Students face challenges in a new AP course
Junior Lauren Atha spreads a thick coat of paint over her canvas, glancing every now and then at her reflection in a nearby mirror. As her self-portrait begins to take shape, junior Erin Fincher also works diligently on her self-portrait, looking contemplatively over her work.
As the two artists concentrate on their work, Studio Art teacher Audrey Wilson wanders around the classroom. Although this would be no different from last year's Studio Art classes, this time, integrated into the level one and two classes, there are Advanced Placement students.
Instituted this year, AP Studio Art provides a chance for more advanced students to challenge themselves. The course starts out as a single period class first semester but is a double period class during second semester. Only six students are enrolled in the class this year, but Wilson hopes that more will be encouraged to take the class.
According to Helen Smith, the coordinator for the MCPS Secondary Art Program, approximately 21 out of the 23 high schools in Montgomery County currently offer AP Studio Art.
A class is born
When former Studio Art teacher Roberta Staat came to Blair, the school did not offer AP Studio Art. After teaching at Blair for two years, Staat suggested offering AP level Studio Art at Blair because she wanted more challenging art courses available to Blair students. "I had been told that if students wanted AP they were to apply to Einstein High School where the VAC (Visual Arts Center) was," she says. "I just thought that was not acceptable."
Before coming to Blair, Staat taught art at a myriad of colleges, including the Maryland College of Art and Design, so she felt well prepared to teach an AP Studio Art course. When Staat proposed offering an AP-level art course at Blair, other teachers were reluctant to institute a more difficult course. After being certified to teach the course, Staat finally had resource teacher Sara Josey's endorsement.
The very year AP Studio Art was introduced into the curriculum at Blair, Staat took up a position teaching at Einstein. "I wish I could have been [at Blair] this year but I was at the right place at the right time for this job," she says.
Implementation of AP Studio Art continued when Wilson agreed to teach it this year, although she was still unsure about whether or not she was prepared to teach the course. "For me, when I was asked to teach it, I was nervous," says Wilson. "It's really demanding."
The enrollment for AP Studio Art is not high this year, due to its recent installment and difficult course load, but many hope to take it later on. "It's a lot of work," says Fincher, who started taking the class but recently dropped out. "I want to focus more on my academics. [AP studio art] is something I want to take in my senior year."
You'd better love drawing
Atha never expected Studio Art to be so hard. "You have to draw a lot," she says. "It's constant sketching. I'm sketching every moment I can."
Just like any other AP class, AP Studio Art provides more challenges and work for those who feel up to the rigorous course requirements. "The AP kids always have more assignments," says Wilson. "Students have to be self-motivated. There's a lot more freedom involved."
The artistic independence the course offers to the students is what attracts them to AP-level class. "It's just a lot more work," says senior Krista Lee, "and going at a faster pace makes you concentrate more."
While students are assigned specific projects, just like students in other Studio Art classes, they also are given the freedom to experiment with different art styles. "Initially, I wanted everyone to dip their feet in different styles," says Wilson, "but eventually I'm hoping to let them become more independent and develop their own styles."
Not only are AP-level students given more freedom, but they are also given more assignments. "The difference overall," says Atha, "is the work produced. There is a lot more expected from you." Every piece that the students work on during the year can be used in their portfolio, the so-called "AP exam" for AP Studio Art.
A different kind of exam
Although AP students are given more freedom with their work, the class is structured around developing their portfolio, which is graded on a 1 to 5 scale just like any other AP exam.
There are three types of AP Studio Art classes outlined by the College Board — drawing, 3-D design and 2-D design — but Blair only offers drawing and 2-D design. "They don't really give us a syllabus," says Wilson, "but they outline the course and tell us what we need to follow."
AP Studio Art students are expected to compile a portfolio that contains 29 pieces, which is broken down into three sections. "First [category] is quality pieces; this is the student's five best pieces," Wilson says, "then there are 12 slides showing focus and 12 showing range."
Together, Wilson and the students choose the five pieces they created over the year that best show their mastery of art.
The 12 pieces that fall under the concentration, or focus, section must describe "an in-depth exploration of a particular design concern," according to the College Board AP Studio Art course guide. These pieces are submitted in slide form, a process that includes taking pictures of the pieces using slide-film.
The final section, breadth, is also comprised of 12 slides which show that the student has mastered the specific techniques of drawing, such as an effective use of light and shading. Pieces can be used in any section of the portfolio, so not necessarily 29 different pieces must be given.
"I would even argue that it's a tougher course than the college level," says Wilson, "because [during college] students aren't stretched over other courses. They can just focus on drawing."
For the love of art
The self-portrait — now complete — captures Atha's independent spirit. Her acrylic self stares defiantly out at the audience with bright green eyes and lips form in a small pout. A thick gash of deep red and bitter yellow supplements the otherwise dark background, making her pale skin stand out.
This self-portrait is only one of the many pieces Atha has created in AP Studio Art and she plans to create many more. "Right now I'm trying to find a theme to my work," she says, "something I feel a real connection with. Some message that I can try and communicate to my audience." She is now working on another acrylic painting, this one a "figure piece."
Atha hopes to continue working on this goal when she furthers her education in art at an "all-art college." "I've got three in mind now," says Atha, "the Visual Art Center [in New York], MICA—the Maryland Institute College of Art—and somewhere in Pennsylvania." She feels that taking AP Studio Art will help prepare her for taking art in college.
After college, Atha hopes to get a "paying job doing whatever" and paint in her spare time. "I've been doing art my entire life," she says with finality. "It's the only thing I have."
Mary Donahue. Mary Donahue is an 11th grade, vegetarian Honors student who is addicted to sugar. Whatever free time she can find is quickly swallowed up by Doback, "her" horse, or her crazy friends, with whom she scares mortals. She isn't happy unless she is moving, which … More »