The Beautiful Advantage of Classical Skills

Besides the joyous satisfaction of painting for its own sake, high school students who love to draw may seek to develop a college-ready portfolio, earn an A, or just make stand-out work for a school art class. For a teen to develop an excellence in any competitive field, whether academics, sports, or the arts, rigorous private study can really pay off.  High school art classes typically offer instruction from more of a design perspective, emphasizing composition, mark-making, pattern, and other components of both fine art and design, which are wonderful tools to use, though they may or may not help a student hone the craft of classical realism. Those young artists skilled enough to pull off that illusion of 3-D realism through accurate line, tone and color, become masterful interpreters of the lessons in their public school classes, using classical techniques to bring the curriculum to life with increasingly powerful work. Just as traditional private music lessons become a strength for a member of the high school band, studying the discipline of realistic rendering can lend an edge to any teen art student.

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A recent study by Americans for the Arts showed that in 2013, students who took four years of arts and music classes scored 59% higher on the SAT’s than kids who took half a semester or less. Clearly, more arts instruction has advantages beyond the craft itself.  We art teachers often wonder if, in addition to helping organize the mind, this effect is partially because of the nature of the arts; classes at our studios are both relaxing and invigorating, becoming totally immersive.  Students who attend regularly are able to draw upon the sense of balance, alertness, and peace we achieve when fully focused on rendering from observation. We suspect that being able to draw on this sense of well-being must lend to better coping skills – even during test-taking time, elsewhere in that student’s day.

Screenshot 2015-08-22 06.15.05Did you know that since the year 2000, all California schools have been mandated by law to provide music, drama, dance and visual art instruction to every pupil on an annual basis?  According to a report by the California Alliance for Arts Education, “The quality and frequency of arts education in California public schools is highly inconsistent due to competing priorities and limited discretionary funding. As a result, arts participation varies greatly across the state, within districts and schools, and even within classrooms.”   The result is a patchwork of art offerings. We have heard widely varying reports from students, parents, and even some teachers over the years, of the quality of art classes available.  While some programs seem truly excellent, others are taught by teachers pulled last-minute from other departments, such as gym.  After school classes provide a consistent opportunity for real artistic growth, year after year.

Screenshot 2015-08-22 06.23.51Some don’t offer AP Visual Art for college credit. After school programs can often help a student receive credit, if you ask.  If your high schooler is lucky enough to be taking this class through school, outside lessons provide extra work time, as well as another set of instructive eyes on a project. At Art Steps studios, students who explain their course objectives with their instructor can receive individualized guidance, as needed, in concert with portfolio prep.  Art Steps can also offer a customized portfolio review, and guidance from an art school graduate on choices one can make, moving forward through the college admissions process.

Although we love that our students seem to benefit academically from creating a strong body of artwork, the primary reason we teach drawing and painting is not, however, as a springboard for academic success.  We teach to pass along our love of painting to the next generation.  We love the rigor of striving for excellence, and we never get too old, or too good, to improve.

87-year-old Michelangelo had engraved on his own tombstone,”ancora imparo”, which means “I am still learning”.  Here’s to a school year where students of all ages have the chance to slow down and immerse themselves in a beautiful discipline, stepping toward mastery, toward the greatness within them all.Screenshot 2015-08-22 06.14.01

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