Visual arts: We’re not in grade school anymore

John Ellis

Why do so many people struggle with high school art classes?  According to Wendy Keith-Ott the answer is simply, “It’s a lot of work.”

Keith-Ott looks over the shoulder of Art three student, Somer Benton. The class focuses on their model for an extended figure drawing pose and waits for Keith-Ott to make any necessary comments or corrections.

Keith-Ott is an 18-year veteran art teacher, and runs Decatur’s visual arts department solo.  As an artist herself, she’s more than aware of the dedication and commitment that fine art demands.

“In art you have to show everything you do, it’s not like you can study,” she said in between lessons. “There’s no short cuts. There’s no workarounds.  It’s a lot of time with your hands on the work,” she slaps the desk in rhythm with her last four words for emphasis.

Since Keith-Ott’s been at Decatur since the late ’90s, she’s experienced high school student’s misconceptions of her classes’ level of difficulty firsthand.  

“Art one is the class where people don’t know what they’re expecting it to be like, so many people think it’ll be similar to elementary school.  Some people think it’ll be easy, but they don’t know.”

After art one, classes become exponentially more strenuous with the course’s level of difficulty plateauing after first and second year IB Art.

Junior Claire Kiely sits focused on her workbook during third period. Focusing all of her work on a singular theme, “Animals” has proved challenging yet engaging for her.

Due to the academic and artistic demand that the two-year class comes with, the largest class size Keith-Ott has ever taught was five.  For the 2016-2017 school year, she’s planning on teaching around 10.  

“[In IB Art] all of your practice, all of your research, all of your experimentation, all of your planning – it all has to show,” Keith-Ott said.

Junior Taylor Jones is knee-deep in IB Diploma program work, and claims that IB Art is one of her hardest classes.

Unlike her classmates, Jones went straight from Art one as a sophomore to IB Art her junior year.

“It’s definitely been one of the most difficult tasks for me,” Jones said while looking up from her sketchbook. “Figuring out everything was hard. I had to learn a lot of different art styles and forms through research.”

Due to the small number of people taking in IB Art, students like Jones have to share space with Art three and four classes.  Keith-Ott works with Jones and other IB artists while the rest of her class works on their independent work.

Don’t be discouraged from signing up for art classes at Decatur. Just remember Keith-Ott’s wise words, “All of it takes time.”