A Trip to the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD)

13 October 2021

Joshua Hall

Dr. Deal admiring an exhibit about rings, photo by author

Savannah College of Art and Design, SCAD, is an educational institution tailored to equip and refine artistic individuals for thriving careers in their field of choice. For students, their time at the college consists not only of honing their artistic abilities, but also learning to be strategic, innovative, collaborative, immersive and transformative. A large part of that learning experience comes from the SCAD Museum of art. Housed in this museum, you’ll find both global and local artists from different walks of life, therefore breathing life into a wide array of mediums and messages. The existence of the museum serves the purpose of exposing students to the various ways art is created and also acts as their entrance into the professional world of art. As the group experienced on our visit, the museum in run largely by students in tours and daily operations. They provide history, information on style, intent and inspiration for the artists on display, and contribute greatly to creating a tangible story guests can take with them after their time at the museum.

During our visit, it was evident the college actively sought to use their space to counteract consolidation of monopoly in art. By that, I mean there was great intentionality in ensuring the artists came from varying cultural backgrounds to put forth varying messages. Among all the exhibits we saw, diversity tended to be one of, if not the only common thread. We saw works of fashion, photography meant to depict and question images of urban lifestyles, and sculptures & paintings completed to communicate themes of womanhood, mental health and more. Essentially, this space acts to flip many power dynamics on their head. While minorities typically do not receive exclusive spaces in politics, economy, community etc., SCAD Museum of Art ensured not only that the space was allowed, but also preserved, revered and admired. I find their process of artist selection consistent with the physical place of the museum. The very building itself houses one of the oldest surviving antebellum railroad depot in the U.S. into its design, in addition to providing funding to revitalize and repurpose many of the surrounding buildings in the community. To me, this concept of revitalizing hearkens to the article read from the Washington Post, “These are our ancestors’: Descendants of enslaved people are shifting plantation tourism”. As the title suggests, that article does point more towards plantation tourism, but the principle of repurposing land for educational purposes remains the same. Much like educational tourism, the efforts of SCAD have the perception of being good deeds. However, sometimes intention and impact can become muddied with lack of knowledge for diverse perspectives. So while I respect the work SCAD does to create and preserve diverse spaces, I still wonder about the land it is built upon & perhaps who may or may not be adversely affected as a result. There is romance in almost everything, but the often disproportionate distribution of power affects the capacity of wholistic history. That is not to direct accusations, but rather direct us to ponder possibilities that our actions need be thorough and open to reconfiguring as morality may inquire it so.

After addressing the tension, which I believe deserves attention given the sticky history of the low country, I’d like to shift towards the elements of an artist at SCAD I found to be particularly romantic. By romantic, I mean I found it to be a beautiful showing of perspective and ranging in emotion. Her name is Elizabeth Catlett. Her exhibit included sculptures of women, embodying different aspects of what life is as a woman. As someone who is not a woman, I found myself searching for potential meaning in the art itself. Of course I came away with no certain conclusions, but the lingering possibilities & the knowledge of not knowing the the full experience of Catlett, black women, or any woman for that matter is something much more valuable in my eyes.

Statue by Elizabeth Catlett, photo by author

Another piece of her art that was especially provoking to me was an image of young man’s face with a limp body laid inside his head. Looking at the art, I felt a deep resonance. Similar to the sculptures of women, I had no way of coming to a conclusion true to the original inspiration, but, since the identity was one somewhat mirroring mine, I felt significantly tied to it. The sharp juxtaposition between the alive boy with the lifeless body inside of his head gave me a cathartic comfort that somehow I lived a life vicariously through the art as it lived vicariously through me.

Jordan Fields in front of an art piece, photo by author