The silence of creative focus cuts short sounds of laughter and chatter as students begin to paint abstract designs with vibrant yellow and pink acrylics on large, white canvases.
ARTificial — the first club on Pitt’s campus dedicated solely to visual arts — is a space for both artists and appreciators of art to create, discuss and learn about art outside of class. The club meets every Wednesday from 8 to 10 p.m. in the Center for Creativity, a room filled with creative resources located in the basement of the University Bookstore.
The president of ARTificial, Sana Mahmood, carries herself with an unrestrained yet balanced air. As a senior majoring in biology, history and philosophy of science and history of art and architecture, she finds it difficult to make time for hobbies like art. After years of pursuing art in high school, Mahmood looked for a way to channel her affinity for aesthetic when she arrived at Pitt.
During the fall semester her first year, Mahmood and about seven other friends walked into the student activities fair looking for a visual arts club, but were disappointed to discover there wasn’t one at Pitt. Mahmood and her friends planned to pursue medicine, dentistry or engineering. Art was just a pastime, but according to Mahmood, it grounded each of them.
Mahmood and her friends approached the Student Organization Resource Center in the fall of 2016 with the idea for a new club. After it was approved, Mahmood and fellow board members printed business cards and spread them around campus to try to get word out about ARTificial.
“We do try to create a balance where the club is for both the creator and the appreciator, in the sense that people that want to make art pieces and get their hands dirty and have a time and a space to do that in our club,” Mahmood said.
The first hour of the meeting is for members to create art, providing a time for those who enjoy making. Students can knead leftover clay into small sculptures or use magazine clippings and tissue paper to create collages — but most pick up a white canvas and some paints, letting their hands guide their focus.
The artists then get a chance to experience art in the following segment, “Artist Spotlight,” which features artists ranging from Pittsburgh native Andy Warhol to Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring. The club supplements this aspect by providing workshops and taking members to museums.
The club has taken many trips, including an excursion to the Carnegie Museum of Art in September and to the Warhol Museum in mid-October. The club also invites artists to talk to the members and even teach them how to make art — just this spring they hosted a ceramicist, Chuck Purviance, who worked alongside members to craft pieces of pottery. Purviance’s works typically feature delicate ceramic works with etchings of animals or scenes of nature skillfully carved into the pieces.
They plan to go to both the Mattress Factory, a contemporary art museum located in the North Side, and Randyland, folk artist Randy Gilson’s home — which is filled with vivid murals and works of art — in the near future. The club also plans to bring about 15 members to visit local artist and Pitt alumna Sarah Zeffiro, whose work is primarily abstract and is featured in many hotels and yoga studios both in and outside of Pittsburgh.
At a large research University like Pitt, many individuals, like Mahmood, feel it’s easy to overlook the arts. Board member Sydney Smith, a junior writing major working toward becoming a physician assistant, said she felt the same struggle about pursuing creative expression.
“Pitt is not a predominantly art school. It’s mostly STEM, so everyone’s priority is to join academic clubs, which is great for your resumé, but it’s not easy to make time for hobbies,” Smith said.
Smith also has previous art experience — during her first year, she went through a similar experience that Mahmood and the founding members went through at the fall activities fair. As a future medical professional, she too found balance in art, but did not wish to establish a career as an artist.
“I really like how it forces me to sit down and relax and do something that’s beneficial for your mental health rather than working on school work all the time,” Smith said. “Especially now that I’m on the board.”
Smith, Mahmood, and other club members have worked to strengthen the aims of the club, hoping to draw in more student artists from all backgrounds each year.
Yolanda Hong, a junior engineering major from Singapore, has been creating art for much of her life. Even during her first visit to the club, Hong said she felt welcomed and having a club like this on campus has allowed her to dive back into creative expression.
“I feel like anyone can be an artist and I feel that this club provides a platform for people from different backgrounds, such as engineering and political science, to come together and create something together,” Hong said.
After three years of starting, organizing and shaping a club that allows students of all disciplines to create and appreciate art, Mahmood said she feels both nostalgic and proud of how far the club has come.
“When I came to college, in my mind I told myself I would have to stop making art,” Mahmood said. “But I honestly find that when you take a little bit of time out every week or every day [to make art], suddenly everything else falls into place, too.”