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First-Year Investigations: Brendan Dugan

Illustration by Joel Kimmel
Illustration by Joel Kimmel

Brendan Dugan
Summit, New Jersey

As others may rush by abstract paintings, Brendan Dugan methodically observes the seemingly nonsensical swirling lines and bold dots on display.

Abstract art reminds the 18-year-old freshman of the beauty of a complex math equation.

A sculptor, math whiz and aspiring filmmaker, he hopes one day others stop to admire his artistic creations. He thinks about using mathematics to produce visually rich graphics — maybe he’ll invent the next famous character such as the cowhide-vest wearing Sheriff Woody Pride in Pixar’s Toy Story franchise.

One thing is certain, Dugan intends to create.

His fondness for art led him to USC Dornsife where he is contemplating an equation that would allow him to incorporate his passion for art, knack for math and love of film.

With plenty of math courses in his present and future, Dugan enthusiastically enrolled in Daniela Bleichmar’s FYI seminar to begin building his artistic repertoire.

“Having lived in England and near New York City, I’ve been to a lot of museums,” Dugan said, “but I never really figured out how to analyze each painting.”

He looks forward to honing those skills during trips to The J. Paul Getty Museum and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

But the course is doing more than introducing Dugan to the Los Angeles art scene. Early on Bleichmar encouraged students to visit the Helen Topping Architecture & Fine Arts Library where Dugan stumbled upon a computer animation book — and the serendipity changed his outlook.

“When I would work on graphs in math class, I always tried to make them artistic,” said Dugan, whose twin brother, Jon, also attends USC. “I’m interested in 3D animation as a way to combine math and art.”

He also started exploring the field with an October Visions and Voices event focused on computational aesthetics.

The soft-spoken student visualizes working at Pixar or DreamWorks where he can combine his creative interests. But he is open to other fields merging math with art. 

“I want to see what USC Dornsife has to offer and find what I like and what I’m good at,” he said. “That’s why FYI is so great; it will help me decide what I want to do.”

FYI Class: How to Look at a Work of Art

 “Whether the arts delight or infuriate students, the goal is to provide them with the skills to look at art analytically and critically, and to teach them to express their opinions about art.”

- Daniela Bleichmar, assistant professor of art history and history

Throughout this FYI course, students explore art through readings, classroom discussions and trips to local museums. They look closely at a wide range of art from Europe to Latin America and meet with curators, conservators and educators.

Read more articles from Dornsife Life magazine's Fall 2011/Winter 2012 issue