Saratoga’s students need to take the visual arts requirement more seriously

November 18, 2016 — by Kyle Wang

Student focus on STEM causes a lack of interest in many visual arts programs.

For years, the school has offered countless AP/Honors classes in science, math, history and English. Students willingly and readily double up on science or math classes — there are even those who love language arts enough to take both AP Literature and AP Language and Composition as seniors.

Yet in spite of our willingness to suffer through the difficulties of such a rigorous course load, we often forget the importance of visual arts.

Though we remain dedicated to their other classes, too many of us, unfortunately, treat the Visual/Performing Arts (VPA) graduation requirement as a burden. Because most VPA classes are non-AP/Honors, many feel little motivation to take these classes.

Beyond that, the students who do take VPA classes often do so just to satisfy the requirement. It is precisely this mentality that prevents VPA classes from achieving their full potential.

Moreover, even though classes such as History in Film and Ceramics are theoretically engaging, their relative lack of rigor prevents students from truly exploring visual arts in more depth. Classwork is often graded mostly on participation and attendance, which is fair in theory, considering that not everyone can paint like Van Gogh, but damaging in practice. The convergence of these policies shortchanges students, who, as a result, never have the opportunity to truly appreciate the sheer emotional breadth and depth that visual arts can reach.

Still, the main fault here lies with students who treat their VPA classes as pseudo-free periods and don’t truly engage with the material.

Naturally, as a STEM-focused school in the heart of Silicon Valley, Saratoga High School’s student interests often prevent the addition of new classes that can better appeal to non-artists. But that doesn’t mean that students can’t — or shouldn’t — take the initiative to find outside classes either online or at local community colleges that not only satisfy the VPA requirement, but align with their own interests. Students should be willing to push their own boundaries in fields where they are uncomfortable or unfamiliar with the subject matter.

Even if they don’t have the means to attend a class outside of school, they can still take their non-AP/Honors Visual Arts classes here more seriously. Either way, there’s no excuse.

Nonetheless, some might argue that the existence of AP Studio Art and AP Music Theory prove that Saratoga’s VPA argument can be — and is — academically rigorous. There are a number of problems with this argument: for one, AP Music Theory and AP Studio Art are accessible to only a select group of students; students who aren’t already talented musicians or artists see little incentive to take those classes.

Moreover, these classes provide an in-depth exploration of a specific artistic field, something that inherently only appeals to a select group of students. The school doesn’t need more AP Art courses; all it needs is for its students to take classes like History in Film more seriously, whether they’re learning about different film techniques or just staying awake in class.  

Artwork, as our English teachers love to remind us, is an expression of humanity in its rawest, purest form. Yes, fitting a non-AP/Honors VPA class into our schedules already jam-packed with other classes doesn’t immediately seem appealing, but it will ultimately be a rewarding experience that makes us better people.

Few students are as fortunate as we are to have the chance to explore so many different modes of artistic expression. We can and should make the best of this rare privilege — not dismiss it as yet one more inconvenient obstacle to climb on the way to college.

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