School Art departments always have a special atmosphere. This may be because school rules usually do not apply there – uniform rules are relaxed, pupils wander around the studio in search of materials, and teachers rarely stand in front of the class – or it may simply be because the whole environment is so visually stimulating. They are busy places where creativity and self-expression are the driving forces. 

It is these departments that are the epitome of a teaching philosophy that allows students to discover universal truths through exploration of their own ideas. The very best examples are testimony to what might described as “ordered anarchy”. 

“When I was at school art was the preserve of a minority who were gifted enough to be able to draw” 

School Art has come a long way. When I was at school, some thirty years ago, it was the preserve of a minority who were gifted enough to be able to draw. Today, while those fine art skills are still highly valued, schools are also embracing modern art and thus democratising art by allowing the Jackson Pollock in us all to find its voice. 

Art is, by its very nature, challenging. It makes us view the world differently. Art also provides an important outlet for the artist and that is why it is so important in schools. 

It is not surprising that Art chimes with teenagers. Creativity seems to come easily at that age, when fostered in the right environment. Furthermore, as they progress through the formative years of adolescence, they need ways to express themselves as part of the process of testing out their understanding of the world around them. 

A great example of this process in action was the outstanding IB portfolio produced by Zena Ezz Eidin, a Syrian pupil at JESS, Dubai. Some of her work highlighted the plight of Syrian refugees, by reworking classical masterpieces for a relevant,  21st-century context. 

Zena’s work took a new direction when, having secured a place to study Fine Art at Columbia University in New York City, she was initially refused a visa under the terms of President Trump’s travel ban. Her final IB pieces were an outpouring of satirical work by way of protest against the visa restrictions imposed on her and her compatriots. She demonstrated her passion and disappointment with the plight of the Syrian refugees through art – and
art enabled her to tell her story to the world. 

It just goes to show that a strong and dynamic Art Department allows students to express their feelings and ideas in a way that is not always possible in other subjects because of the constraints of examination syllabuses today. 

With that idea of innovation in mind, at JESS, Dubai, our IB Diploma and specialist BTEC Art students have also been at the forefront of exploring the new art form – Virtual Reality (VR) Art. This allows students to paint in 3D, thus combining aspects of both two- and three-dimensional art. In VR, the rules of gravity do not apply, and it is possible for the artist to move around within the painting. 

JESS IB student, Hannah Demeyere, was the first person in the world to submit a piece of VR Art as part of her IB portfolio, recreating one of her physical sculptures in Google’s Tilt Brush. Other students have designed dresses within the VR environment here.

Ultimately, educators have a duty to prepare students for their futures. Those futures will include jobs that we haven’t even considered yet and it is more than likely that those careers will require the creative skills that students learn
and develop within their school’s Art classes. Brainstorming techniques, creative reasoning, visualisation of problems and integration of technology are inherent within the design process itself. It is these core skills that are vital for our 21st-century learners to ensure they are #FutureReady.

Mark SteedDirector of JESS, Dubai