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Fine Arts

The arts expose us to the richness of the past, the wisdom of diverse cultures, and new ways of thinking, feeling, and acting. Theatre, music, and visual arts are the means by which we define and enrich our human experience. The arts fill our need for meaning, build bridges to past generations, transcend the challenges of the present, and allow us to conceive the future. Through the arts, we are able to reflect upon, appreciate, and change who we are, both as individuals and as members of a larger community. And because they are an inseparable part of our humanity, the arts are fundamental to any complete education.

The Fine Arts Program at SEM presents a comprehensive survey of the arts, and is designed to promote each student’s personal growth through artistic expression. Guided by the fine arts faculty, students examine the history and philosophy of artistic expression, and actively participate in art, music, theatre, and dance. Each girl is challenged to test her own limits, and to discover and explore her unique potential.

SEM students are required to take two foundations courses, which give them an understanding of the basic elements that define the arts and an appreciation of how they impact everyday life. After freshman year, students may choose from semester electives in the visual arts, music, or theatre. Our ultimate goal is to cultivate talent and inspire each girl to develop a lifelong appreciation of the fine arts.

Each trimester the best of student work in the visual arts become an art show. Twice a year the theater club stages a play in our Margaret L. Wendt black box theater. Both our theatre and photography classes and clubs also air their works in progress and final pieces on Instagram.

Department Chair: Susan Drozd



Course Descriptions

Includes electives, though not all elective courses are offered each year or trimester. Students may also enroll in additional electives and AP's offered through SEM's membership in the Online School for Girls.

Foundations in Narrative Art

This course traces the history of storytelling in art from Egyptian tombs and Chinese hand scrolls to contemporary art installations and comics. We will examine the methods artists have used to communicate their stories in sequential images, animation, and art installation. Students will keep visual journals reflecting on questions brought up in class. We will take a field trip to Sugar City’s Zine Library and 1-2 other galleries to see relevant exhibits.

Foundations in Representation

This course covers the history of mimicry and representation in art from the Renaissance to Pop Art and beyond. Beneath the broad heading of “Representation” we will examine the techniques, concepts and social movements that have driven artists to represent the world around them in different ways. From Da Vinci’s scientific approach to Matisse’s emotive use of color, we will examine techniques artists developed to make convincingly realistic works and the reasons many artist’s abandoned these rules. We will see how artists like Gustave Courbet and Jacob Lawrence sought to represent diverse populations in a medium typically reserved for the wealthy. We will discuss the ethics of appropriation and mimicry in Pop Art. Students will be asked to make connections between historic and contemporary works by artists like Kara Walker. Much time will be spent at the Albright Knox and other area galleries engaging with art in person. Students will keep visual journals reflecting on the themes and questions brought up in class.

Foundations in Abstraction

This course covers the roots of objective and non-objective abstraction from cave painting to Contemporary Art. Beneath the broad heading of “Abstraction” we will study the psychology, history and ideas that led artists to move beyond representational artwork. We will examine how abstract artworks impact the human brain and how abstract painters sought to reduce their artworks to simple lines and colors in order to examine the building blocks of visual experience. Much time will be spent at the Albright Knox Gallery engaging with art in person. In addition to six visits to the Albright Knox we will visit The Burchfield Penney, Hallwalls Contemporary Art and CEPA gallery to see exhibits related to the course content. Students will be asked to make connections between historic and contemporary works and will keep visual journals reflecting on the artworks we discuss in class.

Art and Social Activism

This course shows students how artists have used their creative expression to build public awareness about social and humanitarian struggles all over the world. Students will observe different forms of art, such as performance art, street art, documentary photography, and films and installations. By looking at artists’ work and discussing its impact, students will gain an understanding of how the arts, and even one single artist, can make a difference in the world we live in.

Contemporary Women in Photography

This is a foundations course that covers women’s contributions to photography from the early 1900’s to the present. In this course students learn that women have played an equal and sometimes greater role in the history of photography than men. Students are required to take quizzes about each photographer and also be able to identify their work.

Theatre Styles I

This course covers theatre performance and various forms of theatrical entertainment through the eyes of the following playwrights: Brecht, Albee, and Beckett. Students will not only cover the playwright but also the historical and psychological aspects of the plays as well. Students will identify different styles and their origins by reading plays and seeing performances. Through these phases of entertainment, students will discover different performance pieces, theatres, and personalities.

Theater Styles II

This course covers theatre performance and various forms of theatrical entertainment through the eyes of the following playwrights: Miller, Williams, and O’Neill (playwrights subject to change dependent upon theatre season). Students will not only cover the playwright but also the historical and psychological aspects of the plays as well. Students will identify different styles and their origins by reading plays and seeing performances. Through these phases of entertainment students will discover different performance pieces, theatres, and personalities.

Theatre Styles III

This course covers theatre performance and various forms of theatrical entertainment through the eyes of the following playwrights: Mamet, Kushner, and Ruehl (playwrights subject to change dependent upon theatre season). Students will not only cover the playwright but also the historical and psychological aspects of the plays as well. Students will identify different styles and their origins by reading plays and seeing performances. Through these phases of entertainment students will discover different performance pieces, theatres, and personalities

Graphic and Print Design

This course teaches students about communication, traditional typography, advertising and print design. A brief history of print design is covered as well as how women are portrayed in advertising. Using industry standard design and layout software, students work on projects ranging from business logos/identities and public service announcements to simple design and layout of multi-page documents.

