By Kiara Amaya
Concentrating on three-dimensional visual art, the ceramics courses on campus offer students a place to express their individuality through a creative medium. A long time sought after visual and performing arts (VAPA) class, especially by seniors, ceramics is available to students of all grade levels in both CP and advanced levels.
Taking required visual and performing arts classes may seem like a daunting task and often not related to a students’ potential field. However, students can discover a skill that may turn into a passion. Additionally, many students have never been exposed to the arts before and learn to appreciate beauty and think creatively as a result of taking VAPA classes.
“VAPA is rooted in our passions, some of them we don’t even know we have yet,” VAPA department chair and ceramics teacher Julie Neumann said. “When we are done with school whether it’s high school or college, VAPA still stays with us because these are things that you might do forever. Think of all of the things that you learn in your VAPA classes that revisit you at different periods in your life as you grow up. The arts give you problem solving skills: brainstorming, creative ways to get yourself out of a hiccup, aesthetic valuing to look out into the world and see beautiful things and being able to understand why they’re beautiful.”
Neumann and fellow ceramics teacher Emmanuel Crespo devote their time to instructing students on developing artistic skills and creating an environment in which students can decompress and be comfortable.
Ceramics itself allows students to physically express their ideas. In class, students make tangible objects that can demonstrate to both the skills they built throughout a project and their individuality with every unique piece.
“Like the other VAPA classes, ceramics requires a process of thinking, planning, execution, and many mistakes,” Crespo said. “However, one thing that may separate ceramics from the rest is that its process results in a physical object that exists in the same space that you and I exist in. A drawing or painting is physical as well but they are pictorial and flat. Ceramics produce actual objects that exist in real space, objects that can be picked up, held, and even used.”
Neumann’s CP ceramics students are working on a project where they create two matching cups that they can use daily. The students must show a balance between skill building and creative freedom to make the cups individual through design, look, color, etc. Previous projects include a personalized box, coil bowls, and sgraffito skulls.
“I believe making art is one of the most human things we can do,” Crespo said. “As a species we humans created art 30,000 years before we developed agriculture. Our instincts told us it was more important to make beautiful, even sacred objects than it was to ensure a stable food source.”
In ceramics, the direction of teachers and constant practice leads students to explore the possibilities and limits of creating art with clay.
“Everything we do in the visual and performing arts are expressions,” Neumann said. “Some of them are directed by the teacher. We give you a clear focus of what we want you to do but often you’re able to bring in your own voice, your own background, your own culture, your own message and you can express that through your art.”
Along with learning the ins and outs of clay, students in ceramics connect with their teachers and each other in a welcoming and meditative environment.
“Although my class may get loud and chaotic, and may seem like the exact opposite of a meditation studio, the energy allows the students to relax and be themselves,” Crespo said. “Whether they’re working quietly in their zone fully present with their project, or sharing jokes and stories while their hands get muddy, everyone is relaxed and comfortable. This is my favorite part, when everyone can be themselves, which means I can be myself. I sometimes think the projects are just a byproduct of my real job which is to provide a space where they are comfortable enough to be themselves and make art.”
The high school experience is about so much more than academics. Teachers impact their students by helping them with important transitions in their lives, especially seniors.
“I love connecting with my students,” Neumann said. “We talk a lot about kindness and being respectful to other people and to our surroundings. We talk a lot about building up and supporting other people and recognizing that we’re different and how that is a good thing. That’s why I love my job. I’m able to impact students not only in their experience with ceramics but also as a launch pad onto the rest of their lives. I teach a lot of seniors, and I get them right at that time where they’re choosing the colleges they’re applying to, picking majors, etc. I really like being a part of that time in my seniors’ lives.”
Students themselves experience and value the effort of their teachers to create an environment where they are appreciated for their unique characteristics along with the creation of their very own art.
“Ceramics just gives me a lot of freedom. Ms. Neumann often says, ‘You have unlimited clay, you can just get clay and do whatever you want on the side. We can ask her for her opinion and help and she always supports us in whatever we make,” senior Caren Ramirez said.