ‘24) decided that the emotion he wanted to convey was disjointedness, a feeling he was left with when considering the possibility of alien life forms. “I felt a lot of conflicting emotions. I was excited and intrigued, yet doubtful,” Erich stated.

Image: Hayden Erich

Lindsey Farb (BFA ‘24) read an article about the effects of climate change on the arctic ice caps. While reading the article provoked many different emotions, she ultimately decided to express the feeling of panic. “My specific composition is based on sharp and irregular marks created by swift, direct movement,” Farb stated.

“The world is in grave shape when it comes to environmental stability. I cannot help but feel uneasy and panicked when confronted with such grave information regarding the severity of the situation at hand.”

Image: Lindsey Farb

Victor Garcia (BFA ‘24) wanted to reconnect to his Mexican heritage through this assignment. The article he read, “Discount Mall,” explores the lives of predominantly Mexican families in Chicago’s Little Village neighborhood and the challenges of gentrification that those families face. By using ink and brush techniques, Garcia created a visual interpretation of the feelings sparked by the article. 

Reflecting on the process, Garcia said, “I had taken such a complex and specific narrative about a brown community in my city and created a strong abstract artwork that simplified it into one word: aggravated.”

Image: Victor Garcia

Reflecting on the work of her students, Liz Guilmet expressed pride and a feeling of connectedness. “By discussing and creating visual interpretations of 2020 news headlines through basic elements of design, we make the uncertainty a little more manageable together,” Guilmet said. 

“The class that has enrolled this semester faces new, unimaginable challenges and anxiety on top of the pervasive pressure of academia. They are strong, resilient, and, most importantly, kind.”

Story by Ashley Holland (BFA ‘21).