High School Visual Art Curriculum


Student painting Silk, Quarry Lane School, 2018

About the units of study offered on this site......

The art units offered here are supported by 12 videos and have a duration of anywhere between three to eight weeks, depending on the unit and the pace of the students.  Also find documented instructions, rubrics, and examples of student work.
The units can be scaffolded to accommodate all high school levels and are designed to be highly individualized and process driven.

In the text below I have outlined what I think is essential to include in a visual art curriculum.  I have been heavily influenced by the International Baccalaureate Diploma program but also by my own experience. The syllabus I have included is mutable and can be taught on many levels.

Kate Reynolds, High School Art Teacher

Art as a search for meaning

The sequence and topics within a school art studio change radically between elementary and secondary levels. Aside from the assimilation of technical skills and theory, older art students must understand the functions of different art genres.  Most essentially, they need to understand that the primary function of art is a search for meaning.

For youth after the age of twelve, this is an essential message, because they are of an age built for this kind of quest: to find and articulate Meaning.

An art teacher is faced with a dilemma when they help students define meaning.  This is because students of this age are in the thrall of the pop culture of their own generation. This is a time when a person’s own sense of identity is still forming.  Helping students go beyond cliché and easy answers, the teacher should help students find their own unique story and at the same time, fit their personal story into the larger collective story.  Orientation within one’s own culture is challenging work, but cultural orientation is the most basic function of Art, or for that matter, of education in general.

Life mask project, Int. School of Azerbaijan, 2009
Student creating a headress based on ancient Chinese models, Quarry Lane School, 2017

The Story

It is essential that students become familiar with an overview of the historic record of art within their own culture as well as within other cultures.  I accomplish this by writing art history research into every unit.  The research is made more personal by allowing students to choose the direction of their own research in collaboration with the teacher’s advice. 

It is easier for students to take on this work, orienting themselves within a larger culuture,  if they understand  that culture is a narrative, a story.  Finding oneself within the larger story of history will be a life-long effort, and the sooner students learn how to interact creatively with their own piece of this larger story, the more powerful their lives will become.  Out of all the reasons for teaching visual art, this is the most central one for me. 

Unit on makng a sacred object, Quarry Lane School, 2017

To the right:  Unit on abstract self portraits, Pacific Collegiate School, 2016

Unit on designing bookplates. Quarry Lane School, 2017

Four different areas of focus in the program...

I have designed the art curriculum on this site to integrate art history and art theory with practical skills.  I have designed the structure of my instruction to have four parts:  Subject, Function, Medium, and Composition Theory.


A piece of art reflects something of an individual artist and something of the human collective at the same time.

Within secondary art classes, the student is always the essential subject of a work; the tastes and interests and history of that student becomes the subject of all art assignments.

Fitting individual meaning into a collective map of meaning is an essential part of the work


To know the reason that a piece of art is made is essential in appreciating and evaluating it.

All students work within a specific cultural context, a kind of map of meaning.  The function of art most students see is often advertising and entertainment. Helping students understand the difference between these functions and fine art is important.  This also helps students understand that cultural context is necessary when judging art from the past.


Learning technical skills with various media is part of a studio art class.  It is necessary that students learn to collaborate with a medium rather than to just impose their own conscious will on it.

The function and subject of a piece of art determines the medium (or the other way around).

The “voice” of the medium is integral to the expressive power of the work.






 The Theory of Composition, including color theory, is the rational aspect of art making. 

All pieces of art strive to present a unity, where all parts of the work are essential to the whole.

An elegant way of phrasing this is to say that art must use an economy of means to be coherent.

Composition demands that students place restrictions on their own choices in order to achieve coherence.

My Experience

I am a high school visual art teacher with over thirty years’ experience, most of it overseas.  I have taught the International Baccalaureate Diploma in five different countries as well as the IB Middle Years Program, the IGCSE, and AP Studio Art and AP Art History.

 The units presented on this site reflect my particular style of teaching: process driven and interdisciplinary in their approach.  The assignments and requirements can easily be adapted by other teachers to meet the needs of their students.

If you have questions about the units posted on this site, contact me.