In elementary school, art class is primarily a survey course, allowing students to experience a variety of artistic techniques and styles, jumping from molding lumpy bowls out of clay to painting sloppy portraits destined to grace the fridge door.
By the time an art student reaches high school, however, it’s expected they will get a chance to dive a bit deeper into favored disciplines rather than sticking to a general overview of the arts.
George Walton Academy struggled to meet some of those students’ needs, however, until recently. Art classes primarly stuck to a survey model, with students following their muse into certain disciplines mainly through independent study projects.
“We already had a really strong art program,” Brian Cole, art teacher and director of the department, said. “But we’ve had some students come through and do independent studies in sculpture and other work and it just needed to be a part of the curriculum.”
At last, Cole added, it will be, as GWA is overhauling its entire art curriculum to offer a number of new disciplines to students interested in more than the basics.
“I’ve been department head for six to seven years, but this is the first time we’ve been given carte blanche to give the students what they need,” Cole said. “Addings these specialties is about enriching the program.”
First-year art students in high school will take a basic survey course, with a chance to devote short periods of focus to drawing, painting, ceramics, photography and sculpture over the course of the year.
But under the new curriculum, second-year art students and beyond will have the chance to take full courses in one of those disciplines, rather than just a few weeks in a wider class, as well as other specialties such as printmaking, graphic design and even marketing for art.
“We have the flexibility now to do independent work,” Cole said. “We’ve offered some of that here, but now the students will be able to focus on one discipline for a whole year.”
Already, the first of those new class offerings is in place this year.
“I have my first full-year sculpture class,” Cole said. “We have 10 people in that and it’s going great.”
And Cole said the expanding curriculum was about more than just new classes.
“We’re putting in a sculpture building,” Cole said. “By next year, we’ll have everything really up and running there. We’re also hiring another art teacher next year. We’re really growing into these changes.”
Most of the art curriculum changes won’t fully go into effect until next year, when Cole has time and resources to really allow students to branch out into preferred disciplines.
But Cole is quite excited about the potential for the art department at GWA and hopes to see students truly embrace the options they will have on hand.
“There’s a place here for a full fine arts family,” Cole said.