using artworks in drama

This post is written by Lexi Earl, on her visit to West Derby School in Liverpool.

As most readers of this blog will have gathered by now, I spend most of my time visiting the different schools that are involved in this project. Generally, I know what to expect from my visit. If the school has a partnership with the RSC, I spend my time with either Drama or English departments (and sometimes both). If the school has a partnership with the Tate, I am in an Art department, talking to students doing Fine Art, Photography, Textiles and the like. But one school in this project has broken this mould. At West Derby School in Liverpool, the partnership is with the Tate but the partnership is held by the Drama teacher, Kate Forrest. As I discovered when I visited, this means that Kate uses exhibitions at the Tate as stimuli for Drama projects and performances.

During my visit I had the opportunity to talk to two Year 13 Drama students who had visited the Tate Liverpool to see Tracey Emin’s My Bed (1998) when it was on display. The students then used this artwork as a stimulus for a play that they wrote and then performed. Their play dealt with sexual abuse.

They explained how the artwork was about more than just a messy bed, and how this had helped them develop their play.

See, Tracey Emin’s bed in the Tate, when you come in and look at the bed, people go ‘oh that’s just a messed up bed. I could do that on a Monday morning’. But when you look at it and what is around the bed, and what it symbolises, knowing her backstory, you realise that all of her life has unfolded in that art piece. She had a picture of her ex who she was completely in love with who left her, cigarettes, alcohol bottles and a bed just torn to pieces. That, in a way, shows her mental state, and we wanted to adhere to that and show the mental state of our characters. Hopefully that will connect to whomever we perform to.

Most people look at the art in a literal sense and say this art is just a bed. It is less about the bed itself and more about the person behind.

The students then explained how this artwork created a stimulus for them to leap from, to engage in difficult and complex ideas, and how it inspired their work on mental health and the links to sexual abuse.

I think the bed as an actual stimulus was what really pushed it for me because recognising that the bed wasn’t just a bed, it was the actual mental state so connecting that up to making a play about your mental state was really interesting for me. I could create bonds between our own production and the bed. When we first wanted to do it, we thought it would be more interesting if we included the bed – at least in the background. We had a bed onstage, messed up maybe so giving that sense of bad mental state. I’m not sure if you’ve read this but they say your mental state can be represented by your bedroom and the state it is in. It reflects what you feel inside which is really interesting. So we wanted to get that across but at the same time we didn’t want to confuse the audience so by the end of it we decided not to [include the bed]. We worried they’d be focused too much on the bed rather than the actual acting that was happening on stage. So we went for a minimalistic vibe rather than focusing on props, lighting, shadow, we wanted to focus on the actors. The only prop we used was a block to emphasise character stance.

I asked the students what the value to them was of being able to visit the Tate and use an artwork as a stimulus for a piece.

It helps build on your own ideas. We’re told in the media about these kinds of people, about mental health, and to just get down on the ground and see someone’s own mental health displayed really helps build upon what you want to do, how you want to present it.

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One of the students highlighted how Drama, through working with complex issues that form part of our world, can change your world view.

Most things when you come to Drama are confidence, you boost your confidence. But in fact, when doing this, it not only boosts your confidence on stage but going into the big world, meeting other people, you have got that confidence for it. When we were performing and exploring into it [the play], you realise the society that we live in and the society that the news feeds, that the government says it is, it is not. It is completely different to how it is. It changes your views on the world. You realise eventually who to go with, stay away from, what type of person they’ve built you into society and that is what Drama is pretty good for. 

The opportunity for these Drama students to visit Tate Liverpool, and use one of the artworks for an in-depth exploration of complicated mental states influenced their work. It was an interesting reminder that art can be used in different ways, with many subjects.

 

 

learning through trying again, and again…and again.

Last November, I visited Barcelona. During my visit I went to the Picasso Museum. One of the paintings I saw was Picasso’s Las Meninas. The painting itself was fascinating, intriguing, based on Velasquez’s work of the same title. But it was the way the painting was displayed that interested me most. In the rooms surrounding the main work, studies and sketches of Picasso’s work towards the final piece were displayed. It was evidence of the process of making an art piece, but I felt it was also evidence of experimentation, trying things out, looking at what worked, what did not, and trying again until the artist had achieved what he was after. I was reminded of this process of art making, the trying and failing and trying again, that is so necessary in making, during my visit to Childwall Sports and Science Academy in Liverpool.

