A guide to Madison's wide world of visual arts

The Chazen offers one of the best spaces on campus for students to see incredible work.

Image By: Wil Gibb

Despite all that classic college fun, and despite the fact that we all know how lucky we are to be in college receiving an education, let’s face it: College can be really hard. Sometimes you pull excruciating all-nighters locked in nasty library cages. Sometimes you stare blankly at a wall for an hour after being handed an intimidating syllabus. Sometimes you shed a tear or two in the Vilas bathroom. Sometimes you wake up on the floor next to your friend’s futon at 3 p.m. on a Thursday feeling more like a half-eaten raisin than a human being, surrounded by a sea of Gordon’s quesadillas that you don’t remember ordering.

What I’m trying to say is that there will be moments when you feel like an empty vessel, and you’ll just need to look at or make something beautiful or ugly or interesting or sad or weird to feel anything besides the weight of your chemistry homework. Enter Madison’s wide world of visual art.

Between our school’s world-class art department, a wealth of campus visual arts organizations, our talented student body and the Madison community’s engagement in the art world, students at UW-Madison are in a prime position to interact with some insanely transformative works. One single article isn’t even going to dent the surface of what we have to offer, but the following will offer a solid start for those looking to dive headfirst into the art world.

If you want to view a wide variety of esteemed art from a massive amount of cultures, geographic locations and time periods, the Chazen is your place to start. Home to the second-largest collection of art in Wisconsin, the museum constantly proves to be an excellent place to get lost. The collection houses globally revered artists like Kara Walker, Alexander Calder, Pablo Picasso and so many more. It’s not every day you can walk out of your history lecture, cross the street and rest your eyes upon an artifact from ancient Greece or an avant-garde installation work from an up-and-coming artist. Oh wait, you can do that every day. Except for Mondays, the only day of the week the Chazen is closed. They also hold tours, talks, temporary exhibitions and a wide array of educational and social events if you’re looking to dive a little deeper and meet people in the visual arts scene.

Head down State Street a little ways and you’ll end up at Madison’s hub of contemporary art—The Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, or MMoCA. The works in the independent organization's collection include pieces from throughout the 20th and 21st century in a wide variety of mediums. One stroll through their doors, and you can be looking at pieces that have shaped the world of contemporary art beyond belief including work from Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, Cindy Sherman and Claes Oldenburg. They also host events like tours, talks, Art Fair on the Square and even the occasional Rooftop Cinema. And if you want more without having to go very far? The Overture Center is right next door and has four art galleries that exhibit an extremely wide array of shows throughout the year, many of which feature local artists.

Other notable galleries include smaller campus galleries like the 6th and 7th-floor Humanities galleries, the Art Loft Gallery and the two galleries in Memorial Union and Union South, both of which The Wisconsin Union Directorate Art Committee is responsible for programming. The Wisconsin Union Directorate Art Committee, or WUD Art, is a student-run organization that allows students to be a part of a team that brings the work of talented visual artists to campus. If you’re interested in a more involved experience in the campus arts scene, an organization like WUD Art is ideal. There are also a decent number of independent art galleries in the Madison community, and exploring them is a great way to get off campus.

And if you’re looking to make art? Take an art class. This seems obvious, but you’d be surprised at how many students assume these classes are just for art majors or are intimidated by the idea. The university art department is impeccable and will give you access to friendly, creative and intelligent professors that make impeccable art of their own. I swear, just being in the same room as some of my art professors has given me the creative spark I needed to move through my next project. It doesn't have to be a traditional ceramics or painting class, either. Our glass and neon programs are both world-renowned and incredibly performative. From weaving to paper-making to installation to performance art, I guarantee you you’ll find people here that are passionate about their craft and ready to share what they love. The people and ideas I’ve been exposed to in the art and design classes I’ve taken here at UW-Madison have genuinely been some of the most transformative elements of my time in college so far.

If you can’t fit an art class into your schedule or want to create more outside of class, Wheelhouse Studios in the basement of Memorial Union offers classes, studios and resources for a large variety of mediums from photography to screen printing to ceramics.

This is by no means comprehensive, but it will offer you a place to start. Whether you’re looking to pursue art, challenge your ideas with someone else’s or just looking to revive yourself from the monotony of student life, I promise the people you meet, the things you see and make and the concepts you learn in the Madison art world will transform you throughout college and beyond.

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