Serious Concentration: Senior Art Students Ready Portfolios

This fall, 12 seniors are enrolled in Advanced Placement Studio Art: Two-Dimensional Design Portfolio. This marks the largest group since the course was introduced in 2012.
Chair of the Fine Arts Department Sarah Isusi added the course to the curriculum in her second year at the school after having completed AP training the previous summer. Since that time, she has seen firsthand the growth of the fine arts program. “Many of these are students that I had in Middle School,” she says. “To be working with them now as they assemble college-ready portfolios, and to have so many students engaged with advanced work, is really special.”
Wirth so many interested in the course, Isusi introduced summertime open studio hours for her students last June. She explains, “AP students are expected to create a few pieces throughout the summer, so it made sense to offer open studio time at GSB. During the summer, the students could come to campus and work in a relaxed atmosphere without time restraints.” Isusi noted that several students used open studio time to develop paintings that would have taken weeks to create during the school year. One of those students, senior Grace Burton, had this to say, “I really enjoyed coming in and spending an entire day just painting in a space that I love and working on developing my creativity and style.” Isusi also enjoyed the summer hours and was thrilled that so many students took advantage of the opportunity. “It was such a pleasure to work side by side with these dedicated art students,” she offered.
AP 2-D Design Portfolio is a yearlong course, the second in a two-year portfolio development sequence. “In their junior year, students focus on the breadth of their portfolios, showing that their ability with a range of styles, media, and subjects,” Isusi explains. “As seniors, they focus on depth. Their work centers on a single theme or area of visual interest, and through that the students really begin to explore the creative process and to discover something about themselves as artists.”
The schedule for the completion of the portfolio is fairly grueling, with students creating 12 finished pieces over the course of the academic year. In May, in lieu of taking a written exam, students will submit their work to the AP. There are three separate components for the exam. First, the students digitally upload images of their 24 pieces (12 breadth and 12 concentration). From among these 24 pieces, students then select five that are physically packaged up and mailed to the AP board. In addition, each student writes an artist’s statement of intent.
While students often submit portfolios as part of an application to an arts program, only a handful of Isusi’s group is likely to pursue that route. Iyanah Vemuri ’19, for example, hopes to study political science in college. For her concentration, she is exploring several current social and political issues. Similarly, Gillian Fritzlo is bringing her interest in psychology to an exploration of the camera and its association with memory and point of view.
Whether or not, students go on to arts school, Isusi says, “This is going to be an extraordinary year for the Fine Arts Department.” She adds, “In the spring, we will host another senior art show to celebrate the seniors that have immersed themselves in art throughout their high-school years.” In addition to works from Isusis’s students, the senior art show will feature a range of two- and three-dimensional media, including photography and woodworking.
Gill St. Bernard’s is a private, coeducational day school for students age three through grade 12, located in suburban New Jersey. Each of the three school divisions provides a rigorous, meaningful and age-appropriate curriculum, and all students benefit from the environmental learning opportunities that exist on our 208-acre campus.