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Monthly Archives: November 2016

6 Reasons to Study Art in High School

1. The internet has created an explosion of opportunity for digital designers and multimedia artists

The world is filled with computers, smartphones, tablets and other portable electronic devices. Almost all businesses have an online presence, with online advertising increasing by the day. We are connected to the internet for long periods, seeking information, socialising, playing, shopping, watching videos and engaging in other forms of online entertainment. The demand for web designers, app designers, software designers, graphic designers, digital illustrators, multimedia artists, video producers, online publishers, animation artists, game designers and many other digital careers is undergoing unprecedented growth.

An Australian study analysing national census data, found that the number of people working in art-related roles that are embedded within other professions (i.e. visual designers working in other industries) has almost doubled in size between 1996 and 2006.

While Art continues to be a desirable option for students wishing to pursue ‘traditional’ creative careers, such as Architecture, Interior Design or Painting / Fine Art related professions, the internet has seen an explosion of exciting, new roles emerge.

2. Fine artists can reach a worldwide market at the click of a button

For the first time ever, those who make fine art, sculptures, photographs, fashion garments and other hand-crafted products are able to market and sell these directly to the public – on a large scale – without going through a third-party such as a gallery. Marketing and selling products via an artist website or print-on-demand facility enables artists to ship printed images and products to an audience that would previously never have known they existed. Instead of institutions or established galleries deciding which artworks ‘make it’, the public votes work into the spotlight through viral sharing on social media.

This doesn’t mean that making a living in these fields is easy. Competition remains tough, with an oversupply of those wishing to work in a creative field. Success will always require skill, commitment, dedication and good business sense. Nonetheless, the playing field has been levelled. A multitude of individuals are able to make their living in creative ways that were previously rarely possible. Creators of original content often have the upper hand.

3. High school students can achieve recognition while studying

Part of the joy of a high school Art course is that you don’t just study Art: you make it. Those who are skilful, driven and passionate – and produce high quality, gut-wrenching work – are in a position to achieve recognition even while studying. With broadband streaming into your living room, youth is no longer a barrier to success.

4. Those with a wide skill set have an advantage, in any career

Some people excel at mathematics. Others have strengths in written language. Others excel in creative areas such as Art and Design. If you are lucky enough to excel in two or three of these areas, you are part of a much smaller subset of the population. Those who are multi-skilled are astronomically more useful, well-rounded, hireable and capable of excelling in a much wider range of professions. Unless you are aiming for a degree that requires particular specialism (university websites clearly outline recommended and required subjects), it can be beneficial to select a wide range of subjects.

5. Studying Art improves performance in other subjects

James Catterall, leading professor and Chair of the Faculty at the UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies, has studied 12,000 students over twelve years. His research demonstrates that involvement in the arts (both Visual Art and Performing Art) – especially for students from a low-income background – is associated with higher levels of attainment in both high school and university. Catterall also notes that studying the arts can have other positive benefits such as greater involvement in community service. (More information can be found in his book Doing Well and Doing Good by Doing Art – affiliate link).

Art enhances fine motor skills, hand-eye coordination, problem solving skills, lateral thinking, complex analysis and critical thinking skills. No matter what career you choose, those who can arrange, present and display material in a way that is aesthetically pleasing have an advantage.

6. Good marks impress, no matter what

Outstanding marks, in any subject, indicate skill; intellectual rigour; strong work ethic and a commitment to fulfilling one’s potential. All of these things are desirable traits in an employee or university applicant.

Most medical schools prefer that you study Chemistry and Biology over Art – but this does not mean that Art is any less valuable: it means that it is less valuable for medical students. For the vast majority of university degrees, taking an art-related subject alongside other subjects will not disadvantage you (this is a popular topic of debate in the UK’s Student Room, however the official representatives from twenty six UK universities who spoke to The Guardian confirm that, aside from the stated required or recommended subjects for each degree, no subjects are looked upon favourably when considering an applicant for UK universities).

Top 7 Art Mistakes

Thinking Art will be an entertaining, ‘filler’ subject

Many students select Art thinking that it will be a fun subject where you hurl a bit of paint around and scribble with brightly coloured crayons. Students who enter under this misconception suffer a very quick wake-up call. Art can indeed be fun, but it is also an unimaginable amount of work. It requires constant and ongoing effort. Many students spend more time on their Art homework than they do on all of their other subjects put together. Art should be taken for one reason only: because playing with line and tone and shape and form and texture and colour fills you with joy. If you don’t love making art, your subject selection will torment you. Art will become your demon: the subject you resent with a passion, instead of enjoy.

