Howard W. Hewitt – It’s not unusual to enter a Wabash College classroom and find students challenged by their professor to think in abstract terms.  That’s what Wabash is all about – getting students to grow and not only think critically, but think at times in an unconventional manner. (See photo album from Thursday’s class here.)

It is often impressive and enlightening to sit in those classrooms, for those of us who do it infrequently, and be overwhelmed at some of the young men’s intellectual exercises.

It’s just as interesting to enter an art studio in the Fine Arts Building and see students intellectually express an abstraction in art. After all, when we think of the word “abstract,” we often think of art.

Professor Doug Calisch challenged his 3-D Foundations class this week with a project he titled “Releasing the Theme from Within.”

He wanted the students to focus on the subtractive process. “Basically, that means carving, shaping, and removing material from a plaster block, in order to convey a theme or central idea,” Calisch wrote in the assignment sheet.

“Working in the subtractive method takes careful planning and a preliminary design work on paper. It also requires a kind of ‘backwards’ thinking – a deconstructive approach of eliminating mass and creating space in order to reveal the theme locked inside your block of plaster.”

And to keep the assignment as “abstract” as possible, the students drew their themes from a hat. One word was written on a note card and the student had to then create their work to reflect that word. The list included: expel, consume, stress, compression, fluidity, frozen, solitude, toxic, pure, aggressive, destroyed, caustic, strength, complex, and others.

A haze of white dust hung over the sculpture studio Thursday afternoon with the constant “chink, chink, chink” of chisel against plaster. But one of the interesting things, much like other art classes I’ve observed, is most of the students were not art majors. The class is a 100 level class.

It’s fascinating to see young men who probably would not define themselves as artists express abstract themes with their hands, a hammer, and a block of white plaster.