Emma Shuford ’22 Arts Editor
Online visual arts courses present many challenges for students and faculty as they navigate the absence of materials and lack of in-person interaction. However, online learning has opened up opportunities for students in their pursuit of the arts. Both the Photography I and Ceramics I classes are embracing the difficult situation posed by remote instruction and are creatively continuing to learn.
Photography I, taught by Fine Arts Department member Kristen Pixler, has adapted well to online learning. “Ms. Pixler has been posting videos for us to watch as homework. The class would either be a lesson on a technique, how to do something, or introducing a new project. Most classes we have activities where we take pictures involving aspects of what we learned that day,” Sandra Apfelroth ’22 says. After listening to a short lecture given by Pixler at the beginning of class, students take pictures using the concepts they learned.
Photos by Haruto Kitigawa ’22
Isabel Su ’23 says, “At the end of class, we upload the photos we took to a shared Google Slides where we can all see each other’s work and critique.” Su continues, “It is difficult not having a DSLR camera that we would normally use if we were on campus. For example, shutter speed cannot be changed on a phone camera. Instead, we have to change the lighting surrounding the subject to get the same effects.”
“We definitely have much more time and opportunities to shoot than if we were at school, where we have a pretty tight schedule. So right now, given that we don’t have PGAs, we have more free time and can shoot whenever we want,” says Victoria Taperova ’21. Students are using their newfound free time to formulate ideas for projects and to practice more often. Haruto Kitigawa ’22 reports that the online photography class gives him more opportunities “to take photos with different sceneries thus different tastes to each picture.”
Another visual arts class that has had to adjust considerably to being away from campus is Ceramics I, taught by Wells Gray. Typically, students taking Ceramics I would make tumblers on a pottery wheel and construct a handmade clay sculpture, firing all pieces in a kiln. With the absence of materials, students have made the best of what they have at home.
Gray says, “The caveat is they will get credit for the course for the formal qualities using papier-mâché learning about the foot and the lip of a bowl and how to communicate their theme through visual means. They are now working with homemade play dough to mimic how to build in clay and the techniques involved.” Getting to the core of the artistic process, the students have made the papier-mâché and play dough themselves.
In each meeting, ceramics students, much like photography students, listen to a short explanation of their assignment at the beginning of class before leaving their Google Hangouts to work on their pieces. “If we had been working on a project in the last class, he would ask us about our progress and give us feedback. Towards the deadline for the project, we have individual consultations with him according to assigned time slots,” says Amanda Peh ’22. Gray remains available online to assist students throughout the class period and offer feedback.
Declan Butts ’22 says, “An opportunity that online ceramics has given me is growth. At school, teachers are there next to us, which is a good thing, but we are not always going to have such supportive adults near us. Doing ceramics at home has shown me that I am capable of taking things into my own hands and being able to plan ahead.” While the absence of in-person teacher and student interaction makes learning some techniques more difficult, Gray has used the online platform effectively to make concepts as comprehensible as possible with videos demonstrating the techniques.
The freedom of an online arts class presents exciting opportunities that students would not have experienced while taking the course on campus. Su says, “Although every photograph is unique, I feel that if we were at school, then there would be limited variety in the subject of our photos. Being at our own homes and all over the world allows for different subjects.”
Students are having a lot of fun with the classes’ activities and assignments. Peh says, “Taking ceramics online has allowed me to partake in ‘elementary school level,’ as Mr. Gray says, arts and craft activities, papier-mâché and play dough, that I typically wouldn’t do in my free time. But of course, Mr Gray adds technical aspects which makes it ‘high school level.’ These projects allow me to take a break from the screen and homework.”
Students in both Ceramics I and Photography I enjoy having freedom to choose when to work and the free time to practice and delve more deeply into the core concepts of the discipline. Mercersburg’s determined students and teachers have overcome the obstacles of remote learning to explore and enjoy virtual learning.