LCAD to name fine arts department after Jonathan Burke

Laguna College of Art and Design plans to rename its fine art program the "Jonathan Burke Fine Art Program."
Laguna College of Art and Design plans to rename its fine art program after Jonathan Burke. Burke retired as president of the college at the end of last year.
(Courtesy of Laguna College of Art and Design)

Laguna Beach College of Art and Design has announced plans to honor Jonathan Burke, who recently retired as the president of the college after spending the last 40 years at the institution as an educator and administrator.

The school released a statement that said it will be renaming its fine art program the “Jonathan Burke Fine Art Program,” among several honors the college is planning for Burke.

“I was really touched and really humbled by their initiative to name the fine arts department after me,” Burke said of being honored by the college. “That’s something I’m still in shock of. It’s so extraordinary, it really is.”

Burke, 71, has been chosen as the keynote speaker for LCAD’s virtual commencement. He will also receive an honorary LCAD degree. The commencement ceremony is scheduled for May 21.

The college also announced that the pathway leading to Studios 8, 9 and 10 will be named “Burke Way,” a move intended to pay homage to Burke’s time as a teacher.

Burke joined the faculty of the college, then known as Laguna Beach School of Art, as a fine arts instructor in 1980. Prior to becoming LCAD’s president and CEO, he also served in the roles of Chair of Fine Arts, Dean of Fine Arts, Interim Dean of Visual Communications and Co-Vice President of Academic Affairs.

Under Burke’s leadership, LCAD added undergraduate majors in entertainment design and experimental animation, as well as Master of Fine Arts programs in drawing, painting and game design.

Burke said that he was originally hired, in large part, because of his training as a representational painter. He said that the technical skills required for the discipline translate to other fields, including game art, illustration and animation.

Burke added that the college has focused on teaching a high degree of specificity, of realism, of structure and of how volume is created.

“If you have those skills, then there’s no limit to imagination,” Burke said. “Once the skills are there, then you don’t have the creative limitation because the limitation creatively is trying to reach for something that is in your mind’s eye, but you simply don’t have the technical prowess to be able to create it.

“We really are so focused on technique, while we’re developing all those other skills of imagination, of creativity, of being self-expressive, and just build those [skills] hand in hand.”

James Galindo, a drawing and painting professor at LCAD and an alumnus of the school, said that the direction of the college was always clear under Burke.

“I think his vision of the school was very clear and very deeply rooted in representational classical realism, where craftsmanship is really valued,” Galindo said. “It’s rooted in that historical context.”

Jason Kowalski, who took a class called Color and Composition when he was at LCAD, said he now has an art studio in Colorado. He described what it was like to be one of Burke’s pupils.

“While there are many qualities of a great mentor, one shining characteristic about Jonathan is that he is kind for kindness’ sake,” Kowalski said in an email. “As a student that is so important because you are creating work that will undergo numerous critiques in class. Jonathan’s comments were always honest, always enthusiastic.

“Being an artist is such a vulnerable profession. As an artist you put yourself out there in front of the world. Each painting is uniquely you. Jonathan has always been a champion in my corner. His enthusiasm for my work was a great steppingstone when I was transitioning from a student to an emerging artist in the professional art world.”

Burke said it was “wonderful to work with an ensemble,” noting the various groups that are part of the college. Terry Jones, the chairman of the LCAD Board of Trustees, highlighted Burke’s ability to positively impact those groups in a statement.

“Jonathan’s life’s work has left an indelible mark both on LCAD as an institution and on countless students, faculty, staff and volunteers,” Jones said. “We look forward to celebrating his tenure in a way that is befitting of his grand legacy.”

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