Canvas to the screen: Visual arts adapt classes to virtual learning

Canvas to the screen: Visual arts adapt classes to virtual learning

Rowan Mally, Staff Writer

As students adjust to the new online style of learning as well as seeing their peers and teachers through a screen, the Visual Arts Department, arguably offering the most sensory-dependent courses in the school, has been working hard to bring the canvas to the screen.
Ceramics teacher Keith Renner noted the tangible differences the transition to HM Online has posed. “Of course we do not have clay to work with over Zoom,” he said. Yet while Renner may be missing a principal aspect of his class, he has found different outlets to keep his students engaged.
“I am using a mix of Zoom meetings to check in with students and answer any questions while posting assignments on Google Classroom,” Renner said. “Soon Zoom will also be used for demonstrations to accompany posted ‘hands-on’ assignments,” he added.
In her online classes, Natalie Sweet (11) has been reading articles and powerpoints about “some of the fundamentals behind the craft,” she said.
While Renner greatly misses seeing his students in the ceramics studio, he hopes to use this time away from clay to expose students to aspects of the ceramics experience that his students do not experience during a typical school year.
Ceramics student Scarlett Goldberg (10) sees this time away from the studio as a learning experience. “Although I miss being able to freely express myself in the studio, when I get back I will certainly appreciate what we have even more.”
Similarly, while Film/Video and Photography teacher Jordan Rathus said that she misses her daily interactions with students, she looks to make the best of the situation. “So far, I have less time for organic exploration within a class,” Rathus said. “It has been so great to see my students again, even if it’s not in person. Their senses of humor are now coming through in ways I would not have foreseen.”
Though unable to work with her students in person, Rathus assigns hands-on projects digitally, which document the historic period we are living through. Her Filmmaking 1 students are creating video portraits of their generation by using found footage and screen recordings, while her Filmmaking 2 students are creating documentaries.
While Rathus has already mapped out assignments for her students, she said that HM Online can create unprecedented challenges. “I’m not sure how possible our usual pattern of artistic improvisation will be in this context,” she said. “That is something I still need to figure out.”
While the virtual format of school may be strikingly different, physical and virtual schooldays do have similarities, Art History teacher Avram Schlesinger said. “My quiet A period class was still quiet and my rowdy E period class was still rowdy. It is hilarious to see online behavior was the same as our everyday,” he said.
Yet Schlesinger said that he still misses the ease of daily interaction with students. “I became a teacher to work with students and see them in the halls and chat even on the fly as we pass one another,” he said. “So I guess that is the biggest challenge, trying to find ways to ‘recreate’ that.”
While the new digital teaching format has been a hurdle, Drawing and Painting teacher Kim Do has seen the transition as “fairly smooth,” he said.
“We’re making it work,” Do said. Drawing and Painting student Ella Franco (10) focused on the consistent upbeat nature of the class. “Even through Zoom we are still enjoying ourselves like we were in the studio,” she said.
Renner is trying to take a positive approach to this drastic change. “I’m seeing HM Online as an opportunity to connect with the students and continue their studies in ceramics in a different way,” he said. “It’s all-new, and there is a lot to work out, but we are all in this adventure together!”