Trinity’s art world: surveyed

Does Trinity deserve its artistic reputation? Are art societies in Trinity only for a select few? And do students really care about Trinity’s Art world? Caroline O’ Leary investigates…

Does Trinity deserve its artistic reputation? Are art societies in Trinity only for a select few? And do students really care about Trinity’s Art world? Caroline O’ Leary investigates…

Art has never seemed a prominent element of Trinity College life. The college has long been renowned for its Arts and Humanities department, last year placing 32nd in the world rankings for the area. Yet despite influences ranging from the ancient Book of Kells to the contemporary Douglas Hyde Gallery, as well the many student resources on offer, actual visual art seems to remain unimportant outside. To see just how deep this lack of interest runs, for the last ten days Trinity News has been running its first Art Survey to gauge just how much the student population knows about the facilities on offer.

Results varied from the obvious to the very surprising. The survey questioned participants on their knowledge of the five main art societies in college – Trinity Arts Festival, Trinity Arts Workshop, Visual Arts Society, Dublin University Photography Association and the Digital Arts Society. Participants were asked if they were aware of each society and if so, to briefly explain it and its aims. The remaining questions involved participation in events run by these societies, knowledge of and visitation to the Douglas Hyde Gallery and knowledge of the Trinity College Art Hire scheme. Gender, course of study and year of study were also provided to see how these variables affected awareness and knowledge of the art scene in Trinity.

In terms of awareness, the Dublin University Photography Association came out as the society of which most people were aware, followed by Trinity Arts Festival, Visual Arts, Arts Workshop and Digital Arts. However actual knowledge appears to be depressingly slim, with only 25% aware of most of the societies and their aims (see graphs), DUPA being the only exception. 16% of those polled had no knowledge of any of the areas within the survey, while 35% had no knowledge of any of the college’s art-based societies. Many who indicated they were aware of a society gave incorrect explanations, varying from a general idea to being entirely wrong, while answers for the more obviously named societies such as DUPA were often vague, leaving a question mark over how much the participant was really aware and how much guesswork was involved.

Unsurprisingly, participants’ knowledge varied depending on their course and gender. 63% of those polled belonged to the Arts and Humanities faculty, and the same proportion were female. However, despite the disproportionate numbers, the results defied expectations with students from the Faculty of Engineering, Mathematics and Science exceeding their Arts & Humanities brethren in many areas and males exceeding females in knowledge of 3 out of the 5 societies.

Results involving the Douglas Hyde Gallery were also disappointing, with a vast majority of people never having attended, while only 2% of all participants surveyed claimed to visit it on a regular basis.

Of course, these results are only an indication and there are many variables that cause the figures to be far from an absolute. Those polled only comprised a small fraction of the college population. Students with longer hours and who are often located off-campus, such as medical students, are far less likely to know about the more esoteric sides of College life, while History of Art students are far more likely to know more.

So what do these results mean? Despite the many variables involved, do these results point to a defunct culture of art in Trinity? Should we bother to focus energy on what appears to be such a dead end, or simply leave it to those who really care?

Despite the raw statistics, however, there is a glimmer of hope for the arts in Trinity. Possibly the biggest surprise of the survey was the number of positive and enthusiastic messages left in the comment box. Though some voiced the opinion that the art scene should not be a colege priority, many expressed shock at their lack of knowledge in this area and approved of the survey bringing attention to such a small area of college life. Numerous comments also asked how they could get further information on these organizations while others suggested ways to spread the word such as centralised art emails or brochures.

Also extremely positive was the number of people who knew what the Trinity College Art Hire scheme is. Trinity Art Curator Catherine Giltrap only reinstated the scheme this year, where students and staff living and working on campus can, for a very small fee, borrow works of Art from the college’s modern collection. This was well-publicized through college-wide emails and articles in the college press, possibly the reason for its strong results in the survey.

Evidently the interest in art is out there, if only the information could be provided. So is there hope? The heads of these societies are certainly adamant that they will continue to grow and flourish for anyone who wishes to be involved. Bella Scott, Chair of the Visual Arts Society, says “I think the Visual Arts Society brings together people interested in art, who want to see art, and talk about it together. It helps spread enthusiasm and knowledge.”

Trinity Arts Festival Co-ordinator Sorcha Richardson believes there is much potential in the societies and so much more they can do “It is fair to say that there is quite little known about art in Trinity, and this is something we are hoping to change this year. The interest and artistic talent is there amongst the students but it is just a matter of making them aware of the various art-related societies and events that take place in college and encouraging them to participate, regardless of their study faculty. I believe that the promotion of these societies and events is key, and holding fun, high-quality events also helps to raise the profile of art in college. All the societies have great and very dedicated committees this year, with some fantastic events lined up, so I feel that this will be a golden year for art in Trinity!”