The Upper School visual arts department focuses on art making. That is, we emphasize material, skill, observation, interpretation, connection, statement, and expression. We also talk about art, utilizing both critiques and personal statements. When possible, we support our students through independent studies; we even have a student teaching a mini-course in fashion. What makes this program work so well is that our teachers are artists. They face the same challenges as our students. Moreover, our teachers understand how art functions best in an academic environment.
Students in the Riverdale Upper School take three years of art. They have the opportunity to specialize (Studio Art followed by Painting and then Advanced Painting) or to experiment (single years of film, dance, photography, boat building, art history). Some of our most dedicated artists take more than one art course each year.
Fundamentals of Good Design
Upper School art teacher Jason Ruff says good design requires careful planning.
Foundation Studies in Art
Foundation Studies, formerly called Studio Art, is the prerequisite to all other Upper School visual arts courses. It offers an intense immersion in studio life. Students will work together each semester with three core foundation ideas: drawing, design and spatial dynamics (three dimensions), and color. Through a series of challenging, hands-on assignments, students will emerge at the end of the semester with new insights, direction, and confidence in their expressive capabilities. Studio work is also aligned with other academic classes. True to its name, Foundation Studies is fundamental to what students will do in art electives, and throughout their life.The fall semester covers the basic elements of drawing, design, and color fundamentals. During the spring, students rotate every four weeks to a new studio discipline. Areas of focus in the spring include: painting, sculpture, design, and photography.
Fall—Introduction to Hand Building. Working with texture, slabs, coil and pinching to form pieces that function, and pieces that don’t. Students will also learn slip decorating techniques and glaze application.
Spring—Reinventing the Wheel. Learning the discipline of using the potter's wheel as a forming tool, students will make work that is thrown, altered, and added to. Functional and nonfunctional work is possible.
In this course you will be challenged to solve design problems using the five step design process. You will learn the basics of Adobe Illustrator in order to operate the laser cutter and CNC machine and will be exposed to a number of new hand tools in our fabulous maker space. From sewing and embroidery to wood and metal working, you will be exposed to an array of three-dimensional design techniques. If you like to build things and care about how they look, this is the spot for you.
Understanding drawing as seeing, Drawing I explores observational drawing, as well as drawing from memory and imagination. We begin by learning how to see an object in space as we draw from life exploring line, shape, value and light. With increased perceptual skills, we begin drawing from memory and imagination, abstracting the human form and considering both gesture and line quality. Workshops focusing on perspective, life drawing, and how to use different materials will happen throughout the year. Students will also be encouraged to work on projects that have personal meaning through choice of subject matter using a variety of media including pencil, charcoal, ink, watercolor, collage, string, and fabric.
Prerequisite: Drawing I
Drawing II explores new ways of drawing through a series of teacher and student-led projects encouraging large-scale and conceptually driven works. We will begin the year with exercises in observational drawing and gesture drawing before moving into projects that explore personal narratives. Students will be asked to convey a message through their work; we’ll create work about issues in which we find meaning and purpose. We will also draw from a model, using life to deepen and stretch our perception of reality. Materials might include pencil, charcoal, string, cardboard, paint, fabric, found objects, and wood.
This is an exploration of visual communications with an emphasis on the principles and elements of design. Along with a few analog techniques, students will learn the basics of the Adobe Suite, including Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign in order to create solutions in a series of design challenges. Throughout the year, visual literacy will be enhanced through exposure to contemporary design techniques as well as graphic design history.
Prerequisite: Drawing I or Painting I
This course explores the visual possibilities of the abstract form. Working from observation, we begin by deconstructing reality in order to realize compositions that intentionally skew our perception of reality. Our second semester will go one step further by completely detaching from observation in order to focus on the act of creating compositions void of any reference to life. This course will focus on color, shape and form, with an emphasis on building a relationship with your material. We will also study color theory and art history as it applies to the move from representation to abstraction and finally non-representational art. Materials will include, but are not limited to, pencil, charcoal, acrylic paint, watercolor, and fabric.
This course presents the opportunity for students to work on extended independent projects using a variety of media. It is for students who have a strong interest in art creation, and who are motivated to develop their ideas ambitiously. In it we will walk the line between ideas and skill. Students will conceive of a project or an idea, and then pursue the skills they need to develop it. Projects may include drawing, painting, photography, sculpture, digital art, collage, and any combination of these. Materials may include wood, video, sound, clay, cardboard, and found objects. Specifics for each project will be worked out individually with the teachers. There will be one primary teacher with visits and support from other members of the art department for critiques, insights, and guidance. Students will also write an artist statement during the second semester.
