Upon completion of the program, ChiArts Visual Arts students will have:

  • An intense foundation in multiple visual art media
  • A strong portfolio of original artworks exemplifying an engagement with technique, craftsmanship and concept
  • Experience in analyzing and making art from many cultures
  • An understanding of art history and its numerous styles
  • An ability to constructively criticize their own work and the works of others, both orally and in writing
  • An understanding of museum and gallery procedures
  • The ability to assemble, organize and maintain a professional art portfolio
  • Professional skills that will translate to numerous job fields or areas of advanced study
  • Ability to creatively problem solve
  • Public speaking skills
  • Experiences working with Chicago based arts professionals and institutions


Please note that the scope and sequence as well as course offerings may be subject to change.


DRAWING BY DESIGN / (1 credit, 3 hours/week)
Drawing by Design is an introduction to two-dimensional art, design and visual culture. In this foundation course, students will learn the Elements and Principles of Design, using this language as a tool of visual analysis and intelligent decision making in their own work. As a routine part of this class, students will dissect the formal properties of other artists’ work. Students will then apply this essential knowledge to the making of their own dynamic and complex pieces. Students will explore a variety of wet and dry media–including watercolor, block printing, collage and the like–in a series of multi-week unit projects. Students will learn to brainstorm and collect relevant source material, skills essential to the making of conceptually and compositionally strong work. Students will use their sketchbooks to develop ideas, complete assignments and explore on their own. Students will take part in at least one field trip per semester.

DRAWING I  / (3 hours/week)
According to Cennino Cennini (14th c.), the activity of drawing is “both the necessary foundation of practice for all and a natural inclination of the talented.” This foundation course introduces students to fundamental principles and methodologies, including basic elements of two-dimensional art (line, shape, value, texture and color) and its ingredients (subject, form and content). Drawing from direct observation will be emphasized as students learn skills of proportion and various spatial strategies, including perspective and foreshortening. Students will work primarily in charcoal as well as other wet and dry media. Drawing skills learned in the first semester will be augmented in the second semester by an introduction to basic color theory and use of more sophisticated compositions. Students will work from live models, still life, landscapes and imaginative imagery. Students will also use the sketchbook as a tool for technical experimentation and conceptual development. Individual and group critiques will be held regularly. Guest artists, field trips, readings/research and art history, as pertinent to each unit project, will be introduced.

This foundation course will provide a solid introduction to the medium of photography and its practice today. As students develop their visual skills and begin to “think in pictures,” they will learn about the essential features of a digital camera and how to control them. Students will be given an overview of the technical aspects of resolution, file formats and work flow. The bulk of the class will concentrate on the practice of photography as an art form, emphasizing the organization, function, manipulation and communication of visual ideas. Students will use tools such as digital cameras, Apple computers, Adobe Photoshop software, and Epson printers. Classes will be enriched by visits from practicing professional artists, field trips to galleries and an ongoing survey of the history of photography.

SCULPTURE I / (3 hours/week)
This is a First Year-level course with a focus on the foundations of sculpture in practice. Students will explore a wide range of sculptural materials and techniques, observe and discuss sculpture in contemporary art, and learn to talk about their own art and others through a lens of formal, historical, and conceptual inquiry. The course will focus both on technical expertise and concept development, with an emphasis on personal expression within the scaffolding of assignments. Students are challenged to learn through experimentation and collaboration, and encouraged to make individual aesthetic choices. Over the course of the year, students will build a strong portfolio of sculptural work, consider the intersection of their own 3D, 2D, and digital practices, and develop the vocabulary to describe their own and other’s artworks.


DRAWING II / (3 hours/week)
Building upon the first year, curriculum students will continue to navigate the integral fundamentals that make up the key component of visual training: drawing. The objective is to gain a higher level of competency in drawing from observation. Figurative work will be emphasized throughout the yearlong curriculum with references to experimental approaches and principles in the second semester. Students will have access to a live model for a number of weeks each semester.

PAINTING I / (3 hours/week)
Painting I is an introductory course covering the basic principles and techniques of the painting process. This course is designed as a two-semester studio practice and will be, primarily based, in the use of oil paint. Beginning painting fundamentals to be explored include: value, color theory, mixing paints, mediums and preparing/using various surfaces. In addition, students will learn a variety of water based oil techniques. All the while, the instructor will help each student engage strategies for conceptual development by working through individual painting problems and emphasizing personal meaning and relevance to contemporary culture.

