Contemporary Art at ESA

ESA Contemporary  Art and ESA Contemporary Photography are dedicated communities of outstanding people, investigating meaningful opportunities for personal and collective development.

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SKIP to Course Descriptions | Frequently Asked Questions
Link to Feature Article in Canadian Art Magazine

Link to article in the Toronto Star about us here

Read about grad Daniel Roher’s film premiering opening night at TIFF
Click here to go to our YouTube Channel: ESA Contemporary Art
Link to CBC mini-documentary about 2018 graduate Rachel Burns click here.
CLick here to read front page story in the Globe and Mail

Interview with grad Keiran Brennan Hinton
Click here to watch a mini CBC Documentary about graduate Callen Schaub
Interview with Graduate Kendra Yee click here

Check out this three year run of our Exhibitions

We treat you as artists, not students.

In grade nine and ten we become increasingly proficient with both the language of contemporary art, and supporting you with what you are good at.  Grade eleven students work as artists with a supportive community by developing projects driven by each person’s experience and passions. We create individually focused, dynamically connected, research based and conceptually driven series of work based on what matters to each of us. Grade twelve students participate in Portfolio Day and preparing university applications and exhibitions. Portfolio Day at ESACA has become the largest event of its kind on the planet, and in history! Portfolio Day 10 in November of 2019 was attended by 140 postsecondary representatives from 81 schools and programs from five countries and resulted in more than $15 million dollars in scholarship offers to our grade 12’s. In the ten years of Portfolio Day at ESA our students have been offered more than $95 million dollars in scholarships to universities around the world.

We have attained these incredible results by allowing each one of our students to focus on and specialize in the materials and approach of their own choosing. If you come to ESACA and want only to paint, we will help you become the best painter you can be. The same is true if you love film, sculpture, installation, audio work, fashion, etc. By graduation our students are often offered spots in second and third year at university or college as we focus our attention on what really matters to us, while supported by the most empathetic, vulnerable and caring community we know.

Through your time in ESACA we will participate in local, national, and international opportunities.  We work to make most of our deadlines real-world events, rather than school assignments. In 2019 our grades 12’s exhibited in Canada, Germany and the USA. Our Etobicoke Fashion Show in 2019 sold out and featured all clothing and models by ESA students, while the event was produced, directed, and DJ’d by ESA students.

We help you develop your own curriculum so that you achieve your goals. We each discover what we are good at and our community supports your personal and artistic development.  By building the program together every year, we all share in the responsibility and the opportunity for meaningful support and growth, resulting in confidence and experience as we move through all aspects of our lives.

Approximately 50 per cent of Contemporary Art graduates pursue interests outside the arts – primarily math and science, but also participate in new programs that combine several disciplines.  We become leaders and creative innovators through becoming comfortable with ambiguity and risk taking, while practicing our critical thinking skills, flexibility, resiliency, a penchant for problem finding, and the courage to fail.  Our process builds a foundation to encourage continued support after graduation.  Communities of graduates exist in urban centers in Canada, the US, and Europe, to help acclimatize new arrivals to the next stage of their lives.

ESA Contemporary Art and Photography are ranked among the most significant high school programs in the world by post-secondary representatives.  Our graduating students receive a high percentage of the most prestigious scholarships from universities and colleges around the world, with total scholarship offers in the tens of millions.

ESA Contemporary Art and Photography engage in life changing opportunities throughout the year.  Our Art Talks are honest conversations between our students and an audience of 350 people in the main lecture hall at OCADU. ESACA Art Talks can be viewed on our YouTube channel.  We exhibit annually across Toronto, in New York and London UK.  We have even had our own exhibition space in downtown Toronto in which we showed as many as twenty exhibitions a year.

Graduating students have been accepted into a wide range of post-secondary programs including: Engineering, Science, Space Engineering, Photography, History, Aerospace Engineering, Science and Aviation, Creative Writing, Pre-Law, Molecular Biology, Life Science, Cognitive Science, Laboratory Medicine, Digital Photography,  Bio Medical Engineering, Accounting, Nursing, Bio Medical Science, Environmental Science, Studio Art, Painting and Drawing, Fashion Design, Physics, Chemistry, Fashion Marketing, Illustration, Graphic Design, Industrial Design, Sculpture, Medical Illustration, Arts and Science, Vic One, the Schulich School of Business, the Rotman School of Business, Humanities, Animation, Knowledge Integration, Global Business and Digital Art, and General Science.

For the most up to date information, follow us on Instagram at esa_contemporary_art and esa_contemporary_photography.

Course Descriptions

We are a conceptually based, research driven program designed to produce world leading thinkers and makers.  We are a growing community of powerful and unique thinking minds in the world’s cultural centres.  Through individuated instruction and contemporary art practice students develop an understanding and facility with unique approaches while developing problem finding, problem solving, risk taking, analytical and processing skills through active, meaningful communication.

