Art program fosters student growth

By Jack McDermott

Online Managing Editor

According to PBS, art programs in schools are crucial for the development of children; art education teaches motor skills, inventiveness, visual learning, improved academic performance, and even decision making.  Yet still, elementary and middle schools are cutting art programs to nothing more than a once-a-week class or a one-quarter activity.

Art teacher Barbara Shaffer believes that this under-par system for teaching art is putting students far behind by the time they get into high school.

“Imagine if you only took English for one quarter, how far behind you would be,” art teacher Barbara Shaffer said.

The art program at Prospect works to overcome these setbacks by requiring all students to take an art class and quickly breaches the gap created by the limited grammar school programs so that by senior year, art students are able to take a college level art class.

Incoming freshman start off in Art 1, a class that primarily focuses on exposing students to many different types of art like drawing, painting, sculpting and metal.  This makes it difficult for students to be moved up from Art 1 early because they are unlikely to have covered all the material in outside courses.

“When students come into Art 1 we are working on building up basic skills because most students have never been exposed to them,” Shaffer said.

However, once exposed, Shaffer believes that every student can become an artist after being taught the basic strokes and techniques.

“When I am teaching a drawing, I am teaching a skill, and that skill is just like a math problem in which everyone can do it,” Shaffer said.

Shaffer believes that taking Art 1 is enough to know all the basics of art.  This works well for the majority of students because for those looking to fill the fine-arts requirement, no more than one year is needed to have a basic understanding of the subject.  However, for those that do choose to continue, there are many opportunities ending at a college level course.

By AP Art, students have primarily mastered the basic skills and are working towards creating  what Shaffer calls “sophisticated art”.

Shaffer believes sophisticated art is a piece that communicates a meaning through its image, even if that meaning is not the one originally intended by the artist.

“We are working on a college level and really trying to have those kids have some meaning and thought come out through their artwork,” Shaffer said.

This “meaning”, like sorrow or love, is so important because it brings pieces of art from standard to extraordinary and is what the AP judges look for.

Students have the option of taking an AP test at the end of the year for college credit, although this test is very different from conventional AP testing.

The AP test is a big portfolio split into three sections containing 29 pieces in total that all students must finish by their senior year.  The first section contains 5 of the artist’s best and most meaningful pieces that are sent to the judges.

The second section includes 24 works digitally mailed to the judges; these projects are still well-done, but are not necessarily as refined as those physically sent in.

The last and most difficult part, according to Shaffer, is the concentration statement, a paragraph describing the student’s complex art in words.  Shaffer said that most students rewrite their concentration statement five to six times throughout the year because of the difficulty in capturing the meaning of the piece in text.

This portfolio takes AP Art students all year to complete, and some even have to take art they completed their  junior year to fill the required amount.

To find inspiration for so many pieces, students often bounce ideas off each other to create novel art.  This aspect of class is one of senior Mary Schiavone’s favorite parts of class because she can bounce ideas off not only other AP art students, but also students from 2d Art 1, 2d Art 2 and Art Portfolio, all of whom share seventh period in the art room.

“It’s really nice to be able to bounce ideas off each other,” Schiavone said.

This exchange of ideas is especially important because there is also a category of grading called breadth in the AP exam in which students must include a variety of medium, like pencil, paint, or metal.

Although Schiavone’s favorite medium is acrylic paint and chalk pastel because of the vibrant colors, she needs to use all types of medium in order to succeed in the class.

“[Shaffer] helps you look at your art in a new way and come up with new ideas while encouraging you to try new medias,” Schiavone said.  “She is a really good teacher.”
To check out art from all the Art students, click here!
And… to see Senior AP Art student Jackson Wrede creating an original art piece, click here!