Visual Arts Core Curriculum

The Visual Arts program develops a student's artistic talents through experimentation with different media and forms including painting, drawing, photography, printmaking, ceramics, metals, fiber arts, and more. Interlochen's visual arts high school program develops a student's capacity for expression through a correlation between the visual arts and an awareness of the student’s broader environment.

For information on graduation requirements and academic curriculum, please visit Academy Academics.

Required Courses: Visual Arts Majors

This course investigates the foundations of drawing, painting and design principles while encouraging proficiency in a wide range of approaches. Students strengthen their drawing and painting abilities and knowledge through practice and progressive exploration. They examine the differences between media, such as oil and water-based paint, and experiment with a variety of surfaces, such as panel, canvas, and paper. Preparation of surfaces is emphasized, while students learn to build their own painting stretchers in the woodshop. Study of proportion, form, perspective, visual measurement, portraiture, chroma, mark and value making with a wide range of materials are emphasized in a series of observational and experimental projects. In addition to foundational techniques, conceptual development is promoted. Students are also expected to take part in critiques, classroom discussions and research.

In this course, students learn basic and advanced compositional techniques, and the proper methods for documenting artwork and other visual projects. Special attention is paid to different historical ideas of proper composition, photographers who utilize these varied practices, and their application in abstracted and documentary photography.

In Sculptural Forms, students explore visual and physical concepts and processes such as form, volume, plane, line, space, texture, and surface. Students gain experience with a diverse selection of sculptural processes including addition (construction or fabrication), subtraction (carving), manipulation (modeling), and substitution (casting). Students explore a variety of methods such as found objects and installation. Contemporary and traditional issues related to sculpture and design are explored through assigned readings, personal research, class discussion, critiques, and individual projects. Students are required to work proficiently in their sourcebooks and develop their ideas through course-related research.

Figure exploration is a study of figurative anatomy and proportion as depicted through observational painting and through digital technology. Students develop a working knowledge of both skeletal and musculature anatomy and how these can be employed and manipulated to create a convincing figure. Students develop strategies for work through the process of creating an armature, sculpting, and finishing. In this course, students also look at digital tools of capturing a three-dimensional model and explore how this can be employed as a tool in hand sculpting and painting.

In this course, students explore a broad range of digital image editing tools. Students enhance their digital literacy by examining the different capabilities of image editing software programs, and understanding the difference between vector and raster-based imagery. Graphic Design, Image Formatting and Photo Editing, and Digital Painting and more will be explored.

In this course, students develop and refine two-dimensional and three-dimensional foundational techniques while cultivating the capacity for visual and conceptual thinking. Students also develop their ability to brainstorm, research and collect reference images and materials, in order to learn to independently develop ideas for assignments. Students in Visual Awareness embrace unique solutions to creative problems, and develop the skills necessary for conceptual growth and experimentation with material. Group critiques and discussions throughout the year allow students to gain insight from fellow students and strengthen their own speaking skills.

In this course, students develop a rigorous artistic practice that yields a cohesive and sophisticated portfolio. Skills emphasized relate to the presentation and completion of major bodies of work, articulation of personal creative process, and continued honing of craft. Extensive independent research into contemporary and historical art and both cultural and autobiographical influences are necessary to create a meaningful and developed body of work. Students learn flexibility, answering questions about “Why?” and “What if...?” Interdisciplinary, collaborative and community-based creative investigations are highly encouraged. By the end of the term, students are able to articulate their thesis clearly and demonstrate research in the form of a cohesive body of work.

This course prepares students for their Thesis Exhibition at the end of the year. Students develop a thesis idea that is connected to them through personal experience in order for their work to be genuine and original. Through an in-depth exploration of their chosen thesis idea, students learn how to interpret ideas metaphorically with multiple solutions and in multiple media. They continuously examine their idea and develop a body of work that is both visually and conceptually cohesive. In addition to the Thesis Exhibition, students are expected to complete college applications or research other professional opportunities available after graduation, write essays and artist statements, and enter scholarship competitions. In this course, students learn that making art as an ongoing process that involves the student in informed and critical decision-making. Technical mastery is emphasized and demonstrated through a wide range of approaches and media. Abstract, observational, and inventive works are explored and developed.

Students work collaboratively and individually to curate and install their thesis exhibitions. The Dow Visual Arts Gallery serves as the main exhibition site. Exhibitions that students oversee also include the Student Juried Exhibition, Senior Thesis Exhibitions, and the annual Festival Exhibition. Upon completion of the Thesis Exhibition, students are expected to continue to create meaningful artwork for their portfolios.

