Room for Art

By John Bartlett, Art Department Chair

The art rooms at Tower Hill embrace a long tradition of providing environments where kids are empowered to create and learn in a wide spectrum of ways. The art rooms are places where students feel free to experiment and take risks that lead to unforeseen paths of discovery. As we celebrate the past and dream of the future, we teachers talk a lot about how to best prepare our students to reach their potential and to develop tools for successful and fulfilling lives. We are very lucky to pursue such goals as part of a community that values the arts as an integral part of an exceptional education.

Our teachers spend a lot of time asking questions about how to be facilitators of learning. We talk about student-centered learning and critical thinking, project-based learning and collaboration, interdisciplinary themes and harnessing new technology. We work to inspire self-directed learners, confident in their abilities to grasp new concepts and skills; to be effective communicators (both verbally and visually); and to be inventive thinkers.

We work to foster each student’s confidence in his or her ability to tackle challenges. How to develop original ideas and figure out how to give the ideas form. How to understand and articulate complex and abstract ideas. How to take chances, fail with grace, have the grit and perseverance to get back up and grow. How to decipher the endless visual barrage of social media and popular culture. How to interpret and respect diverse cultures. We work to cultivate an appreciation for art in all its forms and a reverence for art history. These are challenging goals, but we pursue them with outstanding students and resources at Tower Hill.

As an art teacher I sometimes get the question, “How do you work with a room of kids with a big range of artistic ability?” Art is created with skills that can be learned, and the process is always at least as important as the end result. We have all seen kids who struggle with a medium or process only to discover they love it and explode with newfound confidence. Our Art Foundation curriculum for ninth graders has evolved into an ideal environment for such revelations. Students get a taste of all the electives we offer in high school. In four quarters they get to try woodworking, ceramics, studio drawing and painting, and photography—both digital and darkroom. The kids have a blast, and it is really fun for the teachers, too.

Each student passing through the Visual Art and Design Department will be enriched by experiencing an array of creative processes. As a parent of a Lower School student, I am continuously amazed to hear of what happens in my son’s art classes and to see what he creates. I look forward to his journey through the art programs with all the other little Hillers. I believe that whatever kind of people they become and whatever paths they choose in life, their experiences in the Tower Hill art rooms will be invaluable.

John Bartlett
Visual Art and Design Department Chair