Taking too long to begin

Some students are struck with a fear that they don’t have an original starting point or that they haven’t interpreted their exam topic in quite the right way. They spend weeks fretting over their topic selection and worrying whether it is good enough. Here’s the truth: it’s not the idea that matters – it’s what you do with it. Even the lamest beginnings can become draw-droppingly amazing if they are developed in the right way, with reference to the right artist models (visit our Pinterest Boards for artist ideas). Delaying your project in the hope of stumbling upon a ‘perfect’ topic rarely works: instead it results in panicked, last-minute submissions that are a pale shadow of what they could have been, had the full allotment of time been used. Great high school Art portfolios (in almost all cases) need time. Do yourself a favour and begin.

Producing weak or uninspiring compositions

Compositional errors can be broken into the following four categories:

  • Cheesy: Surprisingly, there are still students who attempt to create artworks containing hearts; glitter; prancing horses; leaping dolphins or bunches of roses. Overly ‘pretty’, cliché and/or unimaginative subjects are rarely successful.
  • Boring: Those who select appropriate but common subject-matter (i.e. portraits) but make no effort to compose these in an innovative way, do themselves no favours. Even highly able students sometimes submit projects that make an examiner want to yawn. (A less able student, on the other hand, with exciting ideas and clever compositions, can make an examiner sit up and take notice).
  • Simple: Another common compositional error – usually evident in weaker students – is to avoid complex / challenging arrangements and/or choose a scene that is completely ‘flat’ or formless (i.e. an enlarged detail of a brick wall or a cloudy sky). This is unlikely to give you sufficient opportunity to render complex three-dimensional form and runs the risk of limiting or stifling your project.
  • Unbalanced: Every image, page and preparatory component of your high school Art project should be arranged in a well-balanced, aesthetically pleasing way. This can be a challenge for some, but certain principles – and directing conscious attention to composition – make this easier. (More on composition in an upcoming article).

Flaunting poor skills

Struggling with a practical aspect of Art is not a mistake (no one is perfect; everyone is in the process of improving their skills and becoming better) but flaunting your weaknesses to the examiner is. Remove weak pieces and ensure that you present your skills in the best light. If you are messy and struggle to control paint, choose an artist model that allows you to apply gestural, expressive brush strokes, so it appears that your lack of control is intentional (this will allow you to continue practising with wet mediums, rather than avoiding them completely). If you struggle to draw realistically, Read 11 Tips for Creating Excellent Observational Drawings and consider embracing gestural drawing, distortion, manipulation or semi-abstraction. Showcase your strengths and use these as a distractive mechanism, while confronting your weaknesses head-on.

Failing to show development

Many Art qualifications (i.e. IGCSE, GCSE, NCEA and A Level Art) ask students to develop ideas from initial concept/s to final piece. Difficulties with development usually present themselves in two forms: submitting a body of unrelated work ORsubmitting work that doesn’t develop at all. We have written an in-depth article about development to to help those who struggle with this (it was written for A Level Art students, but it applies to other Art qualifications also): this is one of the most important articles on this website.

Continually restarting work

Those who take Art are often the perfectionist type, wanting every aspect of their portfolio to be perfect. This ambition is great – in fact, most teachers wish this was a more widely-held attitude – however the mechanisms for achieving this are often flawed. Continually restarting pieces of work is not a good idea. It is rare that a drawing, painting or mixed-media piece cannot be worked upon and improved. In almost all cases, initial ‘bad’ layers give an artwork substance, resulting in a richer final piece (see this article about working over grounds for more). Those who habitually restart work have less time to complete the second piece and often end up with a folder of semi-complete pieces, none of which truly represent their skill in the best light.

Drawing from second-hand sources

Drawing or painting from images taken by others is one of the most risky strategies a high school Art student can use. It sets off alarm bells for the examiner, as it can indicate a lack of personal connection to a topic, a lack of originality, plagiarism issues and result in superficial / surface-deep work. Using images sourced from magazines, books and the internet screams of one thing: a student who cannot get off their backside long enough to find something of their own to draw. NOTE: This is a guideline only. There are certain art projects – some of which are featured on this website – in which drawing from second-hand resources is acceptable. In general, however, this is something that should be approached with extreme care.

Tips to Stop Procrastinating

How to get your Art homework done: a no-nonsense guide

1. Get a wall planner

Not a calendar, diary, smartphone app, or a dog-eared handout tucked at the back of your sketchbook. A clear wall planner that is the first thing you see when you wake and the last thing you see before you fall asleep at night. In bold marker pen – highlight your project due dates and cross off the days that have gone.

2. Tidy your bedroom

To make great art you need an inspiring, well lit place to work, where you can spread out art supplies, tools and mess. If your bedroom is unsuitable, use a spare room, or stay late at school and work in the school art room instead. (Your teachers won’t mind. They will be deliriously happy).