Mixed Media Mash-up

This class is all about learning how to choose what to make when faced with unlimited possibility. Instead of focusing on a single artistic medium, you will be introduced to many and asked to choose which one works best for your project. The class will run as a “choice based studio” which means that you will have the opportunity to delve deeper into projects that interest you personally. During the first half of the trimester we will expand your medium toolbox by learning new skills in collage, cardboard sculpture, papercut, bookmaking, drawing and painting. We will focus as much on process as on the final product. You will share and reflect on your creative process on a portfolio webpage and in class critiques. During the second half of the trimester we will examine some themes in contemporary art and look at contemporary artworks for inspiration. You will have the chance to choose a theme (or themes) and apply what you learned during medium exploration to mixed media projects.


Digital Art and Illustration

Students learn how to paint and draw using digital tools and several types of 2D applications in the Mac lab. Digital Art and Illustration and Mixed-Media Mash-Up are scheduled at the same time in order to rotate students enrolled in both courses to allow for some collaborative work. This way both classes have the opportunity to incorporate both digital and hands-on skills and to interact with each other. Each class has its own separate projects, and credit is given for the class for which the student is registered.

Digital Third Dimension

Students will create and design 3D models, artwork and environments in this class using several different software applications. When possible, artwork will also be printed out and used to create 3 dimensional art pieces, such as dioramas, mobiles, books and simple sculptures.

Poetry in Motion

This digital class will concentrate on creating art that moves! Stop-motion and fractal animation, video-making and editing, combining text with images, narration, sound and motion graphics will be covered. Students will make video art to be viewed on screen as well as online.

Intro to Drawing

This class will introduce students to the basic principles of drawing. Students will learn to draw from observation using pencil, charcoal, and ink. Time will be spent on perspective, proportion and shading. We will start with the basics and then move towards conceptually oriented projects at the end of the trimester.

Basic Painting

This introductory course allows students to explore the basic tenets of painting. Students learn about design and composition, as well as how a painting evolves from the first brush stroke to completion. Each project begins with gathering resource materials and thumbnail sketches, which encourage the exploration of a variety of ways to solve a problem. Time is spent observing masterworks in order to gain a better understanding of assignments.

Intro to Acting

This course introduces students to basic acting skills, including improvisation, script and character analysis, characterization and to develop concentration in public performance.

Intro to Acting Shakespeare

This course introduces students to the keys of “unlocking” Shakespeare’s language through performance. Tools such as language, sound, meaning, and rhythm will help students to better understand, interpret and perform Shakespeare. We will use acting skills, including improvisation, script and character analysis, and characterization. This class will also help to develop concentration in public performance.

Advanced Acting Shakespeare

Pre-Requisite – Intro to Acting Shakespeare
This course builds upon the skills learned in Intro to Acting Shakespeare. Students actively “unlock” Shakespeare’s language through performance, using more scene work, play analysis and viewing of performances either live or in the classroom.

Theatrical Production Class

This course provides students with a hands-on experience incorporating all aspects of theatre production. By creating publicity, covering box office and budgeting, building props and costumes, and focusing lights, students have the opportunity to draw on skills learned in math, English, history, computer, and design while developing new skills in sewing and construction. This class will be working on producing Buffalo Seminary’s fall play.

Intro to Photography

Prerequisite for all other photography classes
Students learn proper composition of photos as they begin shooting digitally and working in Photoshop. Basic camera operation, understanding film and developing negatives and prints is covered before students shoot their first roll of film, and then learn basic darkroom skills.

Advanced Film Photography

This is a fine art/advanced photography class. Students go back into the darkroom and work at perfecting shooting film and printing in the darkroom. Each project requires not only a black and white print but also an alternative process. Students are expected to try solarizing, hand coloring, Holga cameras, dyeing and toning, collaging and making photo based 3D projects.

Photography & Mixed Media

In this advanced photography class, students use their digital photography to create art by: manipulating work in Photoshop, printing on various types of mediums, using scanners, collaging, assembling 3-dimensional pieces and enhancing their work with other art materials.

Drawing as Thinking: Comics and Mapping

In this class we will learn to use drawing as a way of understanding and organizing our thoughts. Taking inspiration from contemporary comic artists like Chris Ware, Lynda Barry and Ivan Brunetti we will make sequential art that breaks the boundaries of traditional narrative. Historic maps, timelines, scientific diagrams and advertisements will all inform our work as we consider different ways to communicate visually. We will begin by creating silent comics and then slowly incorporate words. From there we will explore making autobiographical, fictional and non-fictional comics. Time will be spent considering the different formats that comics can appear in from zines, to webcomics, to limited edition prints and handmade artist books. At the end of the trimester we will collect the class’ best work into a comics anthology and publish it in a small edition to share with the Sem community. All drawing ability levels welcome!

Experiments in Printmaking

In this class we will explore the basic techniques of printmaking. Printmaking is the art of creating multiple copies of an artwork from a single stamp or image matrix. We will use everything from potatoes, to linoleum, to wood, to mesh screens to create our matrices as we explore linocut, monoprint and screen-printing techniques. If you like to draw or experiment with new mediums this may be the class for you! If you want to share your artwork, but don’t want to give away your only original, you will appreciate the share oriented culture of printmaking. Towards the end of the trimester we will organize a print exchange and each student will go home with a print made by every other person in the class.