Artful approach to a complete education

Jewellery designer Lucy Folk, Archibald Prize finalist Kate Beynon and public artists Lisa Roet and Rowena Martinich have something in common: all attended St Catherine’s School in Toorak, a school that values art.

St Catherine’s School head of arts, Brigid Weereratne, believes the school’s art program stands out for several reasons. “For example, all of the teachers who work in the art faculty still practise making art as well. That’s important,” she says. “And we also teach the students a broad range of techniques, catering for the individual learning of each student and allowing them to select an art form in the senior years that suits their skills and ideas much more.”

The senior school’s art curriculum is structured to ensure younger students master the basics before taking a more individual approach in later years. Compulsory art classes in Years 7 and 8
teach various mediums, such as printmaking, ceramics, textiles, painting and drawing. As well as learning these traditional skills, they’re taught to use a visual diary and develop art literacy by recording how they source ideas and improve their work.

From Year 9, when art becomes an elective subject, students begin developing their own ideas, such as selecting what they would like to depict in a painting. “This gives them the confidence and the skillset so that when they transition into Year 11 and 12, they usually focus on one particular art form,”Ms Weereratne says.

In the VCE years, the school’s art program branches into three subjects: visual communication design, studio arts and media. Because students decide on the direction of their own work, these are popular areas of study, and MsWeereratne says approximately half of Year 11 and 12 students enrol in at least one of these subjects. “In my studio arts classes there are a range of students  undertaking photography, ceramics, traditional painting, installation, drawing and print making,” says Ms Weereratne. “I even have one girl completing a performance art piece as well this year,
as she’s a talented dancer.”

Students are often inspired by each other and work in different ways to their other classes. MsWeereratne says studying art enhances creative and critical thinking, independent thought and resilience. “We’re the one subject area where they’re not in front of a desk in a traditional style of classroom. Our studios are large open spaces with ample natural light and this physical environment allows the girls to move about and explore individual learning.”

Students occasionally leave the studios to attend gallery exhibitions and gain a deeper understanding of the art world. Earlier this year, students in Years 10, 11 and 12 visited the National Gallery of Victoria’s Triennial exhibition, an experience that taught them about curating art shows and contemporary art practices.

Over the years, St Catherine’s graduates have gone on to study fine arts in Australia as well as at St Martins in London and St Andrews in Scotland. A large number have successful careers in
art-related fields, with the school producing architects, interior designers, sculptors, painters, photographers, fashion designers, filmmakers and curators. “Parents are now understanding the value of art,”Ms Weereratne adds. “Studying art doesn’t mean a student will necessarily become an artist, but it will give her skills that enable her to go on and do other things.”

St Catherine’s annual VCE Art Exhibition will be on display from October 12 until October 15.

The Age

16 September 2018

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