Year 10 subject selections: Visual Arts with Alisan Smotlak

28 May 2020

Year 10 students are about to make their subjects selections for HSC Year 11 and 12. There is much to consider, so we thought we’d interview some of our wonderful school Teachers for their views on subject selection. Alisan Smotlak B.A (Vis Arts) B. ED (Vis Arts) BA. Int Design, has been a Teacher for 25 years and a Teacher at Glenaeon for the past 20 years, the last two years as Head of Department (Visual Arts).

Why should students pick Visual Arts?
Visual Arts allows the student to gain wide perspectives of the world, have the opportunity for self-expression, mental focus, and the shared human experience of artistic enjoyment in appreciation of, and gaining skills in, many different materials.

What will studying Visual Arts teach me?
The student learns to become a liberal thinker, understand and engage about ideas and the world. Creating works empowers the individual to realise their strengths in decision making and tangible completions.

What is the number one reason why students choose to study Visual Arts?
The reasons why students enrol into Visual Arts are varied. Many times they choose it to ‘take a break from the bookwork courses’, or want to engage in artistic pursuits in University. My students have directly been accepted into university using their Body of Work as part of their portfolio eg. National Art School, COFA, NIDA Costume Design, Architectural Degrees. Even if they are not planning on pursuing art, they enjoy the challenge that art-making provides.

What makes this subject such a great one to study in HSC? What makes it so interesting?
The visual arts course allows the interests of the student to be at the fore of their studies. There are no set textbooks that you have to start and finish. The topics are led often by the students’ interests. There is lots of excitement watching artworks develop, serious conversations and a sense of autonomy over learning.

Why are you passionate about this subject?
I have lived and breathed art from a very young age. I have never not had art in my life, in either making, looking or educating. Everyday there is something new to discover in either techniques, materials, ideas. It is always so fulfilling to see students and parents at the end of the HSC year, display their work proudly, stand back and be in awe of what they have achieved. There are always a lot of smiles and happiness in the art room.

How can this subject help students beyond their school years?
To stand in front of an artwork when it’s difficult to know where to go next, and then contemplate, experiment, question, and then discover the next solution, is a tool that will live with you and assist you in the many decisions life gives you. There is always an answer and always hope if you have ambition and experience to work to achieve a solution in whatever aspect of your life.

What differentiates Glenaeon’s teaching approach in THIS SUBJECT to other schools?
Each year the student group is looked at very carefully and the topics that are studied are tailored to them. The groups are often between 8-12 students max, which allows for a very personal connection for every student. The personal approach allows the student to gain a great deal of confidence in their abilities and the group is always very supportive of each individual. As we have a median size group, the opportunity for multiple art making and viewing excursions is highly valued. A strength is Yr 11 and 12 are taught by two teachers. This give the opportunity for one teacher to focus on theory and the other on practical. This benefits the students to keep the subject delineated and focussed in the two different areas, whilst allowing the opportunity to have two teachers following their art making. This creates a very supportive environment as the students always have someone to talk to. Both teachers have been engaged with the school for 20 years each having their own children educated here. Both teachers are involved in other aspects of the school – one in a Guardian and Outdoor Education role and one in creative aspects of the school- musicals and exhibitions. This gives the teachers a broader connection to the school and supports the students’ awareness of the integration that an Art teacher has within the whole school. The HSC students also have their own independent working spaces on the ‘mezzanine’ where they can leave their work permanently and work on it at any time, very much envied by other schools.

Anything else you wish to add that will excite Year 10s about the choices they are about to make?
Art, above all subjects, is an opportunity to really explore materials and develop ideas of what you are really passionate about.  Where the boundaries, are what you create. It will build your self-confidence, and help you learn to articulate your ideas about life in general. It’s a place of activity and rewards that are tangible, in a world where so much exists in the ‘cloud’, it’s wonderful to be able to create something with your hands and have a real sense of achievement.

Alisan shares, “Glenaeon has given me a wide scope to invest my energies into many creative endeavours, I have taught many amazing students, and there are quite a few who I am still in contact with (even from my first HSC group in 1994) I have made life-long friends and on a daily basis richly fulfilled with the diversity of events that our school presents. I have lived near Manly all my life and hence I am very connected to the water. The sounds of the waves, the storms and the wind being near the coast is very important. It is always changing, full of energy and very unpredictable. My other great love is visiting galleries and performances. I was fortunate to have grandparents and my mother who bestowed on me the love of the art world, music, ballet, books and visual arts. My father was always industrious and worked with his hands. These combinations have had a profound impact on what I do.  I will always be involved in the arts in some way and I encourage Year 10s to seriously consider continuing their study of Visual Arts courses at Glenaeon in Year 11 and 12.