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). 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.
Students explore an array of three dimensional design techniques by creating projects that address design problems. The course will cover sewing and patternmaking, jewelry and metalworking, current digital design practices, light construction, and more.
Fall—The Elements of Drawing: Students explore how to construct a drawing using line, shape, space, value and light. Working from observation, students increase perceptual skills, and work on projects that have personal meaning though choice of subject matter. Projects will include still life, landscape, interior space (using perspective) using a variety of materials including pencil, charcoal, ink and wash, watercolor, collage, and other color media.
Spring—Images and Ideas: A continuation of the principles of drawing that also includes study of figure drawing. Projects are derived from and inspired by combined art historical references, working from life and imagination. Topics will include self-portraits and the theme of personal identity; still life using symbolic objects.
Prerequisite: Drawing I
Fall—Space: Use the landscape, interiors, or architecture to explore the idea of place as metaphor, sacred places, or places as social commentary.
Narratives: Explore the history of narrative through art referencing historical or contemporary art, beginning with personal narrative, journey, or cultural/political story. Use single scene narrative or multiple sequence narrative. Projects will include working with silk screening and computer graphics tools such as Adobe Flash, Illustrator, and Photoshop.
Spring—Drawing as Installation: Drawing moves off the walls—the rectangle—and onto the walls and floors; drawn objects become three-dimensional.
Society and Issues: Define the issues, the audience, and the effect. Topics generate projects: a current event, group identity versus personal identity, ethnic identity, illness and death, conflict and violence, freedom of religion, prophecies for the future.
Graphic Design I
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.
Graphic Design II
Prerequisite: Graphic Design I
Using the skills acquired in Graphic Design, this project-based class explores the relationship between form and content through design. Students will be charged with solving design problems through visual communication. These problems will be a mix of fictional and real-world situations.
Intro to Abstracts and Non-Objective Art
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 pencil, charcoal, acrylic paint, watercolor and fabric, to name a few.
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. Bring your ideas, get your materials, and get to work.
Fall—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 mixing and applying paint, perceptual skills from observing visual reality, and translating perceptions into paint.
Spring—Concentrates on an integrated approach to exploring both the material and mental aspect of painting. Practice subjects are still life, self-portraits, and places (landscape, interiors).
Prerequisite: Painting I
Fall—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).
Fall – Wet Lab Photography
Technical Learning: Camera, lenses, exposure, developing film, printing, dodging and burning, contrast filters, presentation.
Creative Work: What makes a photograph effective, understanding the techniques that are available to photographers, solving visual problems, developing the elements of a personal statement.
Spring – Introduction to Digital Photography
Technical Learning: Scanning, resolution, selection techniques, blending modes, print optimization, contrast, sharpness, and composite images. File formats, saving, archiving and accessing your work.
Creative Work: Selective coloring, photomontages.
Prerequisite: Photography I
Fall – Photographing People
What are the elements of a photographic portrait? Street photography, artificial light photography, extended portraits, self-portraits.
Spring – Beyond the Image
Photo sculptures, collages, light paintings, high contrast abstractions, work with a pinhole camera, alternative emulsions, 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) as well as non-traditional (cardboard, found objects, plastic, fabric, paper etc.) 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 dedicated to studying the work of contemporary sculptors. Students artwork will be displayed throughout the campus and regular critiques will take place upon completion of each project.