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Chicago students make, test and present the aroma of art

Could a picture be worth a thousand scents?
Could a picture be worth a thousand scents? 04:03

CHICAGO (CBS) — When you think of art, you may think of paintings, sculptures, or music.

However, a Chicago art teacher is showing students how to make art in a very non-traditional way.

He's branching out into new senses by making art with scents. If asked to describe this city scene, could you say how it smells?

That takes some skill, currently being honed in a lab at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

Professor Tedd Neenan leads this class of artists experimenting with a new medium.

"They already know either how to paint, or they might be in fashion or photography," Neenan said.

"What I'm encouraging them to do is think beyond the visual and include more senses in their work," Neenan said.

So, the coursework is to create art, which is best experienced via the nose. 

Neenan made a career out of it, owning Aroma Workshop, where he made custom scents in Lincoln Park for 20 years.

He found his next chapter to be about sharing those skills with students. This semester, he's challenged them to create perfumes that capture emotions or ways of being.  

CBS 2 asked the budding experts what Curiosity might smell like.

"I would go with more of a wood-based scent profile. I would probably start with wormwood and add a bit of burr, something woodsy, something natural," said student and artist Aidan Frying.

How about "playful?"

"I think of lemon and grapefruit, like grapefruit in the summertime, ocean waves, the smell of the beach. That's playful," said student and artist Lily-Ann Olesen.

Lastly, what would capture "intelligence?"

"I think Vetiver definitely. It's like a really deep, and more of a neutral tone and maybe some clover in there, as well like a little spicy," said artist and student Lisa Max.

Scents usually take our brains to a place or a memory. But doing that in reverse is an interesting exercise, like making a scent that expresses "anger."

A mix of dark, peppery sents.

The lesson stretches your senses differently. That's just as expressive as any art on canvas.

Take the final projects of two students…

"I selected five books, and I designed a perfume for each of them," said Ruodi Jasmine.

Their work proved to be an inspiration for smells that can come from anywhere.

"Mine inspiration, these six perfumes inspiration is from my ex-boyfriends," said Karma Zheng. 

Their professor sees this kind of work as the future of the art world, where paintings or sculptures are presented with fragrance that adds to the viewing experience. 

"Across the street is the Art Institute of Chicago," said Neenan. "They don't think of scent as art. But we're changing that. We asked them to include more olfactory artists in their permanent collection."

And with the success of this class, Neenan hopes to create more of those artists to choose from.

"That's what I believe is coming. This immersive place in art.

That was the last class of the semester. However, olfactory art will be offered again in the fall.  

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