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College senior Jesse Rappaport, a fine arts major who is also studying premed, uses his knowledge of human anatomy as inspiration in his painting. While some students like Rappaport choose the tough track of balancing two widely different fields of study, other students pursue art as a hobby outside of academics.

Credit: Alice Lee

Looking at a model from behind his easel, College senior Jesse Rappaport not only paints what he sees but also draws inspiration from knowledge gained while flipping through his human anatomy textbooks. As a fine arts major also taking premed courses, Rappaport hopes that he will stand out as a unique candidate when applying to medical school. Rapport laughed while describing himself as an artist studying premed as “on the side.”

Despite his interest in medicine, Rappaport applied to Penn as a fine arts major and has never considered another track. It may be rare to find a fine arts major pursuing medicine, but he insists that the track is not impossible.

“It’s tough,” Rappaport said about his choice to balance two widely different fields of study. “At this very moment I’m happy as an art major, but [that’s] not always the case … Penn makes it possible.” Rappaport said that his classes were able to overlap in terms of credit, but that he will still be graduating with approximately 42 credits. Luckily for him, the courses he has taken for his premed requirements have fed his creativity.

Rappaport said that he draws the most artistic inspiration from the human figure. In order to merge the two fields, he combines his experience as an emergency medical technician and his knowledge of biology to create his senior thesis.

“I’m exploring the visual concept of when you arrive on the scene. What do you realize, what do you think of … so in my science classes I’m working on my art classes, but typically it’s not the other way around,” Rapaport said. “I’ve done some painting and drawings of a person having a seizure, and it’s more about the visual shock.”

Unlike Rappaport, who is able to successfully balance art and medical classes at Penn, 2010 Nursing School graduate Kari Marton-Rollins chose to pursue her artistic passion outside of academics. Marton-Rollins, who is currently a freelance photographer and nurse practitioner, never finished a photography class at Penn, finding that the rigorous nature of the nursing program was too much to manage with photography classes.

“Junior year nursing is notorious for being rough. I wouldn’t have been able to put in the amount of time I wanted to put into the [photography] class, although I would have loved to,” she said.

Instead, Marton-Rollins pursued photography as a hobby and began simulating photo shoots in her dorm room, asking her friends to model for her.

During her junior year, she got the idea for a new artistic endeavor. Marton-Rollins photographed her roommate after painting an inspiring quote on her body.

The Quote Project, which Marton-Rollins said was an idea that “came out of the blue,” spread via word of mouth not only around campus, but also to friends and family back home. Today, Marton-Rollins is continuing to pursue the project and has had her work featured in an art gallery near her home in Connecticut.

Although Marton-Rollins plans to begin work as a nurse practitioner, she explained that she has never sacrificed her passion for a career.

“Nursing and psychology are my passions too,” she said. “Though they are different, psych and photography have a connection. I love taking pictures of people and finding a way to combine psychology … it all relates to the human experience.”

Once Marton-Rollins begins her work as a nurse, she plans to use photography as something she can “escape into.”

“Soon I’m going to be having to balance both worlds again,” she said. “I know that I can’t be completely in either world.”

For students like Marton-Rollins and Rappaport, a passion for art suffices as a hobby. However, College sophomores Lauren Robie and Bonnie Arbittier are determined to incorporate art into their future career plans.

“At my core I’ll always be an artist,” Robie said, who came to Penn from a magnet high school focused on the arts. “Fall of freshman year I didn’t take any art classes, and I found myself desperate for a pencil and paper. I just needed to draw.”

Although she never took an art class until she got to Penn, Arbittier arrived at a similar conclusion. She began taking courses to major in either philosophy or psychology, but explained, “I always came back to art, so I thought, why not?”

Despite her artistic aspirations, Robie decided to forego the option of attending an art school.

“Penn was a curveball for me,” said Robie, who had plans to apply to many art schools. “At Penn there are people who are passionate about different things, not just art, and I’m gaining the intellectual background that I need to say something important and worthwhile.”

Arbittier similarly considered art school as an option before deciding on Penn. “I was intrigued by RISD, but my parents weren’t psyched about that. The fine arts major here allows you to make connections in places where if you went to an art school you wouldn’t have. It lets you stand out.”

Arbittier went on to explain that another advantage of having pursued art at Penn is that being “surrounded by business majors” gave her a “better sense of the real world.” This has factored into her future career plans, and, despite common stereotypes about art students, Arbittier explained she does not want to be a teacher. She plans to pursue fashion photography, with hopes of getting a photography internship this summer.

Robie has also experienced the influence of the pre-professional mindset at Penn. “One of the hardest things is a lot people ask me what I want to do with my life coming from that ‘Wharton-type mindset,’” Robie said. “I’m happy making art and working in that field … I want to cultivate opportunities instead of making plans.”

She added that there are still jobs available for artists just as there are jobs available for financiers. Ideally, Robie hopes to land an internship at a gallery then go on to pursue a masters in fine arts. She currently works at the Fairmount Park Art Association, which is the first non-profit organization dealing directly with bringing awareness to public art in the country.

Despite potential opportunities in the art field, Marton-Rollins maintains that she doesn’t see photography as a potential career. “Photography isn’t what I’m relying on in terms of my careers,” she said, adding that for her becoming a full-time professional photographer would “take away something” from her art.

Rappaport, who took weekly figure-drawing classes during high school, plans to return to this limited artistic routine after graduation.

“My life will be the opposite of a masters of fine arts. I’ll still have three hours a week to devote toward figure drawing. That’s really all I need.”

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