By: Molly Rosenberg ’20
The visual art curriculum at Beaver Country Day School is unique. In order to allow students to reach their full potential in their exploration of art, the curriculum offers three studios: the McElwain studio, the Photo Studio, and the Sculpture Studio. Each of these studios encompasses different realms of art and are partnered with a specific teacher knowledgeable on the subject. This course gives students the opportunity to identify their own artistic influences, build on past experiences, and develop technical skills to make their ideas visible. There are many components of the interesting visual art curriculum that make it an especially beneficial and creative outlet for students.
Painter, Gerhard Richter, once said, “Picturing things, taking a view, is what makes us human; art is making sense and giving shape to that sense.” In order to find a personal view, students encounter many experiences and ideas through the visual art program. The question, “what should I make?” frequently surfaces in all studios. In order to solve this question, there are a variety of studio activities to push students out of their comfort zones and ponder new ideas.
The first studio activity is “collecting.” This consists of gathering source images or items from in and around the studio. Collecting allows students to get inspired and identify what they are interested in.
Sequoia Odim O’Neil ‘20 speaks on behalf of her use of collecting. She said, “In the studio, I jam out with my headphones and scroll through Pinterest, VSCO and other sites collecting different images. I gather them in a folder on my desktop for inspiration and sometimes print them out.” Collecting images allows O’Neil to gain momentum on a project and get excited to explore in the studio.
The next studio activity is “creating” which consists of drawings, paintings, photographs, sculptures, videos and more. This activity allows students to let their ideas flow and establish both abstract and concrete creations. Freshman, Sadie Stedman ‘22 spends most of her time “creating” in the McElwain studio.
According to Stedman, “I love to create. In the studio, I just create, create and keep creating as much as I can during the block.” Most of her artwork reflects realistic human paintings, drawings, and sketches.
Another study activity titled “looking” at art inspires the students to absorb art that has already put out into the world. Other artists can be a beneficial source of inspiration for students to “remix” and borrow ideas for their own pieces. Zoe Denbow ‘20 finds herself frequently scrolling through the visual art website which provides many sources of artist inspiration. She uses these websites along with various artists’ blogs she finds on the web.
Denbow says, “In the studio, I like making realistic drawings of people. Sometimes I draw my friends, family, and people I know, however, most of the time I draw random humans from my imagination. I utilize different source images and constantly find myself “looking” at art in order to improve my technique and perfect the construction of specific facial features.” Whether Denbow finds artwork herself on the internet or uses the class resources for artist inspiration, she constantly finds herself absorbing others’ creations to implement and improve her own work.
“Photographing” is another studio activity which could mean taking photos of their current artwork and process; this allows for documentation of their experiences. Another means of photographing refers to utilizing the photo studio professional cameras or simply capturing moments with a cellular device.
Over the past three years, Julia Sneddon ‘20 has become quite familiar with the process of film photography. During studio time, she engages in this routine to create developed prints of various images. Sneddon notes, “I get a roll of film, I insert it in the camera and then usually go outside to a place with good lighting. Here, I take as many pictures as I can and after I’ve used up all of the film, which consists of 36 shots, I take the film to the dark room and develop it. Next, I cut the film into strips and create a contact sheet. This allows me to clearly see each of the images I took. After this, I pick an image that I like and I put it in the enlarger. Here I can add filters and apply it to the light-sensitive paper to be developed.”
The fifth studio activity is “practicing” which is extremely important in creating works of art and exploring interests in a meaningful way. Practicing and improving technical skills broadens a student’s range of abilities.
Drew Herer ‘23 is new to ceramics but recently found an interest in it this past term. Since he is just starting out, he typically works toward creating bowls, mugs, cups, and other such pieces. He finds it quite difficult to perfect the process since working on the wheel can be complex. Herer notes, “Most of the time when I work on the wheel, I am not working on a finalized project. Instead, I spend most of the time practicing the fundamentals of wheel throwing and the process of simply creating.” Some of the work that takes place in the art studios consists of a new or challenging process. Continually practicing these techniques allows students to expand their abilities and ultimately identify what they want to pursue.
Another studio activity is “sketching” which really allows students to map out their term and their pieces. In order for a student to make their ideas a reality, they must run it through a period of some planning and brainstorming.
Henry Harkins spend most of his term in visual art sketching and planning his ideas. The past summer, he had done a program at the High Mountain Institute which was very impactful and meaningful for him. Harkins exclaimed that he wanted to create a life sized piece collaged with images from his experience. The images were placed on a wooden base in the shape of a mountain. In order to create this base, Harkins had to endure a long process of carving, sawing, and cutting. In addition to creating the base, Harkins had to perfectly trim and fit the images on the board.
“My project wasn’t really something you could just jump into. It took time, dedication, planning and patience,” Harkins reflected. “I spent a lot of time sketching both in my sketchbook and on larger scale pieces of paper to really visualize my final product.”
The studio activity, “talking,” acts as an important vessel for students to communicate about all things art. Whether they discuss their personal works of art, those of others, or any ideas surrounding art in general, collaborating certainly aids in creation. Beaver Junior, Leighton Grey devotes a significant amount of her studio time practicing “talking.”
“My work focuses on women and topics that are present in today’s society,” Grey stated. “Talking to my peers in class helps me expand on these ideas and discuss new ones.”
The next studio activity is “testing” both different materials and processes. Exploring new realms of art or ways of creating are super important to identify your interests and embark on meaningful projects. For some students, art is a field in which they do not have much previous knowledge. This statement resonates with Max Denbow ‘23 who had never really created much art before coming to Beaver. When arriving in the studio on his first day of Freshman year, Denbow was uncertain about what he wanted to do with his time. In order to figure out what he really was passionate about, Denbow experimented with many different kinds of art.
“I tried splatter painting, drawing faces, working on the wheel, photographing my friends and more. The possibilities were endless, so I took advantage of them.” Being open to trying new things and testing out different materials is really important for students in Beaver’s art curriculum; if you never try, you will never know,” Denbow concluded.
The art curriculum at Beaver Country Day encourages students to think outside the box and explore art in whatever way works for them. The experience, regardless of the studio, is both hands-on and personalized for each student. As Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “Every artist was first an amateur.” Beaver supports and embraces its students to find their true passions, inspirations, and fascinations. Whether you consider yourself an “artist” or a beginner to the art world, Beaver’s curriculum allows you to flourish and improve.