COMMENTARY | Has COVID-19 Jeopardized the Future for Visual Arts Senior Concentration?

Opinion, School Year 2021-22, The Arts

By: Quinn Bryant 

Students in the Visual Arts department, like most departments, spend three years dabbling in a variety of mediums within their discipline, but something that makes the Visual Arts curriculum stand out from the rest is Senior Concentration. Senior Concentration is the opportunity for Senior Visual Artists to choose one or two specific Visual Arts disciplines to focus on for the entirety of the year. During Senior year, Visual Artists only have three other classes outside of Senior Concentration: Art History 3, Sculpture 2, and Mixed Media.

Senior Concentration is a lengthy process and starts before Visual Arts seniors have their first day of classes. It starts with junior year juries. Juniors discuss with their jurors what medium they might want to pursue and why? Then, according to Visual Arts Department Head Archie Veale, over the summer, rising seniors should spend their time creating concrete ideas within their sketchbooks, so they can take their work “right from the sketchbook onto the wall,” says Veale. 

When I was considering applying to BSA, this was one of the parts of the school that sold it for me. The opportunity for me to spend the majority of my final year focusing on the art medium I enjoy most and preparing for what I might be doing in college excited me. It is something that not only me, but many of my peers were fascinated and excited about since freshman year. 

But the unique thing about Senior Concentration that I don’t think people fully understand is that it’s not just taking one class for the majority of the year. This course is completely self-driven. There are no prompts, no teacher-assigned lessons, or given teacher restrictions. It’s all up to you. It is all about the Visual Artists creating their own body of work, on their own, without any push from teachers. Teachers essentially work as a facilitator and give additional help to the students.

Whether students in the Visual Arts department want to become a doctor, a professional painter, or work in art therapy, the idea of creating your own body of work without any teacher instruction is very compelling. Visual Arts Seniors Gigi Pilla and Anastasia Glass had the same feeling that a lot of Visual Artists have when they found out about Senior Concentration. Pilla said it gave her the chance to explore and Glass felt as though they would be well prepared for when they moved on from high school.

Visual Arts Senior, Anastasia Glass , and guest looking at artwork. Photo by Ella Haber.

However, with Senior Concentration being a very independent practice, there is a lot of student self-accountability. As Veale says, “It’s not for everyone”. But it is not something some students can do while others sit out. “You cannot send three students to the moon,” says Veale. I agree that it is a tremendous amount of accountability that students have to hold to themselves. They have to produce a body of work that not only reflects them as an artist but reflects all of the techniques they have learned here at BSA. 

However, for next year’s Seniors and possibly the Seniors following them, Senior Concentration is in jeopardy of continuing a little differently or not at all, and it’s mainly due to COVID-19. Yes, COVID-19 has affected much of our lives inside and outside of the classroom, so it isn’t a surprise that COVID has affected this big self-driven curriculum. As previously discussed, Senior Concentration is the culmination of three years of practice, and missing just one of those years can be very difficult. This year’s Seniors had to do virtually one of the most informative and impactful years as a Visual Artist, Junior year. 

Pilla, Glass, and fellow Senior Visual Artist Ayana Hall attested to that. Hall discussed that she sees Junior Visual Artists creating artwork she never got the opportunity to even start thinking about because of the virtual year. And I can agree on the same thing. I was surprised when I saw the Visual Arts Freshman working in color, as that was something I never got to do Freshman year.

The Covid year has affected our arts all in different ways, some positive and some negative. First, Pilla discussed that she was in a rut during virtual school. She often lost motivation to create art, but she did stay very active in photography, which is why she chose that as her Senior Concentration. However, Glass felt as though she was very motivated when she got back in the building to push through with Senior Concentration because she was just excited to be back in a real live art room with all of her friends. 

The current Visual Arts Juniors had to spend their Sophomore year, which is part two of refining their technical skills, virtually. Additionally, they were not able to do a traditional first year of art school, which as you can imagine is a very vital year. Due to these drawbacks, Juniors and Sophomores (but more prominently Juniors) opportunity to do Senior Concentration is being debated. It may be that this year’s Freshmen, if COVID permits it, will be able to do Senior Concentration if no other classes do, according to the Veale.

I do not think Senior Concentration should be cut, which is an obvious notion as I am a Junior Visual Artist eager to do an entire year of painting. It might just need to be modified. In my discussion with Pilla and Glass, they talked about having more structure in the program, and I was interested to find out that certain parts of the program I thought would be included weren’t something they ever did. 

Pilla discussed that she would have enjoyed the opportunity to get together with the entirety of the class for critiques a couple of times in the year. It was hard for her to get critiques because her Senior Concentration focus, photography, only included one other person. I was surprised that the Seniors never all got together to talk about what they were working on.

Visual Arts Senior, Gigi Pilla , and guest looking at photography. Photo by Ella Haber.

Pilla also expressed the need for more teacher push. I know Senior Concentration is meant for students to work solely independently, and they have to hold themselves accountable, But I think we can all agree if an academic teacher doesn’t give a due date on an assignment or tells you to submit it “whenever”, you are most likely to keep prioritizing other things over it. Senior Concentration is something where the final due date is the end of the year. But one of the changes Pilla suggested to the Senior Concentration  curriculum is for their to be more actual deadlines.

The difficult thing about that is students are going to produce different amounts of work and some pieces could take longer than others. So one of my personal suggestions is a beginning of the year assignment where students have to make a year long or semester long schedule with due dates that they want to abide by. That still calls for student accountability, but it also helps students have the pressure of the assignment there to push them to keep going. 

As the school year is ending, Veale expresses his advice to the Junior Visual Arts class and the underclassman. “Juniors need to prepare themselves for what’s going to be a very stressful year,” according to Veale. Juniors should not take the summer off from art; they need to use their sketchbooks continuously to gain a snapshot of who they are. Juniors should reflect on their past work at BSA and come ready to play and experiment during Senior year.  

Veale has two main pieces of advice for underclassmen. One to “Continue to make art for yourself, not just the assignments we give you,” says Veale. And second, all Visual Arts classes should never lose their love for their art. Veale does not want the weight of the academic schedule or the art assignment to make underclassmen forget why they are here. 

Senior Concentration is an incredible opportunity. It allows Visual Artists to take everything they’ve learned and bring it all together. The Senior show holds some of the most creative pieces of the year the Visual Arts Department produces. So as you find yourself on the first floor, stop by the gallery show and look at some of the incredible work from this year’s Seniors class of 2022.

To contact this writer, email Muse Newspaper at