Art: Art Curriculum

Student painting in art studio

The primary aim of the visual arts program is to elicit from students the most powerful and expressive work possible. This requires profound thought, an enlarging sensibility, and a broader understanding of experience. Our aim is to help students invent pictorial and plastic activity to carry this wealth of feeling and thought into comprehensible artistic representation.

In the Preschool and Lower School, the aim of the Art Department is to familiarize the children with a wide range of materials, techniques and pictorial concepts. We consciously differentiate our studio program from the extensive visual work carried out within the individual classrooms. Along with thematic-based projects, the children enter the ‘art studio’ to become fluent with the ‘language’ of image and object making, to understand the ‘instinctive’ nature of the artistic process and to become more aware of their own unique ‘vision.’


In the Middle School, more sophisticated concepts and techniques are introduced, with a continuing emphasis on drawing, painting and object making. Along with the continued reinforcement of pictorial and compositional fundamentals (texture, form, rhythm, color), contextual, poetic and conceptual notions are explored. Building skills are expanded through work in plaster, clay, cardboard, and wood. Ultimately, students find their own relationship to art through the viewing, discussing and making of art works.

The teaching of the visual arts in the High School is a continuous process of shaping and reshaping vision, giving each individual student deeper aesthetic insight. The process occurs across a broad spectrum of disciplines: drawing, figure drawing, painting, still photography, digital photography, animation, ceramic sculpture, sculpture, printmaking, architecture and design, and illustration.

The drawing classes explore various techniques, conceptual approaches, and media. In figure drawing the emphasis is on a feeling for the volumetric structure of the body and the expressive potential of drawing from live models in a wide range of media. In the regular drawing course, the students explore varied subject matter from both realistic and abstract perspectives, with the objective of learning to perceive form and to articulate those perceptions pictorially through a variety of drawing media.

3-D Animation involves designing and constructing a set and the creation of articulated characters from a variety of materials (clay, paper, cardboard). Students sequence individual scenes using a digital camera, and use computers to edit and add soundtracks to generate a fully realized film presentation.

Painting classes emphasize the study of light, color, and composition. Students paint from still life set-ups, from nature, and from their imaginations. The exploration of abstract images and conceptual notions is also encouraged. Inks, water-based media (watercolor, tempera, acrylic), oils, and mixed media are used.


The Illustration and Design course explores drawing to illustrate an idea, a story, or an abstract notion. The students also explore the ‘building blocks’ of language: designing letters and alphabets. A variety of technical and conceptual approaches, using a range of materials and formats, are introduced.

Photography begins with an introductory course emphasizing skills (operation of a camera, exposure and development of film, and darkroom procedure) and is followed by more advanced courses in which the emphasis is on self-expression. Students continue to work on technical mastery, but with the understanding that the power of the image precedes all. In the Digital Photography courses, students explore image making through an entirely digital format. Students move between the digital camera, the scanner and the computer to refine and manipulate images that are then printed through a digital printer. Traditional studio materials and processes are also integrated into the final digital presentation.

Printmaking explores intaglio techniques (engraving and etching), color printmaking, wood and linoleum cut prints, poster designs (including collaborative posters for theater productions), and screen printing.

Ceramic sculpture and mixed media sculpture are also offered. The former emphasizes slab and coil techniques as well as slip casting and mold making; the latter involves a broader range of materials (plaster, wood, wire, cardboard, papier mâché). Both sculpture courses are concerned with producing three-dimensional abstract and realistic pieces.

Courses in architecture and design (both introductory and advanced) investigate the basic elements of design and structure as they relate to architectural, industrial, and product design. The students learn to interpret the history and meaning of their physical surroundings, and the various roles that architecture has assumed throughout history. A variety of drawing techniques, projection systems, model-making approaches, and computer applications are explored.

Art history, offered in alternate years and sponsored by the History Department, is an important part of the art curriculum. This course is a survey of painting, sculpture, and architecture of western cultures, progressing chronologically from the magical reindeer of the upper Paleolithic to the culturally iconic soup cans of Andy Warhol. Formal qualities – geometry, space, color, line, repetition, and direction – are analyzed, and the cultural story and history in art are considered carefully. The text, Gardner’s Art Through The Ages, is supplemented by the writings of art historians, artists, and poets.

Whether in the visual or performing arts, students frequently extend their school term by participating in special summer programs in the arts: apprenticeships in stock companies and architectural firms, study programs sponsored by local museums and distant colleges, music and dance workshops, and institutes of various kinds. Information, guidance, and encouragement in choosing such programs (and in preparing auditions and portfolios for college applications) further serve to confirm the significance of the arts at Saint Ann’s.