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

Grade nine and ten students begin by learning the language of contemporary art.  Grade eleven students are asked to work more as practicing artists – developing projects that originate from their own passions and experience.  Students create individually focused, dynamically connected, research based, and conceptually driven series of work based on what matters to them. Grade twelve students work towards Portfolio Day and preparing university applications and exhibitions.

Xander MaclarenCeleste Cares Celeste Cares

We cultivate an investigation into contemporary art and artists, while engaging in local, national, and international artistic opportunities.  We participate in challenging conversations towards self-awareness and the creation of gallery ready, meaningful, wholly conceived and produced 2D, 3D, audio, time and performance based art works.

ESACA provides individuated curricula that supports each student.  We discover what we are good at and support its development.  Our focus is thinking, processing, research, experimentation, making, and community building.  By building the program with the students, everyone has the opportunity for meaningful support, resulting in confidence and experience as we move through all aspects of our lives.

Julianna HamLily WatsonGrier Drummond Installation Detail at PD7

Approximately 50 per cent of Contemporary Art graduates pursue interests outside the arts – primarily math and science, but also innovative new programs that combine several disciplines.  We provide opportunities to build the abilities of future leaders and successful innovators, such as creativity, comfort with ambiguity, risk taking, critical thinking skills, resiliency, a penchant for problem finding, flexibility, and the courage to fail.  Our process builds a foundation that encourages 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 best in the world by post-secondary representatives.  Our graduating students receive a high percentage of the most prestigious scholarships from schools around the world, with total scholarship offers in the tens of millions.

Portfolio Day at ESA is the largest event of its kind.  Each year representatives from 65 post-secondary schools and programs from five countries visit with our grade twelves to provide input on feedback on art work and academic futures during Portfolio Day.  ESA Contemporary Art and Photography engage in opportunities throughout the year.  Art Talk is an honest conversation between our students and an audience of more than three hundred people about what connects us to our art Art Talks can be viewed on our YouTube channel at  We exhibit annually across Toronto, in New York and London UK.  We even have our own exhibition space in downtown Toronto in which we show as many as twenty exhibitions a year.

Leeza BelkinaShawn RogersSam Holzberg

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.

Max PeroneMax PeroneMaya Freeman

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 – perhaps the largest event of its kind in the world.  As a consequence of the three editions of Portfolio Day ESA students have been offered 5.6 million dollars in scholarships.  In 2013, 47 schools participated in Portfolio Day 3 with 2.1 million dollars in scholarships being offered.  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.  Last spring, ESA Visual Art students participated in exhibitions in four countries on three continents.

This course is an introduction to photography as an art form. Students will develop skills in analog (film) and digital camera use, black and white film processing, as well as scanning, Photoshop and lighting.  Emphasis will be on exploring subjects and themes that are relevant to the world around us.  The development of skills in composition, editing, analysis and storytelling will be the foundation of the course, while experimenting with creative options will be strongly encouraged. The class will analyze photographs and research aspects of 20th and 21st century photography as they relate to contemporary contexts. Students will begin to develop their photography portfolio, which makes this an essential course for those interested in a career in Photography, Architecture, Design, Visual Arts or Journalism. Students selecting Year I Photography need access to a manual 35 mm SLR camera and any type of digital camera.

Year II Photography has a strong focus on Contemporary Art Photography.  Student’s will study the current direction of the medium and create works that respond to the human condition.  Individual initiatives are encouraged. Opportunities will be provided to expand and deepen one’s knowledge of technical skills to an intermediate/advanced level. Alternative/experimental tools, materials, and processes will be studied to enrich and complement the creative studio. Students will analyze photographic works, studying aspects of historic and contemporary photography as they relate to their own artistic practice. The development of an extensive portfolio is an integral part of this course. Students enrolled in this Photography course may choose to work in film though a Digital SLR camera is strongly recommended.
Prerequisite AWQ2O1

This is a critical course for students who require a portfolio to get into any postsecondary program in Photography, Visual Arts, Film, Design or Architecture. Students will pursue a personal approach that deepens their own creative expression through the photographic medium. There is a strong emphasis placed on selecting themes, techniques and processes that will effectively support them to express their own vision. Student will have an opportunity to curate a group exhibition of their work in the annual Toronto Contact Festival of Photography and are invited to participate in national and international competitions.  Year III Photography students have a unique opportunity to have their portfolio assessed by national and international post secondary Visual Arts, Film and Photography programs before they make their college and university applications.  Students enrolled in this Photography course may choose to work in film although a Digital SLR camera is strongly recommended.
Prerequisite AWQ 3M1.

Claire LaTourDexter Barker-GlennFlora Aldridge

Frequently Asked Questions

What do you expect in a sketchbook?
We look at your sketchbooks as evidence of your creativity.  Think of them as works of art on their own.  Please in no way consider them as places exclusively for pencil sketches.  Anything and everything that reveals your curiosity, engagement with experimentation, inspirations, process and idea development is appreciated.  Sketchbooks should contain all media and approaches to art making that you are interested in or curious about, research into art and artists, and experimentation with imagery and materials.

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 art. We enjoy looking at sculpture, video, 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.

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 art and art making. Equally important is your passion for art and your desire to join us at ESA.

Can I bring large pieces to the audition?
Please do!  If you have difficulty carrying everything with you we will have student volunteers that can assist you on the day.

Can I bring more than ten pieces to the audition?
You certainly can bring more than ten pieces of your best and most recent artwork to the audition.  Bring 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 bringing work that is assigned to be used in your portfolio for your ESA application, although classes outside of school are always an excellent idea.

Can I submit pictures of 3D work or do I need to bring the actual pieces in for the audition?
You are welcome to bring either the actual 3-D piece or photographs of any 3-D work that you have.

Can I major in Photography?
ESA offers elective photography courses for grades 10, 11, and 12.  Currently, there is no major in photography.