Creating art through first-hand experience

Katherine Shortridge, assistant professor of fine arts, provides her students with a more personal classroom setting.

Katherine Shortridge, assistant professor of fine arts, says that the small classroom setting Roanoke College offers allows her students to mature in their art and gives her the opportunity to connect with students on different levels.

One way Shortridge keeps students engaged is by taking them outside to paint or draw landscapes. Landscape painting is Shortridge's specialty; however, she looks at landscapes as more abstract and paints to communicate with the inner landscape, more commonly known as "sense of place" painting. She paints through the colors and sounds of nature to produce a more conceptual version of the outdoors.

Shortridge has found that students are open to going out of the studio to paint or draw and that it usually helps students understand the world around them in a more visual sense.

"I give them first-hand experience, which is important," Shortridge said. "Landscapes are huge, and students like not being in the classroom. Students seem to get a lot out of it by going outside."

Another way Shortridge stays connected to students is through her involvement with Phi Beta Kappa. She is currently the president of the chapter at Roanoke, holding the secretary and vice president positions in past years. Shortridge arrived at Roanoke in 2003, when the chapter started, and found that becoming involved in PBK would help her meet more students and faculty.

"I was new here," Shortridge said. "I wanted to meet new people across the campus and the most appealing thing for me what getting to know people."

Shortridge was a member of the PBK chapter at her alma mater, Dartmouth College, a liberal arts college of about 6,000 students. She compares Dartmouth with Roanoke in the small class sizes and approachable faculty and staff. Shortridge credits her time at Dartmouth in leading her to Roanoke, and models her experiences with her students.

"I didn't go to college wanting to be an art major," Shortridge said. "But I took a few art classes and other liberal arts courses and fell in love with it. It just made sense to me."

Because of her liberal arts background, Shortridge says that Roanoke was a great fit for her. She says she can draw outside subjects into her classroom in order to help students understand concepts with better comprehension.

"Discussions in my classes are tailored to the students," Shortridge said. "Art is about working closely, and learning cannot be done alone by students because their problems are not the same. It is my job to go inside their heads and figure out what I can say or show to help them."

One challenge Shortridge faces is teaching basic drawing or painting classes because there are a variety of students with various backgrounds in art taking the course. Teaching students with various backgrounds in art is one thing that keeps Shortridge on her toes.

"I have my students look at tangible objects instead of creating something abstract," Shortridge said. "I make my students work hard because they become better painters or drawers that way. The knowledge is theirs to use."


About the Author

Laura Scuffins '09 was an English major who interned in the Office of Public Relations. She was editor of the campus newspaper, The Brackety-Ack, and a member of Chi Omega sorority. Laura also was a member of Roanoke's track team for 3 years.