An unconventional path: Students opt for art college, leave behind grades, athletics & core curriculum

By choosing a college that substitutes critiques for finals and has all but one undergraduate program specializing in the arts, seniors Alex Kardosopoulos and Marissa Kindsvater hope to hone their artistic talent in the creative atmosphere at California College of the Arts (CLA).

Kardosopoulos will be majoring in photography and Kindsvater will major in glass blowing.

“I love everything about photography,” Kardasopoulos said. “My dream is to be a photojournalist.”

Kardasopoulos became photo editor of the yearbook this year and has explored different styles of photography including tintype photography, a method used in the 19th century where a photograph is made by creating a transparent image imprinted on a sheet of iron that is then blackened by painting or enamelling.

Art colleges like CCA are very different from most colleges and universities.

CCA counselor Shannon Sellers explained that while most schools with art majors have more of a focus on humanities such as literature and world culture studies, CCA places a much larger emphasis on the arts, with classes being over 60 percent studio art.

“Most schools with art majors are 60 percent humanities and 40 percent studio art, whereas CCA is just the opposite,” Sellers said.

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With only 1,450 undergraduate students, CCA is also on the lower end of the spectrum in terms of enrollment.

CCA also has no fraternities, sororities or sports programs.

Despite this, CCA still has many clubs and activities, including an Anime Night Club, Improv Group, Students of Color Coalition and the Queer/Straight Alliance.

The teaching style at CCA is also different. Ryan Eytcheson, ‘03 attended a similar small arts school, Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD), and was amazed by the teaching style.

“The teachers know their audience, and every teacher caters specifically to the creative brain,” Eytcheson said. “Every teacher I had would start off with a lecture for 10 minutes, then switch to a video for five, then switch to 10 minutes of student discussion, and then 10 minutes of something hands on.

“(Their lectures) were constantly stimulating and used current technology to get through to us.”

Another major difference between art colleges and other universities is the manner in which assignments are graded.

Kardasopoulos and Kindsvater will not have midterms and papers but will work on projects such as photo collages or glass pieces that will be due throughout the years, Seller said.

Rather than finals or midterms, students are critiqued at the end of each term.

These critiques can be very brutal with teachers and students pointing out the most minute errors.

Eytcheson was required to do a number of hands-on activities for his classes that he would then present to his peers.

“If I had a crease, or one of the corners of my project was bent, I’d automatically get five percent off,” Eytcheson said.

After his freshman year at SCAD, Eytcheson transferred to Chapman College, but in retrospect he believes his decision to leave was a mistake.

“Country Day teaches you that going to a ‘university’ is the end-all, be-all solution to life. Trade in your creativity for apparent stability,” Eytcheson said.

“And while I enjoyed my time at Chapman, I transfered for all the wrong reasons.”

Ryan’s decision to leave SCAD was due to a desire to pursue a more stable career and experience a more typical college life. Chapman had the fun parties, good-looking girls and fraternities,  he said.

CCA does not offer any science, math or history majors, but Kardasopoulos and Kindsvater will be taking art history and creative writing.

CCA’s location, downtown Oakland, helped to attract Kardasopoulos, who  has visited the campus eight times and finds something new he loves every visit.

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“I really like the campus wildlife and architecture,” Kardasopulous said. There are several gardens with really cool plants. The studios they have on campus are amazing too.”

Kardasopulous also appreciates CCA’s impressive photography studio.

“The photo studio is really large, with lockers full of high -tech photo equipment that you can’t find at other schools.”

And Kardasopoulos found that students at CCA had a different persona about them.

“They were nice but also kind of sporadic and odd. Their attitude and clothes made me feel like they were trying hard not to fit in,” Kardasopoulos said.

Eytcheson picked up on this at SCAD as well.

“SCAD students had a very unique edge to them,” Eytcheson explained. “It was as if they suffered from an inferiority complex and were out to prove themselves. They differed greatly from the typical college crowd.”

Both Kardasopoulos and Kindsvater aspire to own a studio when they finish their studies, but until then they will sell their art through the school or to buyers in the area.

Teachers at CCA use their connections in the area and work with students  to help find buyers for student pieces.

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