April 7, 2021

When art and engineering collide

Schulich students’ creativity shines through as they learn shared concepts and principles
Work by Talyn Towers. Submitted by Marjan Eggermont

Marjan Eggermont had to think far outside the box when she went about planning her course, Art and Engineering.

While some classes during the COVID-19 pandemic were easier to transition into the online world, the Schulich School of Engineering professor faced the challenge of having students who typically had access to maker spaces, wood and metal shops, and materials.

She also didn’t want to inundate her students with more time behind the screen. In fact, her hope was for the students to use less technology, spend more time outside, and work with existing and natural materials.

“I went back to basics,” said Dr. Eggermont, PhD. “Most of the work for this course consisted of weekly small projects that had a range of options, materials and locations, and didn’t include a lot of Zoom.”

During those weekly meetings, students showed and talked about what they had created, while Eggermont says lecture materials were provided asynchronously.

The students came back with a wide variety of final projects that left Eggermont amazed.

Inspire and make people laugh

The final projects were chosen by the students from four themes: composition, environment, medium and material.

Eggermont wanted to see those themes combined with elements of art and principles of design, leading to an array of undertakings, including re-creations of famous works of art using materials, and a stop-motion video.


Work by Siobhan O'Dell.

Submitted by Marjan Eggermont

“Their ability to deconstruct a work of art based on colour, material, composition and lighting — then present it in a contemporary setting — was inspiring, moving, and often humorous,” Eggermont said. “Their final projects were very original.”

Not only did the students’ imaginations and creativity shine through, but she also believed their curiosity and perspective changed.


Work by Noam Anglo.

Submitted by Marjan Eggermont

“One of the students completely reconfigured a computer as an absurdist machine, rethinking the functionality of the various parts,” Eggermont added. “I think it allowed him to ask new questions and look at something we take for granted with new eyes, and, who knows, inspire new design ideas for future machines.”

Students appreciate the new perspective

While Eggermont was thrilled with what the students came up with, what really took her breath away was what they said about the experience.

“As much as I’ve always believed that engineering can be an art in itself, I’ve never really had any guidance in where to start and never seriously considered myself an artist,” Noam Anglo said.

“By teaching me the basics of art and design principles in a more conventional artistic sense with paintings and structure, then tying these ideas back to an engineering context, I was given insights on understanding the language that art speaks in.”

Others like Kelly Long appreciated seeing the multidisciplinary approach up-close.


Work by Kelly Long.

Submitted by Marjan Eggermont

“I’ve never had an art class with content where I learned about the world of art or how it fit into engineering or our lives in general,” Long said. “My art classes have always been, ‘Here’s your project, you get a good grade if you have the skill to draw,’ or, ‘Do whatever you want as long as you submit a certain number of projects.’”

While the last year has been difficult, many of the students saw the program as an opportunity to try something different. Eggermont is eager to keep that momentum going.

“I’m super-happy that the students understood what I was trying to do, which was to show underlying concepts and principles that apply to both art and engineering and that the world becomes much more interesting when you can see it with multiple lenses,” Eggermont concluded.

It is in the space between disciplines that students can find something that will differentiate them from everyone else.