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Visual Arts

Our Visual Arts Program focuses on building students' understanding, experience, and skill. Students in our arts classes work in a variety of media and gain exposure to myriad theories, ideas, and artists, broadening their horizons and encouraging respect for different approaches.

Visitation takes advantage of its location in bustling Washington, DC, and introduces students to the burgeoning local arts and museum scene outside our gates. Through field trips to places like the National Gallery and the Phillips Collection, our young artists gain inspiration, learn to recognize familiar techniques and concepts in the work of masters, and forge connections with the greater arts world.

Students interested in sharing their work with the school community have a variety of outlets. Visitation hosts an Art Show each spring that is open to any student, regardless of whether they are enrolled in an art class. Student art is also displayed in St. Joseph's Hall and other campus locations. Additionally, our many campus publications—the literary magazine, yearbook, student newspaper, and our alumnae magazine—all highlight student work.

Faculty Profile: Kelli Smith, Art Department Chair

Kelli Smith

What are some of the ways you bring lessons to life?

Field trips, for sure. Learning about the artwork then seeing it in-person is a great experience for students. Every chance I get, I try to take students to museums. It is important for them to see the space where works of art are placed and the accompanying pieces as well. In the past, I have taken students on national and international trips, and those trips have changed their lives. One of my favorite trips was to New York where students had the chance to visit the studio of an artist and a show on Broadway. Locally, I love when we take all the freshman class to visit The National Gallery of Art where students can witness artists who have been granted permits to recreate works of art by Rembrandt and other great masters. I also enjoy taking students to museums that are former residents of the benefactors, like The Phillips Collection, Hillwood, and The Kreeger.

Also, students are encouraged to enter school-wide, local, and national competitions. Creating a theme-based work of art is not only fun, but requires lots of thought. They view works of art from students outside of school, and this expands their view of the world.

What do you hope students take from your classes?

The stories behind the artists and paintings are a part of history, and the girls remember a lot of what they learn. Art is everywhere!

Why are the arts such a vital part of a well-rounded education?

Art isn’t just something we do in the studio; it plays a critical role in so many academic disciplines, especially history and religion. Understanding art, its meaning and significance, and how to create it broadens students’ understanding of so many things and can even help the learning process itself. The creative process involves a lot of problem-solving and imagination—skills that are central in just about every field and pursuit these days. What’s more, many of my students say that art is the best part of their day because they find it relaxing and therapeutic.

Beyond creating their own art, what does Visitation's art program offer students?

Students learn that art is a visual representation of history. It provides facts about various time periods, as well as, social commentary about life. It can also be a means of propaganda. Because art is an expression, one must look into who's statement it is-a personal experience or thought by the artist or the patron. I want students to consider the message and enjoy it for it's aesthetic beauty as well.

What makes Visitation's art programs unique?

Freshman-year Aesthetics is a unique class because students are introduced to a wide range of artists and movements that are expressive, and in their own artwork, girls feel free to take risks. Studio classes prepare students for careers related to art—particularly architecture, fashion, and graphic or interior design. This is especially true in the Portfolio Development class, where students focus on one theme all year and meet with people in art-related professions.

How does your personal art affect students?

Students enjoy seeing me create my own work on my free periods in the studio and especially enjoy attending my shows. I've had shows at Visitation in the past where students have acted as greeters. For the entire Visitation community, it's nice to see their 'artist in residence' experience success as an artist.

Kelli has taught at Visitation for over 20 years. She has a B.A. in Urban Planning with an Art History minor from the University of Maryland, and an M.A. in Art Education from the Corcoran School of Art.

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