SCULPTURE II  / (3 hours/week)
This second year course explores the concepts, techniques and practice of contemporary sculpture. Its aim is to develop and build upon knowledge and technical skills acquired in the first year of Three Dimensional Design through a series of projects utilizing different sculptural materials as well as conceptual frameworks. The course will investigate what it means to make three-dimensional objects through class discussions, readings, slide presentations, projects, field trips and critiques. Studio time will begin with modeling the figure in clay through observation and transition later in the year to more experimental approaches to making objects. The class will question how the figure fits into the aesthetics of the Ancient Era, the Renaissance, the Industrial Revolution, the DIY movement and rave culture, to name a few. Students will continue to develop the skills to eloquently speak about their work and the work of their classmates while contextualizing what they make within the broader frame of contemporary culture.

ART HISTORY I: MAKING AND MEANING / (1 credit, 3 hours/week)
Making and Meaning through Art History is a course designed to facilitate the exploration of art throughout history through the lens of a developing artist where instead of merely engaging with art of the past and the present as researchers, you have the opportunity to take the act of exploration even further into experimentation in connection to applied studio practice. We will examine art through dynamic themes that explore movements, mediums, and modes of art making & together decide which specific themes or subjects we’d like to explore as a class.

Graphic Design is one of the most important and powerful communication tools human beings have, used to promote, to protest, to beautify, etc. This course will introduce students to the world of Graphic Design though a set of projects that will challenge their visual problem solving skills and reinforce the formal principles of design. Students will be given a review of Adobe Photoshop and an introduction to Adobe Illustrator and new hands-on processes. Emphasis will be placed on typography, layout techniques and methods, storytelling, graphic reduction and conceptual development for specific audiences and clients. Real world design practices will be discussed and projects will push students beyond a simply theoretical application of the medium.


The Junior year is the first half of a two-year AP studio curriculum, as approved by the College Board. In this course, students will build upon their technical and conceptual skills to make more complex, sophisticated work worthy of inclusion in an AP portfolio. Assignments will be structured to address the AP requirements of Sustained Investigation and Selected Works. In the junior year, students will primarily focus on the Selected Works section, assignments that show a range of conceptual, technical, compositional and stylistic approaches through use of a range of media. Students will also begin to formulate their intended concentration topic to be explored senior year. Critique, research and presentations of relevant artists’ work will be featured in this course.

AP DRAWING AND PAINTING / (1 credit, 6 hours/week)
In the Junior year, AP Year One, students will complete twelve Selected Works pieces. With each multi-week breadth project, students will build upon their skillful use of materials and knowledge of the Elements and Principles of Design as pertains to drawing and painting. Students will use a range of media and tools, including those of traditional drawing/painting as well as collage and printmaking. They will be encouraged to explore various styles and concepts, in the interest of self-discovery and to address the AP requirements of breadth. Furthermore, students will have guided freedom regarding choice of media and subject matter as they begin to consider their strengths and future intentions regarding the AP requirement of concentration. Juniors in AP Year One will complete extensive assignments in order to build a complex and worthwhile concentration topic and project schedule for use in AP Year Two.

Furthermore, in both AP years, students will continue to use their sketchbooks as an essential tool for assignments, brainstorming and gathering of source material. The vocabulary of art, including the Elements and Principles of Design, will be regularly used in writing as well as critiques; students will be expected to demonstrate familiarity and proper use of such terms in both the analysis of their own efforts as well as that of other students. Focus and hard work will be essential for success in this college-level course. Students will be increasingly called upon to both begin and complete projects outside of class. In all, students will be expected to challenge themselves to create high quality work that reflects a skillful approach to composition, concept and material.

AP SCULPTURE / (1 credit, 6 hours/week)
AP Sculpture explores the intersection between 2D and 3D design while ultimately contributing to the student’s AP 3D design portfolio. The class is designed to address a broad interpretation of 2D and 3D issues. Mass, volume, form, plane, light and texture will be reviewed and work will be articulated through both additive and subtractive processes. Students will make preparatory drawings and work both conceptually and intuitively.

Students will be looking particularly at how 2D and 3D can be combined into single artworks. Projects will include architectural models, sculptural fashion design, installations, totem poles and dimensional painting. We will be using a wide range of materials that will include, but are not limited to, polystyrene foam, wood, canvas, paint, charcoal, plaster, fabric and found objects. Students will explore a wide range of themes, formal design problems and the study of ideas within social, political or economic concerns and direct observations and interpretations.

