Student Murals on the Wall of a UCI Construction Site

T.A. Heppenheimer’s letter of March 11 criticized the temporary construction site wall mural at UC Irvine as “having nothing to do with what a university-level art course, particularly at the junior or senior level, should be pursuing.”

My question is, what is worthy of an intermediate painting class pursuit? Is transferring sketches to scale, color theory, paint application techniques, collaboration for the expression of personal histories out of the territory that would be deemed appropriate artistic pursuit? Twenty years of experience as an art educator has brought me to the conclusion that these issues are perhaps among the most important for students. This is particularly important at a time when isolation and alienation for an increasingly ethnically diverse student population threatens their success rates.

Or is it the mural form itself that is “unworthy” because of its association in the 20th Century with social movements or ethnicity? Clearly history has sustained murals as a worthy artistic pursuit from the caves of Lauscaux to the Mayan pyramids to the Italian Renaissance to the Mexican muralists of the 1920s to the U.S. Works Progress Administration public murals of the ‘30s, and finally to the more recent explosion of the ‘70s and ‘80s across our country. By the way, the “unschooled street artists of East L.A.” who produced many murals during the latter period were mostly schooled in our universities and struggled to find voices that spoke to their own cultural experiences and audiences.

It is the university’s job to pursue an “academic environment,” which I take to mean a safe place for experimentation and research, in short, “learning.” Which, if any, creative person is able to step forward into the world fully articulate?


Sketches are only diagrams for another completed product and as such they are in themselves not completed artworks to be critiqued. That is not to say that my expectations of my students are not high. I expect them to produce “class work” that takes risks, possibly even makes the passionate mistakes necessary to learn self-expression. As a faculty member I promise, in return, support for these efforts and encouragement to grow.

Last, as to the matter of “taste” in this time of a multiplicity of tastes in which acceptance of diversity should be our goal, which “taste” are we to teach?

It is not my students who are guilty of a poverty of imagination or of being oracles of the obvious.



Assistant Professor

Studio Arts School of Fine Arts

University of California, Irvine