3. Rid your workspace of all distraction

Turn off the internet; turn off the TV; put your phone on silent and put it out of sight. Forget about reading articles about how to avoid procrastination (like this one) and turn the music on instead. Crank it right up and let it fill your soul.

4. Pin blank sheets of paper onto the wall to represent the quantity of work that you have to complete

For example, if you are aiming to complete six A1 sheets of Coursework preparation, pin six A1 sheets up on your wall (NOTE: ten is the maximum for CIE Art & Design A Level students – it is perfectly acceptable to submit less). These sheets can be scrappy bits of paper or card: they should not the final presentation sheets, as they will get tattered and messy. Pin all of the work that you have done onto the sheets – including pieces that are incomplete and barely begun. (If you are working in a sketchbook, blutack all of your work-in-progress into the book). This allows you to get an immediate snapshot of how much you have done and how much you still have to go. In all my years of teaching, this visual representation of progress is the single thing that motivates students the most.

5. Look hard at what you have done…and work out what to do next

For some, this might be improving an existing artwork; for others it might be beginning something new. For many it should involve working in series (working on several works concurrently). This avoids the need to wait for paint to dry and allows similar colours and materials to be used in several works at once. When selecting which piece/s to work on, remember that you should:

  • Focus on the things that will get you the most marks. In other words, not page headings or borders. Not sharpening pencils or carefully premixing colours of paint. Don’t spend time writing tonnes of notes if the drawings are barely complete.  Work instead on the gutsy, important pieces and work on these until they are done.
  • Decide quickly. If you are unsure what to work on, just pick something. Then, when you next have class, ask your teacher.
  • Don’t write a checklist or obsessively chart your goals. In almost all cases, lists and their endless variations are just procrastination measures. The time you spend on writing a list and organising what you should do, would be better spent actually doing it. (NOTE: Any thinking you need to do can be done while you are creating. This is the perfect time to be planning how to improve / develop / extend your project. If you want to record your thoughts, just grab a sketchbook page and scribble the idea down when it comes to you).

6. And lastly, most importantly, pick up your pencil or paintbrush and START!

Even if you are disheartened at the amount of work that is required and feel that Art homework is taking over your life, remember that there is something inherently wondrous about putting marks on paper (or sculpting or composing three-dimensional form or whatever it is that you do). Unlike other high school subjects, where you have to commit facts to memory and regurgitate these in various contexts to demonstrate your understanding, in Art you get to play. Forget about everything else and concentrate instead on the joy of making: the thrill of smearing line and colour and texture about a page. Even if your teacher has instructed you to draw the most heinous still life imaginable, pour your teenage angst and heartache into it the work and turn it into something that really matters (i.e. explore the still life in a way that makes it personal to you). Take a deep breath and start. And after a little while, you’ll realise something awesome. The motivation you have been looking for all of this time comes with the doing. It is not some magical quality that you need to find before you begin: in starting, the motivation finds you. It snowballs, wraps you up in enthusiasm and builds momentum. To eliminate procrastination you just have to do something simple. You have to put down this article and begin.

Cool Art Project Idea

This is a concise article, aimed at helping students generate ‘cool’ art project ideas. What follows is a list of art project ideas that might be suitable starting points for those studying high school qualifications such as GCSE, IGCSE or A Level Art.

These ideas have been collated from students, teachers, artists, examination papers and from those kind enough to comment on the Student Art Guide. This list is largely aimed at helping the brainstorming process, prompting original thought and spurring a student into thinking creatively. The suggestions are primarily subject-matter orientated (i.e. based upon a physical object or scene) and do not begin to address the theme or message –  something that is as important as the subject itself. For those students who need more in-depth direction and guidance in this area, I recommend reading the accompanying guide for selecting good A Level Art project ideas. Students may also like to read this list of possible Art exam topic interpretations.

Creative Art Project Ideas

  • Chickens in cages
  • Pigs in pens
  • Discarded / rubbish
  • Abuse
  • Alcoholism
  • Drugs
  • Bullying
  • Self-harm
  • Binge eating
  • Sugar and the malnourished obese
  • Corn husks
  • Banana skins
  • A carcass, turning on a spit
  • Hunting
  • Train stations
  • Toilets / broken, dirty, graffiti-covered
  • Mice in experiments
  • Students in an examination room
  • Students in a classroom
  • A dead sheep
  • A herd of cows
  • A milking shed
  • An abattoir
  • Aerial view of a city
  • A slice through the brain
  • Bone collections
  • The art room sink
  • A hospital
  • Newborn baby
  • At the dentist
  • Meat
  • A factory scene / manual labour
  • The photographer
  • Weird things in jars
  • Manipulation of scale (tiny humans in an over-sized setting)
  • Cancer
  • Snapshot moments
  • Moving house
  • Urban decay
  • Out the window
  • Merry go round / at the fair
  • Painted faces
  • Running marathons