Visual Arts Classic

By: Jayna Hintz, curator of education on April 14th, 2010

It’s 4:45 a.m. I know because my alarm clock is screaming a song. I jump out of bed. An adrenaline rush hits me. I need to be on the road by 5:30 a.m. at the latest!

Shower, brush teeth, and the morning routine continues while I try not to wake up the entire household. 5:25 a.m. I fill my coffee mug and I’m out the door, on my way to Madison to judge the Visual Arts Classic (VAC). I’m making the drive alone, a good thing because singing along with every song that comes on the radio makes my day roll out in a perfect way. Why would anyone want to listen to someone talk at you in the morning? I wouldn’t; that’s why I change the station every few songs to avoid the talk.

I make great time and at 8 a.m. I pull onto Park Street and up to the front of the Humanities building on the UW Madison Campus. A young lady hands me a parking pass. Off I go to the Helen C. White parking ramp. The sun is shining and the campus is busy with activitiy. It feels good to be back. It’s going to be a glorious day!

Buses line up and students off-load with artworks they spent their entire school year creating. Lively chatter greets me as I enter the Humanities building and hike upstairs to the Seventh Floor Gallery. The hallways are packed with students, teachers, parents, and judges. Everyone but the judges clears the gallery space by 8:30 a.m. I hear hammering as the last few artworks are put in place. I feel excited as I enter the gallery and that’s how it should be. There are almost 300 artworks created by 69 high school VAC teams from across Wisconsin on display to be judged and critiqued.

The Visual Arts Classic is a competition for high school art students. Twelve students comprise a team, and high schools can have more than one team. Coaches must be Wisconsin Arts Education Association members. Teams compete in eleven studio categories: drawing, painting, sculpture, art history, computer graphic design, video, printmaking, ceramics, personal adornment, digital photography, and traditional photography. A theme and twelve representative artists differentiate each year. The 2010 theme was Art and the 1960s & 70s. The twelve artists were Marilyn Levine, Andy Warhol, Peter Max, Richard Avedon, David Hockney, Andre Courreges, Bridget Riley, Roy Lichtenstein, George Segal, Minnie Evans, Alton Kelley, and Stanley Mouse. Teams researched the theme and studied the artists.

In addition to the theme, the VAC poses a question for each of the eleven categories. The challenge is to create artworks during the school year in response to the questions. At earlier regional competitions, students created additional artworks in response to a second question. Students are judged and scored individually and as a team. The first place regional winners advance to the State competition.

Madison is the site of the State competition and the artwork is impressive. I’m one of four judges assigned to the painting category. The students were required to create an original landscape in the style of Peter Max. From across the gallery space, I could see many stylized bright orange suns.

Judging is based on four criteria: solving the problem, originality/creativity, composition/design, and technical skill. Each is worth between one and five points, with five being the highest. A perfect score is 20 (First: 18-20 points; Second: 15-17 points; Third: 12-14 points; and Fourth: 11 and below). While the judges are scoring the long-term projects, students are creating a short-term artwork.

Lunchtime! That means a cold Diet Coke and sub for me.

After lunch, the short-term projects are judged. Once the judging is complete, students have the chance to meet with judges for face-to-face critiques.

The critique time is my favorite part of the day. I’m eager to find out about the artists and the thoughts behind their artworks. It’s especially interesting when you find out this is the first year a student has worked in watercolor or acrylic, for example. Many have never explored the medium they worked in before this school year.

It’s 2:30 p.m. My VAC judging is finished. I leave the lively chatter behind, open the door onto Park Street, and head back to my car. It’s a beautiful sunny day and there are many songs to sing as I travel the 140 miles back home.

Thanks to the Visual Arts Classic competitors for making April 9 a glorious day!

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