By Mike Lagerquist

In the middle of a discussion about how teaching online will affect him as an art professor, Minnesota State Mankato’s Brian Frink made an analogy that surprised me: He likened in-class drawing and painting instruction to practicing as an athlete.

Now, maybe it surprised me because it came out in a talk about a pandemic-related school year, or maybe it surprised me because I had never thought of the idea of an artist practicing his or her craft. I have always known that most artists get better the longer they draw, paint, sculpt or construct, but I had always thought of that as experience and not practice—which is silly, of course, because experience only comes from doing… and practice is pretty much the same as gaining experience.

I was talking to Brian for my MavKato spot that I do on KMSU Radio, falling on Mondays at 1 p.m. during general manager Dwayne Megaw’s program. The title emerged because our intent is to highlight arts and culture on the Minnesota State Mankato campus, bringing in the impact it has on the greater Mankato/North Mankato community. My first program with the Maverick Machine’s director, Michael Thursby, came just before the pandemic hit. Thanks in part to knowledge and experience gained through Zoom meetings, I’m now able to conduct interviews not in the studio, but online. Then I get an audio recording, do some basic editing and send it to Dwayne via email.

Can you truly have that trusting relationship when you know each other only through online interactions?

You could say I’ve gained experience through my practice with Zoom.

That was another part of my talk with Brian: How have pandemic experiences affected the future of art? Turns out, Brian is having to teach some skills to students in order to complete the class that will be beneficial to them as they move into the post-pandemic world. He has found software that allows them to post drawings and paintings to a wall – essentially an online gallery – where their fellow students can share thoughts about the pieces. It’s software that may come in handy when creating an online sales site.

Obviously, the most challenging part of teaching online courses is establishing and maintaining a trusting personal relationship with students. Instruction is one part of the class, with critiquing and grading work another part. Can you truly have that trusting relationship when you know each other only through online interactions? How many times have you misread a friend’s comment on your Facebook page? I’m guessing it didn’t turn out well. And those are people, most likely, you’ve actually met and had a friendship with before expanding that friendship online.

Practice – working on specific actions or reactions, like in football or basketball — is one thing. Working on interpretation and individual expression of techniques learned is quite another. While emotion is no doubt a part of athletics, it can be everything in art.

Practice – working on specific actions or reactions, like in football or basketball — is one thing. Working on interpretation and individual expression of techniques learned is quite another. While emotion is no doubt a part of athletics, it can be everything in art.

Audiences Will Determine When Arts Come Back

In my weekday life, I work at VINE Faith in Action, which, like the YMCA and gyms, started welcoming people back several weeks ago under very controlled circumstances. One thing I’ve noticed from that – and from other experiences with Mankato Kiwanis Club and Mankato Playhouse (where I serve on the board of directors) – is that the final piece of how quickly these organizations return to “normal” will be in the hands of those who patronize them.

Both VINE and the YMCA have noticed that many people who used to come regularly have yet to return. Obviously, that’s a personal choice, and one that operators of these facilities understand and respect. We have to feel safe in everything we do. For these organizations, and arts organizations as well, it adds to the uncertainty of an impending return.

Mankato Playhouse returned with its August production of “Forever Plaid,” which had respectable crowds over its three-weekend run. But even with greatly reduced seating capacity, there were available seats for most every performance. Minnesota State University, Mankato Theatre & Dance is selling season tickets as they usually would in August, though their COVID-19 plan – which is based on the university plan, which is based on the state plan, which has as its origins the Centers for Disease Control plan – has reduced seating to 25 percent of capacity, meaning performances have been added to each production. Merely Players and Bethany Lutheran College are delaying or adapting early-season productions.

No matter what everyone decides, of course, people still need to purchase tickets in order for performances to happen. And for everyone involved, it’s a guessing (and hoping) game.

Author

  • Mike Lagerquist

    Mike Lagerquist is a North Mankato and Mankato native with a strong interest in local history, stories and buildings. He has been a newspaper reporter, public relations professional and perpetual volunteer.

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