Published May 17. 2014 8:36PM Updated May 17. 2014 11:46PM
Old Lyme — An acclaimed painter Saturday urged the Lyme Academy College of Fine Arts’ 21 graduating seniors to counter doubt with doggedness and daring.
“Let’s bring back art that nourishes, that is memorable — an art that honors both the viewer and the artist,” Jerome Witkin, a Syracuse University professor, said to applause from an audience gathered under a canopy on the college’s grounds.
Lyme Academy College President Scott Colley and Dean Sally Seaman presented the 74-year-old Witkin with an honorary doctor of fine arts degree.
Considered one of America’s most important figurative artists, Witkin has long been revered as a teacher and for such monumental works as a series of Holocaust-themed paintings he completed over a 23-year period. His works are held in public collections around the world.
“I am very honored to receive this honorary doctorate from a school I respect,” Witkin said. “I’ve been teaching for 52 years at the university level. I have been a painter since age 7.”
Copies of Witkin’s “New York Movie, 1945,” a piece inspired by an Edward Hopper painting and the last work in Witkin’s Holocaust series, were tucked inside the programs for Saturday’s commencement ceremony.
“Lately, in editorials and magazine articles, I keep seeing the phrase: ‘This is the age of uncertainty,’” Witkin said. “So, what else is new? Artists, creative people, designers, engineers, poets, painters are in the business of problem-solving. We invite chronic uncertainty in order to create. That’s what we do.”
Doubt inevitably arrives, Witkin said, threatening to knock the artist off stride.
“Punch through it,” he advised. “Make your work … work.”
Dora Atwater Millikin, a painter who graduated from the college in 2002, also spoke, telling the graduating seniors to “take tomorrow off” and then “hit the ground running.” She urged them to seize all opportunities, to submit their work to juried shows, to exhibit and to rely on the Lyme Academy College faculty for recommendations and advice.
“You will never stop hearing the voices of your teachers,” she said. “Be sure to take risks. Challenge yourself, keep inventing.”
Mark Milowsky, a practicing painter and Belmont (Mass.) High School drawing and painting teacher, was presented with the college’s Distinguished Service in Art Education Award.
Among the graduating students, Christina Achorn, a drawing major who received the Diana Atwood Johnson Leadership Award, addressed her peers, while Richard Ehler, a painting major, was presented with the John Stobart Fellowship Award.
Receiving the Stephen and Lynne Wardlaw Prize for Excellence were Magdalena Pawlowski (painting), Erik Peterson (drawing), Kellie Pereira (sculpture) and Kelsy Ross (illustration).