Studio arts classes feel different this year — Creating art doesn’t

Adaptations offer new possibilities for teaching, producing, and exhibiting art

Danielle Brennan, Arts Editor

Scroll through the school’s virtual art gallery on Padlet.org, and your
eye will flit from column to column, seeing dozens of winter studio art
pieces in just a few minutes. The uniform digital stands display art of all
shapes and sizes that would have hung from walls and sat atop display
boxes in the gallery with a variety of color, composition, and form filling
the physical space.
When the studio arts lost access to a gallery this year, Upper School
(US) Art Teacher Lanie Wurzel adapted by creating a virtual platform
to showcase student art on Padlet, a collaborative interface where
participants can upload pictures, view others’ art, and comment.
“Although I will say I miss having a physical gallery, the Padlet has
allowed for something different to happen,” Ms. Wurzel said. “I can send
it out in an email blast and reach a much wider audience. It’s been sent
to alumni relations and all these people who would never get to come
see the show in school. Moving forward, I think it will be something I
continue to use.”
She said a 2D presentation has its drawbacks, however.
“The con is seeing something on a little screen as a little picture,” she
said. “It’s just not the same as seeing artwork in person. The scale gets
lost in translation.”
The studio arts curriculum has seen other evolutions under COVID
restrictions as well. Drawing and painting students, for example, have
all received individual materal kits containing paint, brushes, and oil
pastels for creativity during remote days.
“I really like having the oil pastels and drawing tools at home because
I have more time to make I want with them,” Drawing and Painting
Student Emma Maginn ’23 said. “It was nice to have those—and extra
time to work on [my art] and get it to look how I wanted.”
Art has offered a welcome place for reflection and sense of peace,
Emma added.
“Now I really see how valuable art is,” she said. “Before, I never
thought of it as an outlet. The fact that the school is making such an
effort and taking so much time to plan out the arts courses is really
meaningful.”
US Photography Teacher Andrew Warren said photography looks
completely different this year for some classes, with modified content and
structure. Without access to the school’s traditional analog darkroom,
he said, his own classes have changed from top to bottom.
“I teach so much with analog [materials] in terms of using film, film
cameras, processing film, and making prints, so once that went out
the window, it was a matter of starting from scratch with a lot of the
content,” he said.
Advanced Photography Student Olivia Bancel ’22 said class in the fall,
out of the studio with Mr. Warren remote, still felt meaningful.
“We made it work at the beginning of the year. He showed us
documentaries about famous photographers and their style, which was
inspiring.”
Still, when Mr. Warren returned after winter break and materials
became more accessible, Olivia said, she appreciated getting back in the
photo lab.
“I love using the lab so much because I don’t have one at home or
anywhere near me, so it’s the only place I can access one,” she said. “I
take a different camera home every weekend to learn more about each
individual camera and how they all shoot photos differently, and I love
comparing my photos to each other after I use each camera.”
US Ceramics Teacher Christian Tonsgard, remote until this January,
said restoring some aspects of his classess has been di̇cult.
“With COVID, I have just started the pottery wheel this April. I’m
easing into it as I become more comfortable with the restrictions,” he
said. “The projects move at a limited pace due to the schedule, and it’s
hard to send students home with clay and materials. So projects don’t
progress as fast.”
On remote days, Mr. Tonsgard has had students explore and reflect
on different artists as well as discuss art’s place in current events—a
bigger underlying theme than in past years, he said.
“The beautiful thing about being an art teacher is you can walk into a
classroom, you can read the room, and if it’s obvious we’re not going to
get much done, you can pivot, talk about artists and what’s going on, and
just give everybody a break to recharge,” Mr. Tonsgard said.
Ceramics Student Clara Noyes ’23 said student morale remained
strong and even rose once the sophomores and juniors in her course
could be together.
“The environment in our class was automatically changed when the
juniors joined,” she said. “It was so nice to see other faces, and our class
already had really great energy. It was really refreshing.”
The content of the class itself, she added, has been a much-needed
respite this year.
“Everything around us has changed, but art has stayed the same. It’s a
break from COVID, I think, for a lot of people. It’s just a great reminder
of what we’re looking toward on the other side.”