In the Waldorf School of Princeton the ability to create something artistic is considered a natural endowment, not an exceptional capacity. Our experience shows that every child can sing, play an instrument, draw, paint, sculpt, carve, knit, embroider, and dance, no less than he or she can read, write, and work with numbers. Rather than standing apart as a special subject, artistic activity is connected to every subject. A remarkable synergy occurs when subjects generally regarded as "academic" or "technical" are approached with an aesthetic sensibility: skills come to life and learning grows joyful.
The components of the visual arts program are painting, drawing, and sculptural arts. In the early years, up to grade six, the class teacher is the instructor for visual arts, and the main lesson book is the focus for the art created by the children. They illustrate their books with crayons or colored pencils; they also paint with watercolor, carve wood, and model with beeswax or clay. With these media, the teacher helps the students to deepen their connection to subjects covered in the curriculum blocks. The aim is not arbitrary self-expression, but rather to develop a disciplined appreciation of the innate drama of the subject matter.
Painting is seen as a means of engaging the feeling life of the child. Though self-expression is always a part of art, the goal of a painting class is to become conscious of the nature of the various colors and to work sympathetically with that nature. Themes are chosen from the stories they hear in their daily lessons.
Drawing in the Waldorf School in the early grades is initially approached through form drawing. Combining the children's love of movement and the development of manual dexterity, these exercises awaken the spatial awareness of each child. In the first grade the elements of straight and curved forms plus simple illustrations lead to the forming of letters and words. Over the years the drawing exercises range from symmetry in first grade to producing complicated woven patterns in fourth grade. Geometric drawings progress from simple forms in the first grade to highly complex, beautiful figures in the upper grades. At first all is done freehand, but the use of compass and ruler are introduced at sixth grade. In the seventh grade the teacher introduces perspective drawing, with its more conscious relationship to the external world. Also in the upper grades the students are introduced to the dramatic interplay of light and shadow with charcoal drawings, scratchboard, and linoleum prints.
Sculptural arts begin in the early grades with beeswax and clay. Beeswax is a warm, fragrant, and colorful material with which the children can create small, detailed forms. This helps to develop fine motor skills and an awareness for how to develop a shape through metamorphosis. Clay utilizes the whole hand as well as arms, shoulders, and the weight of their bodies, and the children utilize gross motor skills to model simple imagery from stories told orally. In the third grade there is an exploration of earth materials, and the students work on practical and useful objects. More conscious modeling begins around the fourth grade with an emphasis on animal figures. These older students also begin woodworking, carving kiln-dried wood into useful objects such as spoons or bowls, or utilizing wood from our grounds for Native American projects. Each year the clay work becomes increasingly sophisticated and the subject matter is influenced by the themes the students are studying in their blocks. The curriculum of the sculptural arts program deepens the students' understanding of the morning lessons. An eighth grader often has a final project such as a bust or a stone carving. Through undertaking complex sculptural arts projects, students develop perseverance, resilience, and commitment to their work.