Students studying abroad discover art, inspiration in Tuscany

Lauren Zimmer

Seated on a bench outside UT’s Visual Arts Center, Cara Butler, Brigitte Chapman and Kristyn Coster laugh about how their trip to Italy was nothing like a European romantic comedy.

“Scratch everything,” Chapman said. “We are just like ‘The Lizzie McGuire Movie.’”

Butler, Chapman and Coster met each other during UT’s “Learning Tuscany: Art and Culture in Italy” study abroad program. Despite their commentary on the importance of pizza, they emphasized how their time spent in Italy convinced them to pursue art in their professional lives.

“Being in someplace new gives you an outlet of ideas,” Coster said. “I think you become more productive.”

Butler is a studying English and art, Chapman is studying European studies, and Coster studies studio art. They said the trip to Tuscany sounded appealing because they finally had an opportunity to focus on art.

“I actually wanted to be an archaeologist,” Butler said. “This trip solidified [that] I want to do art.”

The program required students to create journals. Each student kept two journals. One journal was displayed in the UT Visual Arts Center as a part of the “Gestures of Travel: Learning Tuscany” exhibit, while the other was personal. Coster said the professors did not provide specific guidelines on how to format the journal. Chapman used watercolors, Butler drew illustrations, and Coster combined modern day events with traditional Italian art.

“I put a sarcastic twist on Italian culture,” Coster said. “It is difficult to explain. For example, I made Jesus into Mick Jagger. It does not look offensive. It just has a little satire in it.”

After returning home, Coster is currently working on another journal. In this journal, she translates poetry into different languages and makes videos based off of the poems.

“After learning Italian, I got more into languages,” Coster said. “It’s like I’m writing an inner dialogue with myself.”

Butler continues to create illustrations and would love to pursue illustration as a career.

“[Italy] taught me how to be disciplined,” Butler said. “I did not want to lose that and I try to make for my own versions of children’s books.”

Although Chapman is not working on an official project, she still dreams of opening a gallery one day.

“I went to many museums and I want to be surrounded by that beauty in my professional life,” Chapman said. “Italy reinforced what I want to do, rather than helping me what I work on, since I am mainly an art historian.”

Chapman also talked about the importance of studying abroad.

“When you study and study abroad, you’re looking at all view points,” Chapman said. “You can always take the LSAT after, but I think art can teach you a lot about how to be a human being.”

Butler, Chapman and Coster agreed they would study abroad again if they got the chance.

“When you’re stuck in one place, it becomes mundane,” Chapman said. “Sometimes, you have just got to shake it up a bit.”