AP VISUAL COMMUNICATIONS / (1 credit, 6 hours/week)
Good design is beautiful enough for the gallery but is also used in everyday life by everyday people. In this way it can be both beautiful and practical. The principles of design (unit/variety, balance, emphasis, contrast, rhythm, repetition, proportion/scale, figure/ground relationships) can be articulated through the visual elements (line, shape, color, value, texture, space). They help guide designers in making decisions about how to organize an image on a picture plane in order to communicate content. Effective design is possible whether one uses representational or abstract approaches to art.

Design involves purposeful decision making about how to use the elements and principles of art in an integrative way. These ideas and how the audience interprets them is essential to successful design. As we develop the breadth and concentration portfolios in this two year course we will focus on the intersection between formal design and conceptual thought. Along the way we will learn a little about web design, get inspired by some of the greatest designers of all time and have many many critiques to make your work as strong as it can possibly be. We will also continue our use of Adobe Tools as the primary means of making design projects. Throughout this course students will work toward developing mastery in concept, composition and execution of 2D design.

AP DIGITAL PHOTOGRAPHY / (1 credit, 6 hours/week)
AP Digital Photography course is a two-year program designed around the creation of 2 final AP Portfolios: Selected Works and Sustained Investigation. In the Junior year, students will work to master a variety of photographic skills and techniques by way of instructor defined assignments dealing with camera operations, exposure, lighting, digital file formatting, organization, digital darkroom/photoshop techniques, photo history and vernacular. In addition, students will study photographic genres, learning the visual language of each, ultimately creating original portrait, landscape, still life, commercial and experimental works of their own. At the end of the junior year AP, students will come away with a skillfully rendered, diverse portfolio of at least 12 photographic works for their Selected Works Portfolio. Another extremely important component of junior AP is the development of a compelling, complex and worthwhile concentration idea to explore in the Senior year of AP.

In both years of AP, students will create photographs with intention, constantly making both aesthetic decisions as well as conceptual ones. To assist with this challenging process, students will use their sketchbooks as an essential part of their artistic practice. Sketchbooks are where students will work out ideas, gather source material, research, brainstorm, sketch and the like. The vocabulary of art will be integrated into all aspects of the course work, including writing, homework/assignments/assessments and critiques, as well as through the development of their own artist statements. Students will be expected to use this vocabulary in both the analysis of their own work as well as that of their fellow students. This is a college level course, from which students may attain college credit, therefore expectations will be very high, in terms of skill and technique as well as concept and the ability to organize and successfully time-manage.

Professional Development is a vital support of a student’s application to college and potential career in the arts. Sample topics include Researching College, Financial Literacy, Presenting Yourself in Writing, the Interview Process, Writing An Artist Statement, Composing Your Resume, Portfolio Development and Careers in the Arts. Students will complete research and assignments as part of each session. Also during this time, students will be visited by college representatives who will give presentations and review student portfolios. Lectures and visits by art professionals will be a relevant part of this course. In addition, students will use this time to further develop the thematic structure for their ongoing Junior studio projects and to brainstorm their senior concentration topic.

DRAWING III / (3 hours/week)
In this course, students will strengthen their drawing skills by using more complex narratives/compositions in their work and by exploring the figure. In the second semester, students will work from a nude model, a centuries-old practice seen as integral to the development of every serious artist. Students will deepen their understanding of proportion and be introduced to strategies of anatomical drawing.

ART HISTORY II: MAKING AND MEANING / (1 credit, 1.5 hours/week)

Making and Meaning through Art History is a course designed to facilitate the exploration of art throughout history through the lens of a developing artist where instead of merely engaging with art of the past and the present as researchers, you have the opportunity to take the act of exploration even further into experimentation in connection to applied studio practice. We will examine art through dynamic themes that explore movements, mediums, and modes of art making & together decide which specific themes or subjects we’d like to explore as a class.

JUNIOR ELECTIVES / (3 hours/week, choice of 2 per semester)

THE MURAL – The Mural course explores the concepts, techniques and practice of murals as well as the history in public art. This course provides a forum for in-depth dialogue and exploration of students’ collaboration work within the contemporary context. Its aim is to develop and build on skills to eloquently speak and knowledge about the mural movement. Students propose individual sketches in order to develop final projects as a collaboration practice in consultation with the instructor. A total of 4 mural assignments (2 per semester) will be produced utilizing different materials in specific scenarios at the new ChiArts building. As a class we will investigate what it means to make a mural through class discussions, readings, slide presentations, sketches, field trips, studio visits and critiques. Preparatory sketches will be heavily emphasized and the class will question how the reading of a large format painting fits into the aesthetics, manifesto and philosophy of the 1920’s Mexican mural movement pioneers: Orozco, Rivera and Siqueiros to name a few. By the end of the course, students will understand the dynamic of the mural movement in contemporary public art as well as develop concepts and visual information to engage in mural experimentation.

