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Developing the idea of Art: UWCSEA's High School Art programme links directly to the UWCSEA student profile

John Widder, Former Head of High School Art, Dover Campus
15 November 2016

The recent High School Visual Art exhibition on Dover Campus was a showcase of art in a variety of forms, including portraiture, sculpture, installation, drawing and more. Filled to almost overflowing, the Main Hall was transformed into a gallery by students in Grade 9 to 12 exhibiting their work.

While in past years, the exhibition has asked students to outline 'What was your philosophy'; this year further developed the idea to provide more than simply an opportunity for students to display their finished work. As hinted at by the exhibition title 'The Journey is the Destination', the exhibition encouraged each student to explain their creative process, by describing the ways in which they take their ideas from inception to a fully formed work.

All students in the College take art as a double period each week until Grade 8. In the High School, the curriculum then offers options for students to pursue art courses in depth in both the (I)GCSE and in the IB DP.

An emphasis in these courses is on analysis, both written and visual, as key phases in the creation and execution of ideas. Students are encouraged to break their ideas into individual elements, and to look at the sequence of creation, including final evaluation. Peer review and critique is also a critical part of the course; students are encouraged to receive and incorporate feedback from peers as part of the development of their projects. This is important, as it attempts to approximate 'real world' situations, in which artists need to consider 'does this idea work for these people, in this situation, at this time?' and 'how can I further refine it to make meaning?'

A portraits and painting unit in Grade 9 leads to more varied art forms in Grade 10 and beyond, as students are encouraged to move away from more traditional mediums. This helps develop the idea of divergent and convergent problem solving, which is introduced to students in Grade 10, as students consider options for mediums for realizing their ideas. The IB DP Art course in Grade 11 and 12 is a highly personal one; students are able to individualize the curriculum by pursuing and exploring their ideas.

Head of Visual Art at UWCSEA Dover John Widder believes that the success of the Visual Art programme is interrelated with the strength of the rest of the educational programme offered at UWCSEA. The way in which the programme develops thinking and open mindedness enables students to engage in the art programme in a way in which supports them in developing skills in analysis, and development of individualized expression. He cites the examples of the strong English and Drama programmes among others, as key to helping to inform students about the world around them, and engage them in thinking about process and message. As a teacher of visual art, it is easy to teach about colours; the more challenging part of the process is encouraging students to think about the 'why,' and this is one of the areas that the UWCSEA programme contributes to so successfully.

The success of the Visual Art programme is evident in the high success rate of acceptances into leading Art schools around the world; however the course also leads to other fields - in recent years there has been a trend for UWCSEA Dover students to pursue architecture.