Art professor Chris Willcox slows down for her oil painting and teaches her students to do the same
“Oil painting is a 500-year-old practice that forces you to slow down,” she says. “It’s a protracted way to make an image—a complicated, messy process.” The visceral materiality of it, so different from the computer world, is something Willcox finds exciting and her students appreciate.
Willcox, who has taught at Mac for 10 years, started her career as a scenery and mural painter. Now her own work focuses on landscapes, many of them wintery ones reminiscent of her native Canada. She urges students to bring their emotional and intellectual ideas to their work, and often sees images from their other classes— such as biology—pop up in their paintings.
Although there are only about 30 studio arts majors at any time at Mac, close to 500 students cycle through studio arts classes each year. What they gain from the experience may not be easy to quantify but is very real, says Willcox. “Painting trains you to look at and see things in a certain way, to be visually engaged with the world,” she says. Studio arts classes call on a very different part of a student’s brain, she adds, and allow them to produce something tangible that they can hold in their hands.