Independent Study Series: Nik Brocchini and “Art in Lost Worlds”

The Hyphen, this semester, is offering a series of articles about independent studies Lick students have created in the past two years. Independent studies are self-designed classes in which the student chooses a topic and faculty advisor, creates homework, a cumulative project, and class outlines. 

The Hyphen spoke with Nik Brocchini about his independent study which he will start this Spring. 

Nik Brocchini pondering art and environments. Photo by Zoe Harris '16

Nik Brocchini pondering art and environments. Photo by Zoe Harris ’16

Hyphen: Tell me about your independent study  — what’s your main focus, your central question or thesis?

Nik Brocchini: I’m starting it next semester, but I am kind of ramping up to it in some ways. So, the title of my independent study is “Art in Lost Worlds.” The central question is “As civilization advances and urbanizes, how do we use art to capture, explore, and share landscapes and cultures that either no longer exist or that we’re no longer aware of?” Remember last year’s Jellis Block, when we were all in the forest? When we came back, we had that philosophical conversation with Youssou Fall and Robbert Sanborn in the woodshop? Mr. Sanborn and I kept talking about that, and we both said some interesting things. I realized I wanted to pursue this further. So, I wrote up the proposal and sent it to him and said, “hey, is this something you’d be interested in working on with me?” And he was.

I’ve written up some goals for student learning in a neutral student voice in case someone else wants to use this one day. So it says: “Understand the importance of the natural world to the ways we make art,” “Appreciate the combination of functionality and aesthetics in traditional crafts,” “Explore a variety of media,” “Develop a deep understanding of the ways that artists create meaning,” “Create and share work that explores a lost landscape or culture,” “Build a knowledge of multiple artistic movements and styles,” “Explore the urges that drive humans to reduce art and use that art to preserve things,” “Use natural forms to shape art,” “Develop an intimate understanding of a natural landscape in California, the life that it supports, its history, and the ways that people have and continue to interact with it.”

As for the final product, I’ve written: “The student is expected to produce a portfolio of at least six works of art in at least three different media, in response to the central question of the course. In addition, the student has the option to produce a summative piece of work in any form (an essay, short documentary film, radio piece, or other), should they develop a compelling thesis or feel that some aspect of their process is important to document.”

Hyphen: So, you’re creating all of this art that will conclude the project?

NB: Yes, I’m making a lot of art and I’m consuming a lot of art, is the concept. There are a couple of reasons why I was really excited to do this. Every time I’ve taken an art class at Lick— and I’ve taken a few, I’ve taken two woodshop classes and printmaking— I really enjoyed each of them, but every time it’s come to a point where it’s like, “Okay, this class has to become my last priority; I can spend another hour on my print or on my history paper, what’s it going to be?” So I was thinking, you know, second semester senior year, that’s finally an opportunity to say “Okay, this artistic inquiry is going to be my first priority, that’s what I’m going to be exploring primarily. In that same vein, I think that the independent study form — the opportunity that it opens up — you’re telling yourself what to do. Classes are cool, they open up avenues for intellectual inquiry, but once you become more familiar with how you learn and what you’re interested in, and the opportunities that are available outside of school, class can also feel like sort of a limiting thing. And I think that having a space to be able to structure my own learning is going to be really awesome. To that end, I’ve tried to shape my course load next semester so that I’ll be able to incorporate as many of my other classes into some part of this independent study. So French 4H is going to be mostly culture stuff, a lot of art. I’m taking Short Stories, which I think ties in pretty well. I’m leaving “art” very general here, so I could write some stories, probably, as one of my three different media. Then, I’m taking Politics and Pop Culture with Mr. Lopez. And I’m not sure how Calc, and Genetics & Engineering, and Physics are going to get worked in there, but I guess I’m really just trying to make it feel like one educational experience. Not even educational experience, though, just a life experience. Just be in the world, looking at a lot of nature, looking at a lot of history, and just feeling more connected with the world around me. And then tricking the system into letting me do that during school time.

Hyphen: Do you have anything else to say about your goals, or why you decided to d0 an Independent Study, or why you chose Mr. Sanborn to be your advisor?

NB: I chose Mr. Sanborn because he said a bunch of really interesting stuff while we were in that post-Jellis-block meeting. He brought in some cool poems, and I started thinking, you know, there’s a lot of cool places you could go with this. I’m probably going to take a couple of road trips around California to look at different things that are happening. There are a lot of places in California where dams are coming down, that are going to be restoring areas of California to landscapes we haven’t seen in a hundred years. That, you know, no living person has really spent time in. Once you have a river running naturally, suddenly salmon can come back up and all sorts of things happen, and that’s a really interesting thing to investigate. You know, lost worlds, and then restored worlds. And, likewise, I think if I do end up doing some summative thing, there’s going to be an overarching theme of the drought, global warming — the California our parents knew, or even we knew as kids, is not going to exist in the future. How are we going to hang on to it? I think that’s going to be a big theme in any art that I do end up making.

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About Zoe Harris

Zoe Harris, a senior, is celebrating her third year as co-managing editor of the Hyphen and as a reporter for the Paper Tiger. She is a leader of the literary magazine club, Lit Mag, and has written far too many weird poems. Zoe loves writing by Junot Díaz, David Sedaris, Mary Oliver, and Richard Siken, and the Harry Potter character she most closely identifies with is Luna Lovegood. She loves the Hyphen dearly and hopes readers do, too.

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