On a chilly Monday morning, the students arrived in the sixth-floor studio ready to express themselves creatively. As they gathered their materials and equipment – a box of watercolor pencils, a mirror, an x-acto knife, a light box – and settled into a deep concentration around the large work table, it quickly became clear to this writer that this was not a typical art class. Rather, these motivated students were pushing their talent and vision to thrilling new levels.
Taught by Duane Neil, Senior Art Portfolio and Exhibition is a recently redesigned and enhanced year-long course for accomplished Upper School students who have taken at least four terms of studio art. A consultation with Mr. Neil and a special application form is necessary to enroll.
“This is a very independent class,” explained Mr. Neil. “The students create art through a variety of assignments based around their areas of interest.” An early assignment, for example, centered on studies in black and white.
With only the quiet hum of a radio program punctuating the air, the students worked intently on their projects, pausing only to answer questions or to elaborate on their process. Mr. Neil allows his students unencumbered creative freedom, while remaining available to them for guidance and support.
With photography as her chosen medium, one student cut two of her black-and-white photographs into long, thin strips and meticulously laced the pieces together to form a strikingly textured work. Across from her, another student concentrated on a delicate self-portrait using a graphite pencil. She both gazed into a small stand-up mirror and found inspiration from a woman’s face – drawn by a notable Japanese artist – projected on her laptop. Although this version was in pencil, she planned to later embellish the drawing with colors.
For her black-and-white endeavor, a third student applied white pencil to black paper to create an arresting piece she described as “an exploration of insomnia.” Jagged lines filled the paper’s background. At its center, an imaginatively drawn girl with “crazy eyes” and a swarm of butterflies on her skin stared off into the distance.
To further expand their studies, students in this advanced class, which replaced the previously offered AP Art Portfolio, are required to visit a selection of New York’s cultural institutions each term and to complete a “gallery report” of their viewings. In addition, along with their studio work, the students are expected to research and write an 8-10 page paper that highlights a contemporary or historical figure whose work relates to their specific focus area.
During the spring term, after completing approximately 20 high-quality pieces, the students will embark on the process of curating their portfolios, which will culminate in an exhibition for the entire school community to enjoy. Fortified with new skills, perspectives and confidence, these students plan to continue making their artistic marks.
One, for example, aspires to devote her work to celebrating a cherished Chapin partnership. “I hope to create a book and an exhibition containing images and interviews from the Kibera School for Girls,” the student commented, referring to Chapin’s sister school in Kenya, where she has visited with her family and taken photographs. “I want to create this book to leave at Chapin so prospective visitors can have a concrete understanding of the importance of our relationship with SHOFCO (Shining Hope Opportunity for Communities),” which is the non-profit organization that established the school.
Another student has more open-ended objectives: “Over the course of this year, my main goal is to find what I like about drawing specifically. I want to hone my skills into an artistic theme that I am passionate about. I haven’t found that yet, but I am hoping that I will become truly inspired into following a specific theme,” she said. “In addition, I want to develop my skills in managing my time while creating my art pieces and also being exposed to new projects and experiences.”
At noon, when the day’s class concluded, the artists, who are making the most of this immersive, self-directed course, put away their impressive works-in-progress and headed off to their next periods.
Browse photos from the class below: