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Senior Madeline Richards draws and paints por­traits. Madeline Richards | Courtesy

While many stu­dents switch their majors, not many change dis­ci­plines entirely. Senior Madeline Richards, however, did exactly that — scrapping her goal of becoming a doctor to pursue a career in fine arts. She hasn’t looked back.

Richards had taken mul­tiple art classes in high school but came to Hillsdale intending to major in biology. She soon found herself second-guessing her choice and longing to get out of the lab and into the studio.

“I had always loved art, and I took four years of art classes in high school,” Richards said. “It was mainly out of fear that I didn’t pursue art in college. I remember, after my freshman year, I took one art class as one of the core require­ments. I just felt so happy there and so grateful to be in that class everyday.”

Richards’ decision was a tough one, but she found a friend in fellow art student Tracy Brandt ’16, who also changed dis­ci­plines.

“I started my edu­cation at Hillsdale with the belief that I would be going into pre-pharmacy, and then switched my major to the fine arts,” Brandt said.  “When Maddie told me about the choice she was going to face, I remem­bered the argu­ments I had juggled in my head about whether or not to leave the path to a medical pro­fession.”

Brandt walked Richards through her thought process and her ultimate choice to change her major. After going through the pros and cons of each dis­ci­pline and much dis­cussion, Brandt finally asked Richards a crucial question. 

“The final question arose: Towards what purpose did her heart pull?” Brandt said. “The answer was imme­diate and, for the first time, a statement instead of a question: ‘I was made to create art.’” 

Richards is now an art major with a spe­cial­ization in drawing and painting and a minor in French. She has no qualms about her decision and says she is happier for it. 

“I realized that I had such a passion for art,” Richards said. “I just wanted to pursue it. I wanted to go after it again. It’s been such a gift ever since. If I think about the deci­sions I made in college, that was def­i­nitely the right one.

Richards’ science back­ground has shaped her art in a mul­titude of ways, according to Pro­fessor of Art Sam Knecht. 

“Nat­u­rally her expe­ri­ences in the sci­ences play a role in her love of observing specifics in nature,” Knecht said.  “Plus it probably has made her all the more aware of how art, as much as science, requires pro­cedure and under­standing of the nature of material sub­stances.”  

Richards says she loves to paint por­traits and capture life on the canvas.

“I love drawing and painting people,” Richards said. “There is so much emotion and feeling and you can com­mu­nicate with por­traits. You can see the life. It’s easy to see the life. Everybody has a dif­ferent per­son­ality and everybody has their own char­ac­ter­istics.”

As for her spe­cific style of art, Richards described it as a com­bi­nation of realism and impres­sionism — a description with which Knecht agreed. 

“Simply speaking, her style is real­istic and based on obser­vation,” Knecht said. “But she does exper­iment with pushing that con­ven­tional boundary by doing occa­sional work that is expres­sionist.”

While she has been for­mally painting for only a year and a half, the quality of Richards’ work has increased. She credits her most recent strides with her time spent at the Flo­rence Academy of Art in Italy this past summer.

“I lived in the heart of Flo­rence and studied everyday,” Richards said. “I expe­ri­enced so much growth with my work. I never thought I would be able to do work like what I ended up pro­ducing.”

While much of her time in Flo­rence was spent in the studio, Richards still found time to get out and explore the rich culture of Italy. 

“Every Friday we went to these old museums and got to see famous sculp­tures,” Richards said. “We got to see Michelangelo’s David and the Uffizi Gallery, which has Bot­ti­celli and Bernini.”

Richards, now in her last semester at Hillsdale, is looking at graduate schools both foreign and domestic.

“I want to pursue this thing I have com­mitted myself to,” Richards said. “I’m looking at dif­ferent grad schools across the country for painting and maybe even drawing. I’m also looking at foreign graduate schools as well, ideally in France as that is my second lan­guage. I’m also looking at the Chicago Institute of Arts and the Savannah College of Art and Design.”

Whatever happens, Richards is excited to embark on her journey after grad­u­ation.

“I’m trying to be pos­itive and just keep doing what I’m pas­sionate about,” Richards said. “I never wanted to go through and feel like I’m just searching for another goal. I didn’t want my major to be a means to an end. I wanted what I studied to be nothing less than what I loved, and I found that.”