Wintersession workshop helps students see their world in black and white – Harvard Gazette

Enlivening the Adams House space during the relatively quiet winter session, Stephen Coit ’71 MBA ’77 and William Shen ’22, HMS ’26 co-led a two-day portrait workshop.

“We have a pop-up studio here. We show up. We made it the world. We are the creators of the world,” Coit said. “I think that COVID has changed the culture of students for a while. I am happy to say that I am seeing a return to commitment and passion in this class… Students in this class are late. And they try to do it right. They are very determined to succeed.”

28 portraits of fellow teacher Steve Coit that hang around campus, including Caleb Cheeshahteaumuck in Annenberg Hall, Archie Epps University Hall, and Rosa Rios Winthrop House.

Coit and Shen, whose portraits adorn the halls of Harvard (Coit has 28 across the university, Shen has two at Adams House, and both continue to grow), shared art-making lessons that quickly turned into life lessons.

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The students, a mix of undergraduate and graduate students who are all pursuing studies outside of their studies in the arts, learned lessons about the importance of perception and making mistakes.

“It’s about going out and recovering,” Coit said. With charcoal sticks and blackened erasers in hand, eight students created portraits of people dear to them.

“The essence of drawing is not to draw what you believe to be, but what is seen,” he said. “They are all fighting against prejudice. And that’s the key to drawing, is getting rid of preconceptions.

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Translating color images into black and white allowed students to explore issues of perception. “There are actually a lot of optical illusions that we don’t really think about everyday… drawing isn’t what you think you see, we draw what you actually see,” shares Shen. “There are no perfect lines in nature. So it’s the same in art. And we can actually take advantage of the way our brain perceives the world by deliberately making some of the lines rougher.

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“They all learned pretty quickly that you have to take the plunge, make mistakes and correct them… And that’s a great life lesson.”

Sharing the students’ sentiments from the class, Coit said, “This course will teach you how you would like an eraser to be in your life. Because in this course you use the eraser equally with charcoal to create what you want. And wouldn’t it be great if you had an everyday eraser that worked the same way?


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