Grade 9 provides a foundation for competence and utilization of contemporary art practice through individuated instruction.  Students become familiar with specific problem solving exercises using a range of materials, processes, and techniques.  Critiques are central to the process in learning and using methods of analysis and criticism when discussing their own works and the works of practicing artists from around the world.  This course provides an opportunity for students to learn methods of expression through current art forms such as installation, performance and time based media.  The emphasis will be on selecting processes, media and techniques that will effectively communicate an idea.

These courses emphasize learning through practice, introducing students to concepts, materials, and processes for artistic thinking and experimentation.  Students will spend time examining the refined application of their knowledge of styles and materials; incorporating the relationship between works of art and personal and historical contexts.  Grade 10 is an intensive exploration of the thinking skills and approaches required for understanding, creating, making, and discussing contemporary art.  Time is spent in critiques, conversation and analysis which assits in the understanding that art is a communal activity.  Projects will assist students in determining authentic starting points for interaction with art making. The emphasis will be on selecting processes, media and techniques to effectively communicate a concept derived from intensive and intellectually rigorous development.  Themes in art and culture will be investigated in a sequence of projects designed to assist students in building facility with creating strong ideas quickly and learning to fabricate works of art.

Grade 11 is opportunity to further a studio practice and tackle specific approaches to influential contemporary themes. The majority of the classes will take the form of studio time – working to develop personal methodologies to communicate through art works.  There is room for continued experimentation with material, scale, and theme to clearly define an artistic language.  Portfolio preparations begin and projects are tailored to individual scholastic and professional goals.  Students may focus on a particular branch of the visual arts, including fashion, photography, sculpture, installation, painting, illustration, design, audio, architecture, etc.  We continue to analyze art work and begin to participate more frequently in local, national, and international competitions and exhibitions.  Students accept a greater responsibility for their engagement and may develop their early professional approach. For those unsure of specific focus, grade 11 offers the working time necessary to increase self-knowledge and acquire necessary confidence and resources.  Classes are spent engaged with individually focused activities designed to promote a development of personal style and the creation of documents that reveal a mature development of ideas and thorough research into art, artists, and artistic practice.

Students explore personally chosen conceptual frameworks to further individual and community development.  Grade 12 is structured around key dates in our calendar, the first of which is ESA’s International Portfolio Day in November – the largest event of its kind in the world.  Students move on from Portfolio Day to participate in a series of local, national, and international exhibitions and competitions.  The year culminates in exhibitions in Buffalo, New York and here at ESA. 

PHOTOGRAPHY I | Grade 10 AWQ 201
This course examines the role that art and photography have in the contemporary world. While students will develop skills in digital camera use, as well as scanning, lighting and exhibiting work – emphasis will be on exploring ideas and finding ones own voice in photography . Experimenting with creative options will be encouraged. Students will analyze photographs, study aspects of 21st century art photography as they relate to contemporary contexts.

This course aims to prepare students to develop a direction and aesthetic that is unique to their own interests. By researching, discussing and deconstructing their role in contemporary art photography, students will equip themselves with the knowledge and skills to create a portfolio designed for post-secondary programs in Visual Arts, Fashion, Design, Photography, Film, Animation, Advertising or Architecture. Students will be encouraged and supported in finding exhibition and contest opportunities that will both mark their achievement and prepare them for the art world and university applications.

Prerequisite AWQ2O1

An advanced photography program for students who are serious about developing their artistic practice and building a portfolio for post-secondary institutions. Students will crate and nurture thoughtful, independent work for the contemporary world. Along with the research, skills development and critiquing, students in this course will learn how to apply to portfolio based post-secondary programs and the will have the option of participating in ESA’s Portfolio Day.
Prerequisite AWQ 3M1.

Frequently Asked Questions

What kinds of art works are you looking for at the audition?
We are looking for evidence of your creativity and of your passion for making things of all kinds. We enjoy looking at sculpture, video, film, photography, writing, design work, clothing, installation, collaborative work, collage, performance, mixed media pieces, new media pieces, drawing, painting – anything that proves to us that you are motivated and curious and engaged in thinking about and making art. We are looking for amazing people far more than we are looking for finished art works. Please show us everything that helps us understand who you are.

How are portfolios graded/ assessed?  What criteria are you looking for when you evaluate a portfolio?
Portfolios are graded on a rubric that assesses the quality of your ideas and your use of materials, the variety of materials you have used, the number of pieces you bring with you, your understanding of art and art practice, and how informed you are about your own reasons for making things. Equally important is your passion and desire to join us at ESA.

Can I have more than ten pieces to the audition?
Yes! Your portfolio is made up of your best and most recent artwork to the audition.  Include whatever you feel reflects your interest and ability in the best possible light.

Can I use portfolio-building classes at private art schools to get ready for the audition?
Portfolio-building classes tend to produce work that appears similar to others taking the same class.  We would recommend not using work that is assigned or is a project in your portfolio for your application. We want to get to know you though your work, rather than your teacher or instructor.

Can I major in Photography?
ESA offers elective photography courses for grades 10, 11, and 12, while some students in ESACA focus mostly or entirely on photography.

If you have any questions please contact Matthew Varey, ACL of Visual Art, at