I love college students. I love teaching them. I love talking to them. I love their sense of entitlement. I love their passion. I love their self-absorption. I love their earnestness. I love their creativity. I love how even though everything they do has been done by others before them, they think it’s wholly original. (And in the case of my own students, works of incredible brilliance, and when I don’t perceive it that way, it’s because I don’t have the capacity to recognize their genius.)
Now, I know college students, and I know some will find this insulting, but I’m in no way being sarcastic. College students are fun because they’re a very complex group. People arrive at the university in true melting pot fashion, and students who would never interact off campus are forced to cohabitate and collaborate. It’s beautiful.
Nowhere are these conflicting attributes more glaring than in their artistic efforts. I was recently handed the spring edition of the Brushfire (Edition 64, Volume 2). Brushfire is a usually once-a-semester literary magazine—short stories, poetry, photography and visual arts—published by the students and ASUN. An electronic version can be found at www.unrbrushfire.com.
My first impression was of quality of construction. Nice thick, glossy paper, great color reproduction, comfortable folio. But I rolled my eyes when reading the masthead page—“Copywright 2011,” what?—I had to hope that this was not going to be kids playing grownups with more expensive tools than the grownups get to use.
But my fear at plodding through 100 pages of dreck was assuaged within the first 45-minute session on the elliptical machine, and I actually developed a bit of respect for the editor, Hannah Behmaram, whom I’ve never met.
These types of collections, with their necessarily uneven and disparate styles of writing and illustration, are not easy to make into a cohered work. The idea is to show the widest possible sampling of what’s going on in students’ minds—how they perceive and express art—but that virtually guarantees inconsistency in quality and tone. The bag of tricks from which Behmaram pulled more than competently, includes varying the pacing of good with not-so-good, stories with poems, use of a consistent but muted color palette, the insertion of sustained visual metaphors—in this case, mostly watercolor swipes and splashes—and then a thoughtful pairing of story with art. That interspersing and pairing of visual art might be the trickiest part. Even though I’ve never worked on this magazine, I’d be willing to bet that few if any of these visual works were designed to go with the words they accompanied. And yet, none of the combinations was jarring.
Aside from the occasional copy-editing error—the bane of all editors’ lives—I really only have two complaints: First, the work overall felt too safe for college students. With no overtly violent or sexual expressions, it felt as though the magazine had to pass some bureaucratic sensitivity muster. Second, the scripty font that was used for the names of the pieces and in the bylines of the written works was unreadable to my eyes. Fortunately, the table of contents was legible.
I’d like to single out some of the artists for recognition, but that wouldn’t really be fair to the ones who went unmentioned. Such is the variety of works in Brushfire that on any given day I might prefer one over another. I think all of the contributors and various editors deserve recognition. These college collections, as idiosyncratic and solipsistic and earnest as they are, require a certain amount of bravery on the part of the submitters, and they should be encouraged and congratulated. After all, I know some great writers who got their first bylines in such magazines.