The blank canvas lays in front of her. She picks up the paintbrush and grazes the surface, alternating between yellow and baby blue paint. Soon, her creative ideas come to life. What was once just white space disappears as various colors and designs overtake the page.
Senior Hayden Gemmel has been creating art ever since she can remember. This year, Gemmel has made art the focus of her schedule, taking AP Studio Art and AP Art History.
“I didn’t have the opportunity to take any art classes my freshman or sophomore year, which was really hard, because I was at Catholic school in Florida and there wasn’t enough room in my schedule. Coming to [Redwood] and being able to take art classes in this environment and this amazing classroom makes me feel so fortunate,” Gemmel said.
Artwork by Senior Hayden Gemmel.
At Redwood, every student is required to take a minimum of one year of a visual or performing arts class, but according to a recent self-reported Bark survey, only eight percent of students are taking three years of art.
Art Explorations is the prerequisite for all visual arts electives. According to Redwood’s visual arts department website, the course is usually taken in the freshman or sophomore year, and will satisfy five of the district’s 10 units for the fine arts graduation requirement. After taking Art Explorations, students can choose from the electives of Ceramics and Sculpture, Graphic Design, Drawing and Painting, Photography and Cinematography and AP Art History.
Unlike Gemmel, who found her artistic passion and planned her classes accordingly, some students see the visual or performing arts as just another requirement to fulfill.
Although students can complete their art requirements at College of Marin, in the past Redwood has offered an alternative to taking art during a regular school day in the form of Artist’s Voice, an art class taking place at night, once a week after school. Artist’s Voice was approved in 2001 and then updated in 2010. Last year it was held every Wednesday for three hours.
According to visual art teacher Lauren Bartone, Artist’s Voice is a solution for juggling academics with art classes. Although she loves teaching her discipline, she said she understands the pressure and stress students face.
“[Artist’s Voice] has always been an awesome class and I get a lot of students that are maybe really committed drama students but they also love visual arts or they’re committed music students and they don’t have time to take another elective during the day, so having a class like that really helps,” Bartone said.
A lack of student sign-ups stalled the program, resulting in the discontinuation of the class this year. But according to Bartone, Artist’s Voice was a great way for the community to come together outside of school and hopes the elective returns.
Senior Taylor Conti sketches streets in London.
According to a recent self-reported Bark survey, 41 percent of Redwood students wish they could take more years of art and 51 percent say that the core subjects are stopping them from taking the art classes that they would like to take.
“In past years, when I taught Artist’s Voice, we have worked a lot in that class to create a stronger community for the visual arts. Visual arts are one of those things that’s kind of invisible at Redwood,” Bartone said.
Not many students are aware that the Artist’s Voice class existed, which is part of the reason it wasn’t made into an official class for the 2017-18 school year, according to Bartone. Nevertheless, art teachers are working to incorporate outside of school events so the Redwood community can become involved and learn about the art being created by students.
“We’ve been working hard to create public events where we invite other parts of the Redwood community in to see things or even to make art with us,” Bartone said. “We used to have these open studio art parties where we would invite family members in to be able to see what people are doing and maybe try it and have art-making activities happen.”
Gemmel, one of Bartone's students, enjoyed Artist’s Voice last year as well as the events it put on, but believes that there should still be more opportunities for students to showcase their work.
Artwork by Senior Hayden Gemmel.
“I like how we hang the work in the halls, but I definitely think once a semester or twice a semester, a gallery-type show should happen where we can pick one piece from our concentration and explain them and show them,” Gemmel said. “I feel like there should be more opportunity for everyone’s art to be seen, because there is so much good art happening in here.”
According to art teacher Nikki Mortham, the success of many artists within the Redwood community may be partially due to the ample resources available to them. Mortham began teaching at Redwood in 2014, but before that she worked at schools with much more limited funding.
“We’re so fortunate to have so many resources at this school and because of that it would be a shame not to take advantage of them,” Mortham said.
Mortham has taught photography, ceramics, stained glass, graphic design and drawing and painting throughout her career.
“Most of the kids I talk to don’t even know that we have AP Art. This isn’t just this fluff fun class you take with all your real classes,” Mortham said. “The idea of being creative and innovative and that you learn from the arts is going to apply to any job, major, whatever you're going to do in the future. It's going to be valuable.”
Artwork by Senior Hayden Gemmel.
Mortham said she finds inspiration for her classes from various sources. Because her class is different each year, she has to find new projects that will keep her students engaged.
“The curriculum is always molding and changing and I get influenced when I go to art shows because there I’ll see a really cool piece and I’ll try to make it into a project for the kids to do. We really try to play and keep up with trends and things that are happening that will pique the kids’ interests more,” Mortham said.
Both Mortham and Bartone said students have a hard time taking a risk. They believe that students are afraid of being bad at something that others might be great at.
“I wish that more students knew that inside of our art classes we have all different kinds of people making all different kinds of art with all different kinds of opinions and levels, and that art classes are really about practicing skills until you get confident,” Bartone said.
Senior Eileen Bettinger blends several colors to paint a portrait for her AP Studio art class.
According to Bartone, Redwood students are academically pressured into feeling that there is only one path to being successful. They hear that their peers are taking more academically demanding classes and think that is the way to succeed. They forget that the arts also exist and are so easily accessible.
“A lot of parents don’t push their kids to start doing art when they are young, so they don’t discover it until they reach a high school requirement where they have to take an art class,” Gemmel said. “I would say learn as much as you can when you start out, and if you’re interested in it and like it, you can find a way to integrate it into your schedule and into your life.”