One of the key indicators of a civilization's greatness can be found in its contribution and commitment to the Arts. Where art flourishes we find an active, vital and potent society. Where it is ignored and suppressed we find a society in decline.
Perhaps the most important aspect of the Arts in regard to society is it's capacity to extract the joy, sorrow, hilarity and trauma of everyday life and represent it synthetically, as a model for our contemplation. To be able to contemplate the human condition through the abstraction of its re-creation in the arts enables us to reconsider the circumstances of our lives in ways unlike any other.
Quite apart from the pleasure and fulfillment that we get from the arts as entertainment, there is a powerful intellectual component to the making of art which empowers us in very real but sometimes unforeseeable ways. Paths through thought and ideation are uncovered by the mental activity engaged in the technical processes of art making. Navigation of these paths creates a familiarity with "speculative constructs" which are key to abstract thought. We study higher mathematics, complaining all along that we will never use the knowledge in real life, nor ever become mathematicians and yet the value of its exercise of the mind's logical facilities is never doubted. Art and particularly its technical study, incorporating application of methods and manipulation to thought, is every bit as vital to the developing mind. And, although we are not all destined to become artists and are not equally coordinated in regard to manual dexterity, none of us should be deprived of the navigational tools essential to a life rich with unexpected challenges. As Louis Pasteur said, "Chance favors the prepared mind."
Art class is not solely for the gifted student and the child with talent. It is for all of us and should be an integral part of an education. There is no better strategy for success in this complicated world than one that includes a solid preparation in abstract thought. Indeed, the greatest challenges facing the world today need to be met with originality, creativity and a solid footing in critical thinking. Within the general curriculum of our school, the art program is designed to meet such needs head on. Our approach is dedicated to the needs of all students. We acknowledge that there is a diversity of individuals at Briarcliff with a broad range of abilities and ambitions. Our goal is to offer guidance and preparation to all students and to help them to meet their own goals.
Many of us remember art class as a time of virtually directionless exploration of things vaguely associated with what was termed "self-expression." This pedigogical approach, one that is derived from the "natural" or "unfolding" method suggested by Rousseau and others, may not be the appropriate way to foster potent creative intelligence. Would a student learning to play a instrument be handed a violin with no direction other than a protective "musical environment." The rigors of practice, of knowing scales and positions and fingering - not to mention musical theory are expected of a decent education. Why must it be any different in the visual arts.
An alternative to the "natural" method of art education is one that proactively trains, directs and challenges the art student to master basic skills. The thought behind this approach is that information of a much greater complexity can be imparted this way. The focus on technical exercise and the guidance as to how these techniques constitute the grammar of visual language, both now and historically, impact on the development of visual intelligence. This approach is the one favored by the art department of Briarcliff.
For the high school students wishing to pursue a deeper involvement with the arts we offer a sequential core curriculum which emphasizes the development of basic foundation skills in Drawing, Painting, Sculpture and Design. Highly motivated students may culminate their high school experience in a college level Advanced Placement Studio Art course, offered in both Painting and Drawing AP and Design AP (which includes photography). The program continues to be enriched with opportunities for Exhibitions and competitions. Portfolios are the physical outcome for evaluation.
Our curriculum is also designed to allow those students whose major focus may not be art, to benefit from the skills fostered in our department: brainstorming, problem solving and original thinking. It is our goal to further educational expertise and foster serious practices in the visual arts, yet we are also committed to providing an environment that is a haven for those individuals that may turn to the arts for a different type of support, (perhaps a refuge from competition and stress). Often the art room becomes home to a student experiencing emotional difficulties or academic struggles. The art process engages these individuals and often rewards them with success and an increased self- esteem. In contrast to the student attracted to performing under the footlights of a stage production or in the heightened athletic arena, the artist quietly performs with a steady persevering vision, a solitary mental activity that produces the greatest art. These students also need community support and acknowledgement.
Finally, in all Briarcliff students, we would like to infuse the understanding of the value of Fine Art. We are living just outside of the Art Capital of the World. When college students return home, the NYC galleries and museums will beckon them. Students given the opportunity to travel will realize that the "arts" will inform them most readily about the cultures they are experiencing. Paintings are records of the workings of the mind, documents of the mind at work under the technical, social and political constraints of the times. Paintings are emotional records filtered through the intellect, a primary experience of history. Art defines the times.