Student-run exhibition provokes discomfort — on purpose

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Student-run exhibition provokes discomfort — on purpose

"Boygun" by Claudia Alvarez is one of the images in the new student-curated exhibition on controversial art.

A student-curated exhibition at the Sheldon Museum of Art has the sole purpose of making the viewer feel uneasy — and to think about why that happens.

The exhibit, “You’re Making Me Uncomfortable: Perspectives on Controversial Art,” was curated by Jeffrey Stevens’ “Perspectives in Psychology” class.

The class, which met last fall, is for psychology majors and graduate students focusing on exploring controversies within the field of psychology, as well as investigating the science of belief and the role beliefs play in human psychology.

The eight pieces of artwork were chosen to represent various controversial topics not directly discussed in class. These topics include war, nudity and violence, among others. Students worked with Sheldon director of education Sharon Kennedy to choose the artwork.

The exhibition will be on display in the Sheldon’s Focus Gallery until March 13.

Stevens, an assistant professor of psychology, said he wanted to challenge students to think critically about controversy and how personal beliefs change perceptions, but books and classroom work were limited in their reach.

By incorporating the art project, students had to step out of their own comfort zones and think about controversy on a much larger scale, he said.

“The art connection was, ‘Let’s just look at this from a completely different view,’” Stevens said. “These are all psychology majors so I thought, let’s just think about this in a completely different context than what you’re used to thinking about.

“This way, we can talk about controversy and talk about what the general public finds controversial.”

The students were paired together, chose a controversial topic and then a corresponding piece of art. They were then required to write a research and reflection essay on the art, as well as a description for the exhibition.

Graduate student Catie Brown said the project helped cement the concept of belief-dependent realism, a concept discussed in the course. Belief-dependent realism is the idea that beliefs come first and that having those beliefs constructs the reality in which we live.

“It helped us think more about where controversy comes from,” Brown said. “It was definitely a different venue for looking at controversy.”

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