Visual arts JanTerms expand students’ perceptions of art

JanTerm’s inaugural year gave teachers the chance to lead an intensive class on a subject of their choosing, and it allowed students to spend three weeks immersed in a subject that they wouldn’t have learned about in a traditional classroom setting. For students in JanTerm classes dealing with visual arts, JanTerm afforded them the special opportunity to focus exclusively on art for three weeks.

“The students- even the ones who love art- I’m sure it doesn’t feel like their primary focus during the school year when they have five academic classes,” said Painting with a Purpose teacher Ben Steele. “What’s been amazing about JanTerm is seeing how much they can devote to their art and how much they can accomplish in one day.”

The five JanTerm classes that combined visual arts with other disciplines were The Devil Wears Lulu: The Craft and Business of Fashion, Electronic Fashion: E-textiles and Wearable Computers, Painting with a Purpose: History and Practice of Painting, Street Art Statements: Printmaking for Purpose, and Wilderness, Photography, and American Culture. This selection of visual arts-rooted classes allowed students to explore how art manifests itself in a variety of settings, from social activism to the fashion world. Consequently, students gained exposure to the myriad ways that art is involved in the real world.

For example, students in The Devil Wears Lulu learned about art through the lens of the fashion industry. They spent time analyzing America’s Next Top Model, interviewing people with jobs in fashion, and studying the history of garments. All built up to a final project where students had the freedom to pursue fashion in a creative way that interested them.

“The fashion industry has so many different aspects which leaves so many diverse routes to research and go in depth into,” said sophomore Katharine DeGolian. “Some of the ideas our class has come up with for our final projects include running a fashion show, designing and constructing garments, creating an online blog or magazine and having a photo shoot.”

The class greatly benefitted from the help of guest speakers who helped expose the breadth of possibility in the visual arts world.      “We hosted Claire Coleman, a Westminster alumna who is currently pursuing a career in fashion design and is in her first year at Parsons, Missy Maude, who created and runs her own clothing line business, Bespoke Atlanta, a company which styles men and women through consultation and personal shopping, Sonia Dara, a former model for Sports Illustrated and other companies, and Tom Chubb, CEO for Oxford Industries, Inc., a clothing company which owns several companies, including Lilly Pulitzer,” said The Devil Wears Lulu teacher Tiffany Boozer. “The students also interviewed by phone or video over 15 individuals in the fashion world and presented their findings, learning both about the fashion world and about interviewing in the professional world.”

Likewise, other visual arts-based JanTerms allowed students to be creative and express their interests, but in wildly different ways. In Street Art Statements, students chose a scientific issue and spent the first few nights researching their chosen topic before diving into making prints that reflected the issue.

“Once we knew more about our topic, we drew sketches for the prints that we’d been working on,” said sophomore Marianna Spiotta. “It was really difficult to come up with ideas for our prints that conveyed our topic in a way that wasn’t so literal and allowed the viewers to think for themselves.”

Painting with a Purpose is another example of a JanTerm class that gave students a chance to explore art as a tool for communication and social activism, but through a more traditional medium than fashion design or printmaking- painting.

“It’s a service-based painting class,” said Steele. “When you think about all the artists who have worked to promote a social cause, there are actually tons of examples. We talk about all of the different ways an artist could portray a cause.”

Students were encouraged to choose a topic that sparked their interest.

“We came into the first day of class with an idea of a social passion of ours,” said junior Emma Scott. “I decided to move forward toward chronic diseases and chose arthritis. I chose arthritis because it is extremely overlooked in our society when so many people experience it.”

Since all students entered the class with different levels of painting experience, the first project helped to teach everyone the basics of painting and served as an introduction to using the discipline to advocate for social change.

“For the first project we did, we thought about our topic and got an object that represented our topic best, and painted it with acrylics on canvas that we stretched ourselves. That was basic painting to help everyone get used to it,” said sophomore Sam Linkon. “The second thing we did was a found-surface project. We brought in all sorts of materials—I brought in a door—and painted on it and did cool stuff with it.”

Though many students came into Painting with a Purpose with some experience painting, most students in Electronic Fashion were exposed to an entirely new and modern medium of art. Students in this class learned to use technology and design hand-in-hand to create exciting results. Instead of using more conventional paintbrushes or cameras to create their artwork, Electronic Fashion students used their new knowledge of coding.

“At the beginning, it was pretty much a crash course on circuitry and coding,” said freshman Evelyn Stafford. “ But in the second week, we focused more on the fashion side and how aesthetics play into the design of our garment.”

Ultimately, Electronic Fashion students used coding and fashion sense to design an item of clothing that lights up, using a very modern technology to create beautiful art.

Similarly, those who took Wilderness, Photography, and American Culture discovered the benefits of using modern technology as an art form. Students in this class used cameras as their way to capture the beauty of the natural world. Along the way, they found where wilderness photography intersects with history and culture in America.

“We’ve spent a lot of time on the history aspect of our subject,” said junior Gigi Pavur. “We’ve talked about how national parks are formed and the differences between conservation and preservation. It’s cool that we’ve gotten to read different people’s opinions on wilderness and then gotten to go experience it for ourselves.”

Pavur was speaking to an aspect of JanTerm that was valuable to every class—field trips! While Wilderness Photography took numerous off campus trips to experience the splendor of the natural world, all JanTerm classes utilized field trips and guest speakers to gain a broader understanding of their subject. In particular, visual arts JanTerms used these interactions with the outside world to expose Westminster students to Atlanta’s prominent art community. During the regular school year, time constraints often hold art classes back from experiencing art in Atlanta. But with three weeks to focus on just one class, visual arts JanTerms had ample time to learn about art from experts and see it for themselves.

Teachers were innovative in how they used off-campus experiences to help their students learn. “To help with researching their cause, students interviewed someone from a nonprofit, conducted a survey, and did an observation at an event relating to their cause,” said Steele. “All of these are ways of getting the students out into the community to see how their cause is championed.”

After three weeks of intense learning and creativity, visual arts JanTerms wrapped up their final projects with panache.              The Devil Wears Lulu and Electronic Fashion collaborated to form a joint fashion show on Jan. 22 showcasing what they created in their classes.

 “I modeled a skirt designed and sewn by [senoir] Hannah Gay and [freshman] Claire O’Connor in the show,” said sophomore Emma McMorran. “It was a fun conclusion to the class.”

Street Art Statements and Electronic Fashion ended their classes with an art show at the Arts Exchange at Grant Park on January 24th, while Wilderness Photography students displayed the fruits of their labors in Pressly Foyer on Jan. 23.

“It was nice to see work I was proud of displayed,” said junior Drew Borders, who took Wilderness Photography, “and I enjoyed answering questions about where we were when we took them or what the challenges were for each photo.”

These events celebrated the hard work that the students put into creating their work, and also what they learned about art and the creative process.

“Our show was cool because viewers were able to see how different everyone’s styles were. Photographs taken at the exact same place by different people would look nothing alike,” said Kathleen LeBreton, a junior in Wilderness Photography. “It was nice to receive public recognition for our work.”

All of the visual arts JanTerm classes gave students the opportunity to create something meaningful, learn to think about art in a different, more expansive way, and devote themselves fully to a subject that is often deemed unimportant in the academic world. Teachers hope the lessons visual arts students learned in JanTerm will foster a love of visual arts and creativity for years to come.