What Are Visual Arts in High School and How is Best to Teach Them?

visual arts in high school

Published: November 1st, 2022

A visual arts program is essential to any high school curriculum. It teaches students practical skills they can apply in various workplaces and engages them with life skills such as expressing themselves and interpreting and understanding art. 

Interactive displays can be a great way to help high school pupils learn about the visual arts and encourage them to develop their skills in a fun way. 

In this article, we’ll explore what visual arts is, what content is covered in the curriculum, ways to improve visual arts education and the benefits of art class. We’ll also explain why an interactive display can help students learn and develop skills in everything from media arts to graphic design.

What are the visual arts?

High school visual arts involves engaging with imagination and intellect to create artwork. The subject helps students learn to engage and respond to the world in an entirely non-verbal manner. Visual arts is about self-expression and improving visual language.

Making and studying art refines raw skills and strengthens the knowledge pool students can draw from when creating works of art. The study of art history helps students better understand the culture of visual arts, how it came to be and to extract inspiration from times past effectively.

Interactive whiteboards can help teachers to teach visual arts by making it easy and convenient to draw and display artwork in a classroom setting.

What visual arts content is covered in high school?

The high school curriculum for visual arts is exceptionally comprehensive and covers various forms of art. Of course, there’s the more practical and experimental content (such as art-making), which includes concepts such as:

  • Photography
  • Filmmaking and video
  • Drawing, painting and sculptures
  • Graphic design
  • Fashion design
  • Coding and art

But there are other theoretical concepts:

  • Understanding metaphor and meaning
  • Art history
  • Art theory

Schools may offer more or fewer subjects than this. And some of these are topics that the student can opt to partake in, such as choosing between fashion design and coding modules. 

Art history

Learning about art history is a vitally important topic that hones in on artistic expression throughout the ages. The subject teaches us how humans identified and explained such concepts as impressionism and romanticism. It takes us to the medieval ages (and even before) and focuses on those areas and their contributions to the visual arts.

Students gain a wealth of knowledge that they can use when creating their own art. They will also gain respect for the past and the great minds who moulded the art curriculum into what it is today.

Art theory

This is the study of art’s philosophies, and it broadly attempts to understand the concept of art and its value in society. The subject prepares students with the information they need to create better art.

Art theory is the foundation of any good art programme. It helps students develop a repertoire of knowledge they can use when painting, drawing, sculpting, taking and editing photos, or creating art in any other way.

Colour theory

Colour theory offers students guidance on colour mixing based on the colour wheel. Comprehending how colours relate to one another, combining colours correctly, and understanding the historical background of these theories all form part of this vital part of visual arts.

A student who comprehends colour theory well is equipped to create colourful art with intention and with an understanding of how colour influences us and our emotions.


A theory is meaningless without practice, which is why visual arts will always include a dominant practical element. Students get to explore different skills and concepts using paint media. The subject will usually consist of oil, acrylic, and ink painting.

Art pupils will learn how to evaluate their paintings, apply critical thinking skills and improve their visual literacy through painting.


By studying drawing, students get to use various drawing instruments such as crayons, chalk, pastels, and metals. Young artists learn how to create and evaluate drawings from imagination and observation.

Students can expect to be challenged in thought as they continue to practice their critical thinking skills.

Mixed media

Mixed media art involves creating art with more than one medium to make a single artwork. For example, students might create a collage. By definition, this is a composition of various materials glued onto a surface.

Mixed media is a prevalent art form and can be used to teach quite a few things, such as educating on the concept of sustainable practices by restricting students to just a select group of materials.

Digital photography

Students learn how to take pictures using various photography techniques. They’ll familiarise themselves with picture editing and using modern software such as Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom.

Students will become familiar with photographers from different periods and cultures and take part in critiques of their work.

Digital drawing

Digital drawing involves drawing using graphics software. This will typically be on a computer but may be done on a tablet. Software generally includes colour palettes, brush sets, rulers, and other features for students.

Digital drawing is an essential modern skill for students interested in becoming digital artists, particularly for character, environment, and game design. This is a growing field that is extremely relevant today where animated films and video games are continually growing, and moving into new mediums such as virtual reality.


Students learn how to recognise, analyse, and discuss the visual characteristics of artwork. They’ll learn how to apply visual art techniques in printmaking and understand how to make complex works of art.

Students will also be exposed to various works of art from decades past and interpret and analyse these.


Sculpture-making involves creating 3D artworks using plastic and other hard materials. Students learn how to make complicated designs, which can either be freestanding or on surfaces.

Students discover everything about the history of sculpture and the different techniques of sculpture-making. This is one of the more interactive and exciting subjects of visual arts.

6 ways to improve high school visual arts education

Like other high school subjects, art classes always have room for improvement. It’s crucial we recognise this and continually strive to do better for each pupil that walks through the door at the beginning of the academic year.

Luckily, there are some things you can do to improve how to teach the visual arts:

1 – Use consistent classroom management policies

Consistent classroom management is vital in any learning environment. Students need to know where they stand and be comfortable in a particular “mode of operation”. Balancing authority with cooperation is critical and an essential tool in any visual art teacher’s repertoire.

