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SUNY Distinguished Teaching Professor Diane Fine Sees Art as Language

Diane Fine did well in school. She excelled in math, history, science, English. So when she told her high school guidance counselor that she planned to study the arts in college, the counselor appeared shocked.

She didn’t know then, but years later Fine would not only become a successful artist but a 2011 recipient of one of the highest honors the State University of New York bestows on its faculty —  a SUNY distinguished teaching professorship.

Being an artist didn’t mean Fine wasn’t intellectually curious. In fact, it was quite the opposite.

Learning How to Live as an Artist

She discovered her passion for printmaking while at Syracuse University and went on to earn her Master in Fine Arts in graphics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. There, as she was preparing to graduate, she came upon an advertisement for a teaching position at SUNY Plattsburgh.

“I remember standing there, reading the description of this job, and I thought, ‘Hey, that sounds like a perfect job.’”

Twenty-three years later she’s still doing it, and doing it well.

Fine, who has had her work featured in numerous national and international exhibitions, was one of only six faculty members in the 64 campuses of the SUNY system to be raised to the rank of a distinguished teaching professor this year. For this honor, candidates must have demonstrated consistently superior mastery of teaching, outstanding service to students and commitment to their ongoing intellectual growth, scholarship and professional growth, as well as an adherence to rigorous academic standards.

Finding Joy in Art

Fine loves seeing students get excited about her medium.

“I don’t know a single printmaker —  no matter how long he or she has been doing it — who doesn’t enjoy pulling back that piece of paper,” she said. “There’s so much joy.”

That joy comes from the physical and conceptual process, she said.

“There’s a time when you are just doing mechanics: craft and skill. It’s meditative. The way in which I am released by the rhythm of the labor allows me to incubate ideas – idea, labor, idea, labor.”

Art, she said, is a language, and one that’s been used since the earliest galleries existed in caves 30,000 years ago.

“We all acquire visual language,” she said. “I think it’s a part of human existence.”

Teaching that language has taught her how every person sees the world differently, how differently students learn.

“It’s about cluing into how they learn,” she said.

For her, the constant learning curve makes artists grow with their craft.

“An artist is always working.”

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