The coronavirus pandemic has changed Concord Academy’s courses drastically. Visual arts classes are among the ones that had to change the most. Before the pandemic, visual arts classes at CA required lots of in-person interactions, and students usually worked in a small space like a studio or a darkroom where social distancing is hard to maintain. Faculty at CA worked very hard to maintain the quality of art classes in an online environment.
“Are the classes different from how they have been when we’ve been in person? The answer is: yes, radically different.” Cynthia Katz, the photography teacher at CA, made this comment. Her photography class changed dramatically under the virtual, remote conditions due to various reasons. “The most radical thing that has been different is that we’re not in the darkroom… and making objects. Photographers and artists make things, they make objects. [However], we’re not making objects [now]. We’re doing things that are image based, but we’re not actually then turning them into tangible images that are objects.”
Chris Rowe, who teaches Drawing, Sculpture, Architecture and Art History at CA, mentions a similar problem: “Now, you take away this studio, and you suddenly have to do this online. You’ve kind of taken our powerful tool as art teachers.” In the completely new environment, art teachers start to change the way they teach and reinvent their courses.
The biggest challenge that the faculty face is the length of the class. In the new STAC system, the over ten weeks long art classes are compressed into five weeks. “STACs are like sprints whereas semesters are like long distance runs. And I think that, especially in an art class, a lot of what we learn comes from failure, and then figuring out how to change the game and how to make new work that’s on a better place. There’s not a lot of time for failure in a five week period of time.” To solve this problem, teachers need to redesign their courses by focusing on the essence of the class. For example, Cynthia resorted to teaching students how to take pictures on smartphones, which could create more “immediate” photos. She changed the presentation project of a photography book into one about a certain photographer since books are unavailable in this situation.
Another challenge that teachers had to confront is creating a sense of community online. Out of all the disciplines, visual arts require the most interaction and communication between students and faculty, but the online environment makes it much more challenging. “It’s a real challenge to create a sense of studio atmosphere,” Chris mentioned. “Even the students who are in the studio are socially distanced and wear masks…You just can’t create that [atmosphere].”
Cynthia also has a similar experience regarding this matter. She said, “I am still trying to figure out how to get people to ‘chime in,’ if you will, to jump in and to participate…I kind of feel like it’s a little more me talking than what I’m used to when students tend to talk more.”
Despite all those obstacles, Cynthia and Chris still have some tips for us in this difficult time. According to Cynthia, it is important for us to “[pay] attention to details and to think critically.” She also mentioned that we have to make time to practice the things we love. As for Chris, he emphasized the importance of reaching out to people who you can get help from. He said: “It is hard not to feel sorry for yourself, I mean it is, even for adults…You really need to take advantage of the opportunities that the school is offering you in your classes. I think the more students reach out to the faculty in class or after class, the more they’re gonna learn.”
It is certainly a difficult time for all of us as students. However, we can always stay optimistic, find opportunities to improve ourselves, and overcome difficulties as a community.