Some ideas for teachers include:

  • Establishing clear learning goals and effectively communicating these to the class while being reasonable and realistic, accounting for unforeseen situations that are likely to arise.
  • Developing a reasonable level of openness with students, so they feel free to develop cooperative strategies with the teacher rather than resort to more intuitive defensive strategies such as apathy towards their work and the class.
  • Be aware of the student’s needs, and adapt – within reason – to the changing environment.
  • Remain consistent with how discipline is administered and display the appropriate body language and demeanour when doing so. However, do so without showing excessive emotion, as this can sometimes be seen as unprofessional.

Understanding and applying these skills correctly and consistently is vital to any visual arts class. Although the class is about expressing yourself, failure to balance cooperation with discipline may result in issues.

2 – Create a safe environment for self-expression

Students need to learn it’s okay to express themselves. Of course, this is always within reason. But fundamentally, you want to teach students how to express themselves in visual forms. And you can’t do that if they feel something inherently wrong with doing so.

Setting precedence for transparent and honest expression is important, so talking about things like feelings and intuitions is essential. 

3 – Build a community

A sense of togetherness goes a long way towards improving the academic experience. This can be fostered by having students engage in group activities and work in pairs to solve problems and complete projects.

Community is essential, especially for classes that will be together for a year or longer. It’ll help create positive associations with the subject matter, keep students interested, and improve receptiveness to new learning material.

4 – Subtly teach students about research methods

We acknowledge that research can be pretty dull, but it’s such an essential skill that students will be able to apply for the entirety of their academic journey. Introduce the topic before an essay or theory-based assignment, and explain to students how they can gather the data they need.

Doing this will additionally set students in good stead for art school if this is something they would like to aim for.

5 – Provide practical skills needed for success

Visual arts is inherently practical as a large portion of assessment involves applying the subject matter. In addition, the subject can be rather therapeutic – it teaches students how to use art forms as self-expression.

Learning about art helps them recognise the beauty of life and better equips them as well-rounded individuals. In addition, the subject matter could set the foundation for several careers:

  • Architect
  • Photographer
  • Cinematographer
  • Fashion designer
  • Graphic designer
  • Art consultant
  • Painter
  • Special effects consultant

Visual arts covers a broad spectrum of material that gives students the opportunity to enter a variety of careers. Teachers are responsible for making the subject matter tangible and valuable for their students. Teaching visual arts to “get through the curriculum” will create uninspired students.

Always teach to make the learning material practical and applicable to day-to-day life. Where this isn’t easy to achieve, get creative with it. And don’t forget to teach students how to apply visual arts to their daily lives and personal growth – art schools love well-rounded students.

6 – Engage in constructive criticism

Many might say that art is subjective, but this is hardly the entire truth. For example, when we’re talking about the disciplines of different painting techniques, we see that there is an objective element that teachers can judge and consider.

Students must understand that they’ve “strayed from the beaten path,” so to speak. But they should gain this understanding by acknowledging what they’ve already done well and how they can improve. 

What are the benefits of high school visual arts education?

Our minds are pretty moldable when we’re young, even as teenagers. A balanced education is vital to young minds, and visual arts undoubtedly forms part of high school education. Visual arts benefits teenagers by:

  • Improving creative-problem solving skills: Visual arts helps students relate better to the world and be more thorough in their evaluations of it.
  • Inspiring inventiveness and initiative: The subject is an excellent counterbalance to the many other subjects on the student’s curriculum, which may inspire cautiousness instead.
  • Improving their ability to present complex concepts: Visual arts helps students to use visual mediums and effectively communicate without speech.
  • Improving their visual literacy: The subject helps pupils to relate better to the world around them.
  • Creates foundational skills: Helps to set students up with the foundation skills required to apply to art school.

Teaching software like ActivInspire can make fulfilling these learning objectives much easier and helps make each lesson a unique experience for enthusiastic young minds. And you can add interactive display accessories to improve the experience further.

FAQs about high school visual arts

What is visual arts education in secondary school?

Similar to visual arts in early childhood education, visual arts education in secondary school involves understanding visual arts and the theories behind it. It involves the practical design and creation of visual arts in different mediums, such as drawing, sculpture, painting, photography, and more. This subject creates a great foundation in education for art schools.

What are the most effective teaching strategies for teaching arts?

When it comes to art, demonstrations go a long way. This involves showing your students how to do something live in a step-by-step process. Another great way to teach arts is to allow experimentation in the classroom. Students should explore, test, and manipulate information in a hands-on manner.

What are the different instructional strategies for teaching visual arts?

Teachers would do well to facilitate group discussions when it comes to visual art. Doing so allows students to be exposed to varying opinions and to consider how they may or may not be correct. Doing this fosters creativity and critical thinking. Cooperative learning can achieve similar ends.

What are the 4 distinct discipline areas for visual arts?

The 4 distinct discipline areas of visual arts include: 

  • Fine arts (painting, drawing, and sculpture)
  • Contemporary arts (including film-based disciplines)
  • Decorative arts & crafts (pottery and ceramics)
  • Applied art (fashion design)

What methods can you use in teaching creative arts?

One great way to stimulate creative thinking and encourage students to think outside of the box is to use thought showers. It’s an excellent method to regularly practice in a visual arts class as it encourages students to connect with their intuitions.

Amplify your visual arts lesson with an interactive display

Promethean’s interactive displays boast immersive sound, a brilliant interface, and stunning visuals. In addition, teachers can use touch detection for natural and precise drawing – perfect for a visual arts class. 

No more dirty whiteboards or unclear projectors slowing you down and impairing the quality of the lesson; the Activpanel display has your back.

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