Visual Arts: The City as Studio

Arts Majors Bring New Possibilities
A cement sculpture with a handprint marring the top representing a students’ trip with his father; a narrative film exploring the life of a recovering addict turned hairdresser; a short film about high school students of color dealing with race in the current political climate. This is art at Grace Church School.

Students interested in art explore their passions through a rich variety of courses offered in the High School arts curriculum. From sculpture to photography and everything in between, there are opportunities to delve into a range of arts mediums. Juniors and seniors who wish to go beyond the general arts requirements can apply to the Arts Majors course or the Film & Media Majors course. “I've used art as an outlet mostly. It helps distract me and calm me down during stressful times,” Arts Majors student, Kayla D. ’19 said. “I've learned things about myself as an artist that I've never really explored before.”

The Film & Media Majors launched this year, and its curriculum combines lecture-based discussion and hands-on experience. Students create four films a year: a documentary, an adaptation, an experimental film and a narrative. Students work in groups and individually and have the opportunity to make super shorts throughout the year for class assignments. Colin Todd, the Film & Media teacher, hopes this course will help students who want to continue a career in film after Grace. “When I was in high school there was nothing like this. I am hoping that they will have a lot more exposure to the process of filmmaking and see how it folds into their regular life. It brings together many good life skills because it includes planning, budgeting, and writing. They will have a deeper literacy of film and have a leg up when they go to college.”

Currently, film students are working in groups on their documentary projects. One group is focusing on the lives and challenges of a group of young aspiring artists. The other group is delving into how technology has changed our world by interviewing people from different generations. Each team has decided to delegate their workload differently. One group has assigned each person a job; for example a director, editor, camera person; whereas another group is giving each person a minute of the film where they will be in charge of a specific job so everyone will have a chance to direct or edit on the same film. Mr. Todd noted that This a really interesting idea conceptually, because individual artists will be stitching together their individual voices to make one cohesive story.”

Something that has surprised me is how this class has affected me,” said Liv S. ’19. She had studied photography before deciding to explore film. “It’s something that I enjoy learning about so much, it’s almost too good to be true.”

The Arts Majors course, focusing on visual arts, is in its second year. Curriculum Coordinator Stefanie Victor teaches the course and says, “The class is conceptually driven. Projects are framed as questions or open-ended prompts which students answer in their own way, using their choice of materials, some of which they work with for the first time over the course of their project.”

Students in the Arts Majors course collected 25 items that were important to them over the summer to serve as the inspiration for their first project in class. Tasked with creating a project that would convey the importance of the object/s through whatever medium they saw fit, students created sculptures made from cement, pillow stuffing and wood.  Junior Kayla D. represented the different moments in her life through a dining room table. “My installation is a family-style dinner, except each person at the table is me in a different stage of life.”  She chose this idea because she “associated my objects with prominent points in my life. They can easily be separated by a specific time period. I made plate settings out of clay.” At the completion of this project, students as well as a handful of alumni art students critiqued each other’s work with Ms. Victor and another visual art teacher, Ms. Salazar.

Students in both courses have the good fortune of learning in New York City. Ms. Victor tries to relate what is going on in the city to aspects of the project assignments. “The Whitney, MOMA, countless galleries, even just walks around the city offer inspiration for the course.”
Film students are often outside of the high school interviewing in Cooper Square. “We’re in a media capital,” Mr. Todd said, “The students shoot a lot outdoors, especially their passerby interviews for practice.”

As a part of the school’s partnership with the Whitney, a spot is held for a Grace art student in their Youth Insights Programs. Alec J. ’19 is currently in the Youth Insights Leaders Program. “You spend a semester creating a piece of art with a current exhibiting artist at The Whitney.” Last year, Alec made a film with Whitney artist Jenny Perlin while he was in the Youth Insights Artists Program, and he is currently enrolled in the Arts Majors class. “One of the main factors for choosing Grace for high school was the idea of the Arts Majors program,” Alec remarked. “I have always been interested in the Arts and the idea that I could spend as much time on art as any other academic class spoke to me and my education ethos.”