An introduction to the history and developments in arts and culture from the ancient world through to the Renaissance. This encompasses Prehistory to 1600 CE. Students will study the historical chronology of human kind's expressive impulse and the evidence that reveals it. The interconnected evolution of culture, patronage, and technological advancement will be examined in art, architecture, and styles of dress.

An introduction to the history and developments in arts and culture from the 15th century through to the 21st century. This encompasses the dates 1600 to 2019. Students will study the historical chronology of human kind’s expressive impulse and the evidence that reveals it. The interconnected evolution of culture, patronage, and technological advancement will be examined in art, architecture, and styles of dress.

This course is designed as a survey of art history, focusing on cultures and regions outside of the traditional Western canon covered in most survey courses. We will investigate visual movements, important figures, and historical developments from the cultures and geographical regions reviewed. Class will consist of short lectures, classroom discussions of material and occasional short reading assignments, and short group and individual projects. These projects may include studio art assignments as well as short class presentations, both group and individual. We will examine pieces from many different media, including but not limited to painting, sculpture, illuminated manuscripts, and architecture. We will progress both geographically and chronologically and focus on significant works from Southeast Asia, China, Korea, Japan, the Islamic world, native arts in the Americas, the African continent, and island cultures in Oceania. Lecture and class discussions will focus on the political, social, and historical circumstances surrounding the production of artworks throughout our historical timeframe.

Sample Technique Classes

These offerings change year to year based on curricular needs and student interest.

This introductory course in ceramics is developed to direct the student through the introduction and use of a wide variety of handbuilding and wheel throwing techniques.  Students will study the uses of the wheel and construct work that challenge their skills. This course is designed to provide a hands-on studio art experience.  Students will use the wheel to help them expand their way of ceramic making.

This course will develop a strong skill base to enable successful construction of functional and sculptural ceramic objects. Students will learn to use the hand-building processes of pinch, slab, coil and hollowing. Students will also learn to utilize templates to aid in construction, the coil extruder, slab roller and the use of simple one part plaster hump/slump molds. For those students aware of these handbuilding process we will push scale, complexity of the skill and technique. Glaze application will be covered. 

Students in Experimental Fashion will explore a variety of materials and design applications as they are related to fashion, wearable art, and soft sculpture. We will explore design elements both functional and non-functional and how these relate to the wearer and use of the garment/object.  Students will research fashion designers and artists  and discuss recent trends as well as students’ artistic interests. Students will continue to develop and hone their sewing and garment construction craft; projects in this class are expected to have a high level of craft. This class will also emphasize the documentation, performance,  and presentation of wearable artworks.

Using a dress form and three dimensional draping, students will begin this course by assembling a paper-based pattern that introduces the basic steps and rules for constructing a garment. Students will become familiar with the parts of, how to thread, and practice sewing via sewing machine(Bernina 210/215). Through deconstructing and reconstructing ready-to-wear garments students will begin to understand fit and measurements, silhouette, and fabric choices. Students will then use cotton muslin to create an original prototype based on their own artistic interests/thesis idea.

Students in Interdisciplinary Sculpture will work with a variety of media and processes. Students will review and elaborate on their understanding of the principles and elements of sculpture. Students will create pieces in traditional sculptural media ( wood, metal, plaster) as well as investigating mixed media, kinetics, installation, and 4D application. These projects, with a more advanced and independent focus, allow students to continue building their existing knowledge of sculpture while experimenting. Students will be asked to consider the relationship between material and content and to incorporate their thesis topic into the projects created in this class.

The focus of this course is on fabrication and forming techniques such as soldering, cold connections in sheet metal and wire. Mechanisms such as hinges, clasps, and closures will be explored. Forming and forging methods approaches will aid students in creating three-dimensional forms. While building or constructing objects are the primary techniques covered, students will be exposed to surface treatments such as creating texture on metal, patinations (adding color through the use of chemicals), and stone setting. Wearable and non-wearable objects will be considered. 

This interdisciplinary course will explore various ways of making outside of the traditional norms of handbuilding and throwing.  By expanding upon the contemporary field of ceramic artists and variant practices we will look at how raw clay, photography, installation, mixed materials can become part of the ceramic process. This course will strengthen conceptual thinking, dialogue and is geared towards experimenting!