FIBER ART – In this Junior 3D elective course, students learn a vast range of techniques including weaving, embroidery, needle-felting, collage,crocheting, installation, and performative approaches in a student-centered curriculum that is geared towards each student’s individual interests.

COLOR THEORY – This course covers the study of the perception of color, its permutations, and its dimensions using traditional as well as contemporary methods with an emphasis on individual experimentation through lab exercises and demonstrations. Topics include the color wheel; Munsell and Albers theories; perception, symbolism and psychology; pattern-painting techniques; and the applications of color theories to art, architecture and interior design. Student projects and lectures combine intense exploration of theories with hands-on experience in a variety of media.

GLASS – In this Junior 3D elective course, students will develop knowledge of glass properties, firing schedules, mould making, and cold working. Students will gain skills in a range of kiln-forming techniques and processes that many contemporary glass artists utilise as the basis of their work practice.


The Senior year is the second half of the AP curriculum, as approved by the College Board. Students will use this year to primarily focus upon the AP requirement of Sustained Investigation, for which they are to present a cohesive body of work in the AP portfolio. A particular Sustained Investigation  topic, clearly developed in a proposal and statement, will be required for this course. Each student will devise their own calendar for each semester, setting goals and deadlines under the supervision of the instructor. Students will also choose the specific idea and composition for each work and the materials that best serve it. Written and verbal analysis will be instrumental to this course as students further research their concentration topics and participate in individual/group critiques. In the second semester, the students’ studio work will be juried and selected by the Visual Arts Department faculty for the final thesis show. Students will be responsible for the installation of their own work and will learn the appropriate methods.

SENIOR ELECTIVES / (6 hours/week, split between two electives)

DIGITAL MEDIA – This is a Senior-level elective course with a focus on the intersection of art, media, the internet, and digital technologies. Students will explore notions of contemporary media practices that are centered on technical, formal, and conceptual applications. The course includes an extensive visual literacy component consisting of screenings, lectures, discussions, and readings. Technical topics include: digital imagery, printing, GIFs, stop-motion, and video and sound editing. Students develop a rich digital portfolio that will propel them into 21st century art making practices and provide practical skills for an ever-increasingly digital world.

WEARABLE SCULPTURE – This Senior-level elective course introduces the students to fashion theory and practice as it relates to wearable sculpture. Students will first gain technical knowledge in machine and hand sewing techniques before applying these skills to their individual projects. Fashion theory concepts will also be covered in this course through selected readings and in-class discussions. (Clothing as: Communication, Protection, Modesty, Morality, etc.) The course will include a combination of slide lectures, presentations, sewing demonstrations, class discussions and historical research.

SEQUENTIAL ART – This Senior-level elective course examines the theories of visual storytelling and the practice of bookmaking. Students will learn how to convey a narrative through visual and sequential means, and subjects such as pacing, shots, layouts, and typography will be incorporated into storytelling conventions previously explored in English classes. Through the close examination of graphic novels, plays, and films, students will learn to obey (or defy) linguistic and visual conventions and to apply their own sensibilities into their narrative works.

EXPERIMENTAL ANIMATION – This studio elective course is an introduction to fundamental concepts and techniques of animation with an emphasis on experimentation and discovery. Through a series of exercises and assignments we will touch on the history, theory and practice of this dynamic medium. For the purposes of this class, animation is defined as “a method in which many still images are manipulated to appear as moving images.” We will investigate a range of analog and digital animation techniques from traditional 2D, digital 2D, flipbooks, zoetropes, stop motion, puppetry, claymation, sand animation, cutouts, drawn-on-film, rotoscoping, motion graphics, GIFs, and 3D animation. The goal for our first semester will be to experiment with as many animation techniques as possible, and the goal for our second semester will be for students to create a number of short works in their own artistic voices which experiment with non-traditional narratives and forms. Throughout the course students are encouraged to develop their curiosity and imagination, both crucial in producing personal, experimental animations. Screenings, readings, research, visitors and field trips will provide students with a greater understanding of the history and development of experimental animation and its current role in contemporary visual culture.