High School art teacher, Jeanne Bjork, was recently my guest on Art Ed Radio for an episode focused on AP Studio Art.
Unfortunately, podcasts are limited by time, and there was a lot of information we weren’t able to discuss. But fear not! Jeanne and I are here to answer all of your questions about AP Studio Art and share just about every resource we have.
We hope this can be a great guide for someone just starting their program, and a great collection of resources for more established AP teachers.
I’ve always thought building a classroom culture or a quality classroom environment is vitally important. Finishing 24 artworks is incredibly difficult, and students need the positive influence and support system of their peers. Jeanne agreed, saying developing camaraderie is one of her priorities. “I encourage my students to become a collegial cohort,” she said. “There has to be both humor and support, and the cohort is great for serious discussion or just joking around.”
Once a positive environment is established, it’s time to set the expectations. Kids need to know they will be doing a lot of work–usually multiple projects at once–and they need to know this is a college level course. Giving them a peek at my syllabus usually establishes this. Jeanne works on goal setting with her students as well. In fact, you should probably see her entire Goal Unit.
As much as we focus on the beginning of the year, most AP Studio Art teachers begin working with their AP students long before that. I have my juniors (and sometimes even my sophomores) save ALL of their work because you never know what might end up being useful when you put together your portfolio. It is a good idea to tell kids about the expectations of AP Studio Art before signing up for classes, then get them working on their portfolios soon after they are registered. I love to have kids create a couple works and take a ton of reference photos over the summer. Jeanne does something quite similar.
“I meet with the future class in May and give them their summer homework. This is divided into 4 areas: shooting reference photos, keeping a visual journal, blogging and visiting suggested online art sites, and producing 3-6 finished pieces that go with the portfolio students want to do. Part of what they’re asked to do is figure out which portfolio they will do and make a commitment to daily art-making and thinking.”
A majority of AP Studio Art teachers have students focus on the breadth section at the beginning of the year. Jeanne emphasizes her 3 C’s of quality art-making (concept, composition, and craftsmanship) that guide students’ work throughout the year, and then gives them an incredible first assignment. From there, kids should be focused on conceptual development, while working on a variety of styles, artworks, ideas, media, and ways to express themselves. This checklist is a great tool for keeping your kids’ work in the breadth section on track.
Well, I’m glad you asked because we have this handy list of 99 concentration topics kids can use to start thinking about their concentration. Download your copy below!
Once they have a possible focus, however, it’s important to properly develop those ideas. I have my students do a ton of sketching, note taking, research, and journaling, and I like to get them started as soon as possible. Ideally before the end of the first semester, but by the end of January at the very latest. Jeanne is on just about that exact time frame. “By early February we’ve done a written packet about concentration which includes research, visual journal explorations, and a proposal. I require detailed thumbnails and 3-5, four by six full-color sketches to plan out the concentration,” she said. “We then spend February through April finalizing those 12 works.”
The concentration has to be specific and have a specifically focused point of view; students need to avoid generalities. Jeanne put it like this: “Saying ‘I want to do portraits’ isn’t much of a concentration, but saying ‘I want to do portraits of my sister who has an eating disorder and struggles daily with her self-image’–that is a concentration.”
Pushing beyond literal interpretations is also important. The work should look like it goes together, but not be all the same. Visual consistency and consistency with technique are important. I like to tell my students that it should look like all the work was created by the same artist. By this point in their art-making career, they should have developed a specific artistic style.
High-quality craftsmanship is important as well. The breadth section should be about experimentation with media and style and technique. But with the concentration, it should be media students are comfortable and confident creating with. I also think the concentration should show growth and evolve over time. If students can combine growth and exploration of a specific meaningful idea with a distinct artistic style, they will undoubtedly be successful.
What are some of your favorite resources for teaching AP Studio Art? Feel free to share a link in the comments below!