An Absence in Art: why fewer students are enrolling in art classes early on

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By VICKI LI
Staff Writer

Scheduling conflicts and concerns about grades are the main reasons why UHS students are typically not involved in art classes in freshman or sophomore year.

For UHS’s Graduation Requirements, students have a choice of taking one year of a World Language or Visual/Performing Arts. But for the UC admission requirements, one year of Fine Arts is mandatory. Since virtually all students are applying to UC’s, Visual and Performing Arts credit becomes mandatory to all students.  

Especially for underclassmen, there is less flexibility with their schedules because of certain classes needed for Graduation Requirements, including English, Math, Foreign Language, Social Science, Natural Science and Physical Education. An optional zero period can be taken to avoid conflicts if students are involved in one of the Performing Arts classes or school service classes such as Journalism, Yearbook and ASB.

The Open Elective system motivates a number of students to take Performing Arts classes.

“I would not have taken Technical Theater last year because I would have had to sacrifice a class,” Adriana Pinto (So.) said. “I ended up really liking the class. I met many new friends and it was so fun working backstage for the musical The Pajama Game.”

Visual Arts classes are not Open Elective classes and therefore the majority of students are unable to be involved as early as they want to.

One of the reasons why Visual Arts classes are not open elective is due to the availability of materials and equipments.

“I only have 35 computers in my room. If more students sign up, the school would need an additional room or teacher to accommodate the need,” Graphic Design teacher Ms. Dana Kramer (Visual and Performing Arts Dept.) said.

In a recent survey done through the Trojan Army Facebook page, the most popular Visual Arts class is Visual Imagery, with 56.0% of responded students interested, followed by Video Production with 53.6% and Graphic Design with 52.4%. In fact, this is greatly reflected on the enrollment in these classes.

“Ms. Kessler and I both have one more class to teach this year. We are glad to see more students are interested in art classes,” Kramer said.

Many UHS students take art classes during their senior year only to fulfill the Graduation Requirements. Some art classes require students to commit time outside the class to perfect their work. However, UHS and many other schools generally place a much higher priority on academics, so many students are concerned that taking an art class will distract them from focusing on their academic classes. In addition, unless students are enrolled in AP art class after years of introductory level classes, there is no GPA boost. With heavy loads of school work, many students choose to take an easy art class during senior year because it seems least likely to lower their GPAs. However, there is a downside of making such a decision.

“Every year I get seniors who take my beginning class and wish they would have joined earlier to be in Advanced or even AP. I think the biggest problem right now is not making Visual Art into Open Elective so more people would sign up, but rather encouraging more underclassmen to get involved in art so they have more time to figure out if art is what they want to do in college, possibly as a career, and become proficient in it before even going to college,” Kramer said.

One of the ASB Art Liaisons and fourth-year art student Corinne Alsop (Sr.) highly encourages underclassmen to involve themselves in art.

“It’s crucial that we try something new in high school. The earlier on you do it, the more agency and understanding you will have of it in the end,” she said.

Art has long been proved to benefit students. It provides an outlet for students to express their feelings spontaneously and release stress from schoolwork. According to a publication by the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies, art can improve a student’s reading and language skills, motivate students to study harder and promote a positive school environment.

The material learned in art class has real-life applications too. “I originally took Graphic Design because I need the art credit [to graduate], but I really liked the class in the end. I used the skills to design a sweatshirt for my Cross Country team and a website for my internship during the summer,” Lawrence Xu (Sr.) said.

Especially in performing arts, students learn to cooperate with their peers. “In Technical Theater, you get a good understanding of teamwork because that is really how the whole program runs,” Alina Guo (So.) said.

Contrary to popular belief, art has deep connections with academic classes as well. “I see how rhetorical devices are important when I’m using them to understand a character in drama,” Alsop said in her preparation for the Fall Play.

In fact, art helps with time management. “With the long rehearsal hours, you will really learn how to manage your time properly. It forces you to focus on whatever you are doing for the limited time you have left and it encourages you to learn new things,” Pinto said when she reflects on her experience of working as a stage crew member for last year’s musical The Pajama Game.

Another misconception about art is that it is only for naturally artistic people.

“You don’t have to be talented or naturally artistic people at all because that’s what the class is for: to teach you a new way of thinking and approaching problems,” the other ASB Art Liaison and third-year art student Nancy Wu (Sr.) said. “The fact that art seems so different from other academic classes that drives people away is the very reason they should take it because it offers something unique. It challenges me to view the world differently and take new perspectives.”

Of all the students that responded to the survey, 91.6% said they would take an additional visual art class if it were Open Elective.

“I was actually considering taking Advanced Graphic Design but I couldn’t because I found out I can’t take a zero period for that.” Xu said.

The specific period that certain art classes are offered also explains why students do not continue taking higher level art classes. For example, Advanced Technical Theater is only offered during sixth period, and consequently athletes cannot take this class because all team sports are sixth period too.

Many students who have taken art classes recommend others to take an art class, regardless of the type of art.

“While the workload is still manageable, take an art class to get that requirement done so in the very likely case that you fall in love with it, you have time to take more classes,” Wu advises underclassmen.

“Art allows me to become more careful with the things in hand, more observant and appreciate everything around them better,“ Xu adds.

“Even if what you are learning has little application in life, still get an experience to see if it fits you or not,” Guo expresses.

One way students can have a glance into all of the art classes available at UHS is through Fine Arts Week. Fine Arts Week is a week designated to showcase the work of art students. Typical activities include the Fine Arts Assembly, which showcases all the performing arts and a preview of the Spring Musical. Daily lunch fests at the crossroads include a cappella singing Drum Line performance. Visual Arts Gallery in the library displaying works of Visual Arts classes including Photography, Visual Production, Graphic Design and Studio Art, and Ceramics.

“Although it is not something we can measure, I think more students are getting interested in art through Fine Arts Week,” Wu said. “This year as Fine Arts Liaisons, Corinne and I will make it better so students are not only exposed to more of Uni Arts Core but can get involved in it as well.”

This year’s Fine Arts Week is April 17 to April 21.

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