Art Students See AP Course’s Removal as a Mixed Bag

Student artwork displayed in the high school’s third-floor corridor. Photos by Shaila Joshi.

Next year, UL Master Studio, an upper-level interdisciplinary art workshop, will be offered for the first time and AP classes will officially be defunct at GDS. This year’s AP Studio Art & Design students and future UL Master Studio students have mixed feelings about the removal of the AP, as does the past AP and future UL art teacher, Michelle Cobb.

The switch from AP to UL will not change the path of visual art students until the highest level. Most students will first take an introductory class in the medium of their choice, move on to an advanced class in that medium and then graduate to UL Master Studio instead of AP Studio Art & Design.

In the AP class, students spent the year making art that answers one inquiry question of their choosing—for example, “How can I use transparency to show my emotions?”—and then each submitted a 15-piece portfolio to the College Board by May 6. The UL designation will broaden the focus of the course and allow students to examine more topics in their work, as opposed to limiting them to one question or idea.

This year, Art & Design was one of the last AP classes offered at GDS, along with AP computer science and foreign language classes; the history, math and science departments had already moved to offer UL classes instead.

“I was the last person that wanted to get rid of AP, so I asked to be the last class because AP has been very helpful to our curriculum,” Cobb said. “It sets these standards and expectations and also sets really clear rubric systems for people to understand and be able to grow or assess their work.”

Still, Cobb noted that AP students cannot make art that is not clearly related to the question they choose at the beginning of the year because they have to spend so much time making pieces to submit to the College Board. “The AP is very, very strict,” she said. “It doesn’t allow students to experiment with a new idea; it doesn’t allow much flexibility at all.”

Junior Maya Raman, who plans to take the UL course next year, echoed Cobb’s misgivings about the AP system. “I find that my creativity is usually suppressed when I have to complete a specific assignment or have a specific deadline,” like the AP demands, she told the Bit. “But with this new art class, it seems like the curriculum will be a lot more open.”

But junior Barbara Weaver, who took the AP this year, has concerns about the curriculum change. “If we go back to making regular assignments like a regular class, I don’t think that’s going to be really good,” she said. “What I like about the question is it does give you a lot of freedom and it also gives you a sense of responsibility, because you chose this question and you can’t just have a teacher holding your hand the whole time.”

Junior Ava Blum, another AP art student, will be taking the UL course next year. She said she had initial concerns that the UL curriculum would be repetitive, but Cobb assured her it would be different enough to make taking both classes worthwhile.

Blum has also found the focus on one question in the AP course beneficial. “It actually pushes you to be more creative, to think of a variety of ways to answer that question,” she said.

Still, Blum and Weaver described creating their AP portfolios as difficult. Students are permitted to count photos showing their process toward the 15-piece requirement. GDS students, because of time restrictions, aimed to make ten pieces and take five photos rather than make all 15. Even that modified approach proved challenging.

“A lot of us are having to compromise and make six to eight or nine because of timing,” Blum said, and include extra photos to compensate.

A student’s drawing beside an AP submission sheet.

“On a weekly basis, I spend at least 4 hours outside of class to create my best work,” Blum said in an interview before the AP class ended.

Sophomore Avery Ludlow, who plans to take the UL class next year, is still considering submitting their art to the College Board. Like other UL classes, Cobb’s will still accommodate students participating in the AP exam, but the whole class will not focus on it.

Without the pressure of being required to follow AP guidelines, Raman and Ludlow are hopeful that the UL version will be less stressful. “There’s not the pressure of so, so many deadlines like there is this year with the AP,” Raman said while the course was still going on.

Additionally, students in the UL class will be able to go on field trips and work together on projects—activities they have not been able to do in the past due to the AP course’s demanding time constraints. Ludlow is excited about these new possibilities. “The chance to work together on projects and do mixed media art seems really cool,” they told the Bit.

Fourteen people signed up for UL Master Studio—the maximum possible registration for the class. Cobb is hopeful about the change to the GDS art curriculum, though she is not without reservations. “I’m excited, but I’m also a little nervous,” she said.