Dickson Receives Harold Spitznagel Medal for Achievement in Art

Wyatt Dickson

Augustana senior Wyatt Dickson (Sioux Falls) has been awarded the prestigious Harold Spitznagel Medal for Achievement in Art, the highest award presented by the Augustana art department to student-artists who demonstrate the highest standards of excellence in all their artistic endeavors throughout their Augustana careers.

The award, which was presented on Friday, April 27, during the opening reception for the 2018 Senior Art Show in the Eide/Dalrymple Gallery, is only bestowed occasionally and was last given to a graduating senior art major in 2014.

Dickson transferred to Augustana University in 2016.

Art department faculty said from the moment Dickson arrived, he became integral to the fabric of the department has been a model and mentor for other students. 

“One of Wyatt’s outstanding qualities is his compassion,” said Painting Professor Tom Shields. “He has, on numerous occasions, volunteered to help other students and faculty in various capacities.”

As a work-study student for the Eide/Dalrymple Gallery, Dickson took on a range of projects, including matting and framing, exhibition lighting, photographing and cataloguing the permanent collection.

“He was one of the most diligent and effective student workers with whom I have worked,” said Gallery Coordinator and Sculpture Professor John Peters. “I felt confident in giving him any kind of task. I will miss Wyatt’s dedication and friendship.”

In his studio work, Dickson emphasized in graphic design, photography and printmaking. Art department faculty members said he was an exemplary student who approached each project with a sense of curiosity, exploration, and experimentation. He was never satisfied with selecting the easy or safe solution to the visual problems presented. Rather, he consistently went above and beyond the assignment. 

"Wyatt has consistently produced conceptual work that challenges his viewers and often questions the limitations and perceived boundaries of the respective medium."

Anna Reich
Photography Professor 

Reich said that through his diligent study of contemporary art and theory, Dickson “seeks to make his work part of a larger conversation — socially, ethically, and art historically. It has been a pleasure to work with him for three years."

Dickson’s work can be both conceptually and visually refined, while other pieces are deceptively simple, even rough and crude. This follows from his attempt to reconcile two competing interpretations of art: One, that art has no meaning.

“I am, at times, disgusted by the way people will call whatever they want art and then try to peddle it onto others,” Dickson wrote in his artist statement. “To this I respond with my own pieces of crap. Why put much thought into art if people will eat up anything? Several of my pieces, if not all, are honestly moronic and truly do not deserve to exist, except perhaps to critique others into seeing theirs are just as terrible — a 'reductio ad absurdum' argument in a way.”

But he also believes in a second interpretation: art holds great truths.

By differing from other human endeavors, art “is able to show the emotions, thoughts, and beliefs of an individual in a way that cannot be emulated through words. Art is able to show universally what it means to be human, contemplate life’s question, and lead the charge for humanity’s betterment,” he wrote.

In other words, as Dickson concluded in his artist statement, “Art deserves to be.” 

This tension between conceptual refinement and rougher form is exemplified in Dickson’s video piece, "Based on a True Story," which will be featured as a part of “Miscellanea: The Augustana Senior Art Show.” 

Exploring an antique shop one day, Dickson found an entire archive of photographs that encompassed a span of several decades in the life of an unknown man. Dickson purchased this archive and set about curating it by selecting out certain photographs and putting them in a surmised chronological order that could invoke a life story. He then scanned the photographs to project on a loop. The results seem both trivial and mundane — this is the boredom of sitting through any family video of documented life moments — and yet the results are also haunting and profound in its nostalgia and melancholy for the life a real person now forgotten.

“Students and faculty have learned to expect the unexpected from Wyatt,” said Shields. “He often demonstrates his unique and humorous take on solving problems and assignments. However, Wyatt Dickson, also, has a very serious, social conscience.”

Dickson will graduate in May with majors in pre-professional art and German. After graduating, he plans to pursue a career in graphic design with a goal to someday become accredited as an art appraiser and gain an MFA in order to teach at a university level.