Semester 1: Basic skills and knowledge of painting are covered. Students explore what a painting is made of (physically and formally). Projects are centered on understanding physical materials, painting techniques, formal elements, and intellectual meaning. Students develop hand skills by mixing and applying paint, and perceptual skills from observing visual reality and translating perceptions into paint.
Semester 2: Students concentrate on an integrated approach to exploring both the material and mental aspect of painting. Practice subjects are still life, self-portraits, and places (landscapes, interiors).
Prerequisite: Painting I
Semester 1: The human figure as a subject: articulation of the form, understanding light and form, exploration of figurative themes and figurative meaning, exploring more techniques (collage, brushstroke, wiping out, and others).
Semester 2: Contemporary abstraction.
Semester 1: This is an introduction to digital photography. What are the decisions that a photographer makes whenever they raise their camera or phone to make an image? Projects include exercises in developing a photographic awareness of the world around us. Technical learning includes scanning, resolution, selection techniques, blending modes, print optimization, contrast, sharpness, and composite images. Students also learn about file formats, and saving, archiving, and accessing work. Creative work includes selective coloring and photomontage.
Semester 2: Students go "beyond the image" to create photo sculptures, collages, light paintings, and high contrast abstractions.
Prerequisite: Photography I
Semester 1: Photographing People. What are the elements of a photographic portrait? Students will learn to create street photography, artificial light photography, extended portraits, and self-portraits.
Semester 2: Beyond the Image. Students will learn to create photo sculptures, collages, light paintings, and high contrast abstractions. They will learn to use a pinhole camera, work with alternative emulsions, and learn creative darkroom techniques.
Projects in Contemporary Art (PICA)
This advanced art class will explore how contemporary art can function within a school and engage others in art, beyond viewership. Emphasis will be placed on manifesting concepts more than developing traditional art skills. A wide range of contemporary modes and strategies may be employed, including sound/video, performance, installation, publications, and web-based, and social practice, such as interactive murals. Projects will go beyond the studio walls and tend to be site-specific, using, for example, the dining room. This mobile class will be highly collaborative, and sometimes even work with other classes in other disciplines. A spontaneous spirit will be cultivated, in order to strike wherever art is called for. Students will create reflections of their lives – from their micro experiences at school, home, and in their neighborhoods, to the macro experiences of their city, country, and world. Students will participate in all aspects of the works - from concept to execution, and in the design and distribution of related materials and documentation. The National Association of Independent Schools recently featured this class on its website. To learn more, click here.
The fundamentals for creating three-dimensional objects will be the focus of this course. Students will explore space, form, mass, weight, and design through additive, subtractive, and assembling processes. Demonstrated techniques will cover a broad range of materials, both traditional (wood and metal) and nontraditional (cardboard, found objects, plastic, fabric, paper, and so on). Students will be introduced to a variety of hand tools and machinery throughout the year. In addition to the hands-on application of sculptural techniques, class time will also be devoted to studying the work of contemporary sculptors. Student artwork will be displayed throughout the campus, and regular critiques will take place upon completion of each project.
No longer just writing on the wall, street art has infiltrated the fine art world and has collectors abuzz. With the legitimizing force of artists such as Banksy and Shepard Fairey, street art has moved from city blocks to the white walls of galleries all over the world. This studio class will explore the history and sociopolitical underpinnings of street art, and will give students the opportunity to create work inspired by some of the greats. Modern street art comes in many different mediums, students will be asked to appreciate the methods and processes of these while continuing to study and explore the elements of art and principles of design. Projects will include the popular stenciling and wheatpaste techniques, as well as more obscure techniques such as tile mosaics and photo installations. Along with regular critiques, students will critically discuss the value of street art through debate and writings.
Students will learn to use video shooting and editing technology to create art, and will utilize time-based media as an extension of their artistic thinking. This course will cover all stages of video production to create both stand-alone video works and video components for incorporation into sculpture, installation, painting, and performance. Students will view and discuss video art from its inception into the art world in the 1960s until today, and will examine its intersection with performance, sculpture, installation, and photography. The course will embody, but not be limited to, shooting, staging, chroma-key, compositing, editing, stop motion, audio, and lighting.
In a society drowning in information, what is true? What matters? Learn how to use graphic design, art, and data visualization to distill an ocean of noise to its purest nectar. Students will examine how public opinion and emotions can be manipulated through visuals, and will try their hand at it themselves using graphic design tools and P5, a computer language designed for artists.