Art is a verb.

When Tylar Larsen discovered that a whole new world opened up – artistically speaking.

While Larsen has been involved in art as a student at RVHS, a program over the summer at the University of South Dakota in Vermillion opened the door and took broadening the horizon to a whole new level.

Larsen spent two weeks this past June at the Oscar Howe Summer Art Institute.

After applying to participate, which involved filling out an application, getting a letter of recommendation and compiling a portfolio of 15 pieces of art, Larsen was selected and made the trip west.

Going to the institute initially created some anxiety, as it was the farthest away and the longest time away Larsen had even been from home. Yet, once Larsen got involved with the program, none of that mattered.

Oscar Howe is a well-known American Indian artist who served for a number of years as a professor at the University of South Dakota. Howe initiated the summer art institute in the 1960s. Its original intent was to provide instruction to students who wanted to learn more about American Indian art. 

While the initial institute program only lasted a few years, a new event was established to honor Howe and to encourage young artists.

The institute is open to high-school students in Grades 10-12 who have an interest in the visual arts and American Indian culture.

As a Dakota and one who appreciates art, Larsen fit the description.

During the time at the institute, Larsen was able to hear lectures from professional artists and learned to develop art skills and to try new ones.

During the institute, Larsen studied everything from drawing and sculpting to print making and art as part of a collaboration with other artists.

For Larsen, the concept of seeing art as a verb really made a lot of sense.

“Art is not about the finished product,” said Larsen. “It is about the process.”

During the week, Larsen drew a portrait of the family’s newest addition and developed prints of a buffalo skull.

During the sculpture portion of the week, Larsen started work on a piece using styrofoam. The participants selected an existing piece as the basis of their sculpture, and Larsen selected one entitled “Splotch #3” by Sol LeWitt.

“It is a 3-D piece that is four feet wide and 12 feet long,” said Larsen, adding it is an abstract work of art. “What I like about it is that it has such vivid colors. My dad never let me work with styrofoam. So when I saw it I went to town.”

By the end of the time Larsen has to work on the styrofoam sculpture there was a better understanding of why that art medium had been limited.

“I was covered in little styrofoam beads, and they were everywhere,” said Larsen.

That piece was not completed during the institute, and Larsen said the plan is to bring it in to school to work on it some time during the year in an independent art class Larsen is taking.

The group of institute participants made a trip to Minneapolis to take part in an art festival that included visual art as well as music and dance. A collaborative art project that demonstrated community, encouraged people to express themselves artistically and opened the eyes of those attending to the American Indian culture was also part of the event. Larsen said that was a pretty cool experience.

At the conclusion of the program, an exhibition was held allowing the artists to display their work and to potentially sell it. Larsen did not sell any pieces but said just knowing others were seeing the youth’s art at the event was a lot of fun.

Larsen was one of 15 American Indian students who took part in the institute. For Larsen, friendships have developed from that opportunity that continue today.

The entire experience really opened Larsen’s eyes and made a positive impact.

“The whole thing was really cool,” said Larsen. “Before I went I really did not enjoy doing art that much. I love to look at it, but now I see art as something more. It is a way I can express myself. I can use it as an outlet. I can really just enjoy doing it. It has completely changed the course of my brain when it comes to art. I have a new appreciation for art and my (Dakota) ways.”

Larsen has enrolled in and has been accepted at the University of South Dakota for next fall. Although Larsen is not planning to pursue a degree in art at the college level, the hope is to take art classes when it is possible.

For Larsen, art is now more than just putting a pencil or brush to a blank slate.

It is about a journey.

The destination is a very small part of that process.