In this course students will explore traditional and nontraditional approaches to the creation of cloth for functional or nonfunctional purposes. A primary focus will be placed on beginning/intermediate weaving and felting techniques. Additional techniques such as immersion dying, surface design on fabric, knitting, crochet, piece work, stitching, and creation of dimensional forms may be introduced in conjunction with alternative materials and found objects. Students will be introduced to the history of the medium and its current contemporary practices through examination of historical and contemporary works.

In this course students will expand on techniques taught in Fibers: Constructed Cloth to explore traditional and nontraditional approaches to the creation of cloth for functional or nonfunctional purposes. A primary focus will be placed on intermediate and advanced weaving and felting techniques. Additional embellishment techniques will be introduced based upon student-driven work. Students will be introduced to the history of the medium and its current contemporary practices through examination of historical and contemporary works.

Concept Art is a Studio Intensive course that explores the programs, methods, and techniques of visual development and world-building used by the Film and Video-game industries. We will work through the process of designing characters, environments, props, vehicles, and creatures; pulling from our imagination other sources of inspiration. Focus will be on creating believable worlds from scripts and ideas, using our designs, colors, and compositions to support the narrative and intended emotional impact. We will create thumbnails, digital paintings, character sheets, and 3-D spaces to develop our visual concepts.

Public Art is an increasingly important genre for artists to engage with their communities and is monetarily supported by 28 state policies through the Percent for Art initiative. In this class, students will explore murals, outdoor sculptures and various other methods of creating public art. Students will learn about historical and contemporary public art and explore how the impact of bringing artwork to people in public spaces is different than relying on the intentional audience that visits a gallery. By evolving their traditional studio practice, students will consider how factors such as environment, scale, function, audience and public participation affect the design and perception of their artwork. Through direct hands-on projects, students will learn to work collaboratively with other artists and professionals in other industries, such as administrators, carpenters, fabricators, architects, etc. Students will learn the professional practice of developing and presenting project proposals to a jury and formal calls for public art. Student proposals will include project planning, budget outlines, production schedule, site and context research, conceptual development, statement of intent, physical and graphic representations of outcomes, digital 3D models, or other modes of presentation. These professional strategies build leadership skills and provide students with the tools necessary to aid them in their careers. This class will take trips to various locations to see public art and fabricators.

Virtual Realities is a studio intensive course that explores the fundamental techniques, technology, and possibilities of creating virtual objects and spaces to create art and experiences. We will be exploring the process of ideation and refinement of art through a virtual workflow. Students will also learn how to prepare 3D assets for Fabrication. Students will cultivate problem solving skills and spatial awareness by working through the process of creating virtual sculptures and spaces. With the use of 3-D programs and virtual reality headsets we will explore the process of creating assets and experiences in virtual realities.

Curriculum Guidelines: Visual Arts Majors


  • Year-long - 2D Ideation
  • Semester 1 - Digital Media and choice of other technique class
  • Semester 2 - Sculptural Forms and choice of other technique class


Sample Academic Courses 
Algebra I; Biology; English I; French I


New Sophomores

  • Year-long -  Visual Awareness, Drawing and Painting

  • Semester 1 - Digital Media and choice of other technique class

  • Semester 2 - Sculptural Forms and choice of other technique class

2nd Year Sophomores

  • Year-long -  Visual Awareness

  • Semester 1 - The Figure

  • Semester 2 - 3D technique class of your choice

Sample Academic Courses
Geometry; World History; English II; French II


New Juniors 

  • Year-long - Thesis I, Drawing and Painting, Art History

  • Semester 1 - Sculptural Forms, and choice of other technique class

  • Semester 2 - Digital Media, and choice of other technique class

Returning Juniors

  • Year-long - Thesis I, Art History 

  • Semester 1 - Three technique classes, a 2D, 3D, and one of your choice 

  • Semester 2 - Three technique classes, a 2D, 3D, and one of your choice 


Sample Academic Courses
Algebra II; U.S. History; English III; Chemistry

Seniors and Postgrads

New Seniors & PG’s

  • Year-long - Thesis I or II

  • Semester 1 - Sculptural Forms, 2D technique class, 3D technique class

  • Semester 2 - Digital Media, 2D technique class, 3D technique class 


Returning Seniors & PG’s

  • Year-long - Thesis II

  • Semester 1 - Three technique classes, a 2D, 3D, and one of your choice 

  • Semester 2 - Three technique classes, a 2D, 3D, and one of your choice 


Sample Academic Courses
Precalculus; Ecology; English IV