As Becky Parry wrote about her own research visit here, the murals and art displayed all around the school is incredibly inspiring and impressive. There is a riot of colour, murals connected to subject themes, and student work on a variety of topics. The students I spoke with identified these public displays of art as proof that their school values the arts. It also meant that their own, older works were on display for other people to see, something they were not necessarily that comfortable with. The students explained that they didn’t necessarily enjoy seeing their work up (although it did make them proud), because they were now doing better work; work that they could see showed their progress as artists. They were therefore inadvertently able to see progress clearly because their older work is on display.

Students were also aware that the process of making progress in art allowed them to experience failure in a way that was not necessarily negative (or not necessarily failure) and contrasted strongly with other subjects where there is often a ‘right’ way of doing things.

In a conversation I had with Year 12s, the students explained:

 “It teaches you not to be afraid to fail. You have to fail to get better.”

“They [the teachers] encourage it. They want to see you do something wrong than you always get it right and never improve.”

I thought these ideas summarized what is so great about art in school, and is what we often forget when we look at art in a gallery. I found myself thinking about my conversation with the Year 12s at Childwall while I wandered through the Roy Lichtenstein rooms currently open at Tate Liverpool. Art teaches students that it is okay to fail, to not get things totally correct the first time, and to have the courage to start again. Later, when I looked properly at the flyer I had picked up from the Tate I laughed. The flyer is designed as a comic and on the front sat a frustrated Lichtenstein with the caption, “It’s not good. I need some inspiration.” This, I felt, was the crux of my discussion with the Year 12s at Childwall: art requires frustration and perceived failure on the part of the artist in order to improve, to achieve the vision that they have. Even great artists try multiple things, creating studies in different colours or techniques, before they create their final piece (the one we inevitably see in the gallery). Art teaches you that this process is okay.

Surely we should be encouraging more people to take arts subjects rather than less, so that we mould resilient young people, comfortable with failure, ready to navigate our complex world? This was certainly the approach I saw at Childwall. It is something to aspire to, I think.

inspiring future arts careers

This post is written by Lexi Earl on her visit to St Ambrose Barlow RC High School in Salford.

In my conversation with Bernie Furey, the Assistant Head Teacher (Creativity and Research) at St Ambrose Barlow RC High School in Salford, she talked about the focus on giving students functional and useful art skills. This is to enable students to obtain jobs in the creative industries when they’ve finished studying. One of the ways the art teachers at St Ambrose do this is through developing a wide range of partnerships with creative organisations – from the Tate galleries to the Ideas Foundation to working with artists and design agencies.

The art department spends a lot of time organizing and taking their students to local galleries like Manchester Art Gallery and the Tate Liverpool so that students can see art on display and get ideas for their own work. These experiences have a long-term focus, extending the possibilities of what their students might aspire to be.

During our conversation, I asked Bernie if the department were conscious of the kinds of job markets that might exist when their students finished. 

Definitely and making sure that we are giving them those skills and we are working very closely with the digital industry in Manchester to make sure that our curriculum is fit for purpose.

One of the partnerships the department has is with McCann’s – a design agency that has offices in both London and New York City. In the weeks before my visit, the art department took a number of students from Year 10 and 6th form to New York City for 5 days. The packed schedule included a trip to the top of Rockefeller Center, the Empire State Building, Central Park and a show on Broadway as well as visits to MoMA, the Natural History Museum, and the Whitney.

The students spoke about their trip with enthusiasm:

Everything you could do in five days, we did.

[On the NYC galleries] They were all different I’d say. None of them were the same. In each one none of the art was the same. There was so much different art. So it was good for us to get ideas.

It was so big as well like. There were so many different types of art, to see them all, it was really good.

Some students also visited the McCann offices in NYC. One of the Year 12’s I spoke to there told me about her experience in the design agency:

I want to go into advertising and Ms. Furey has really helped me out with that. Because when we went to New York I went to visit McCann’s agency. […] We went to the 16th floor and they have the whole floor and it’s the creative side to it. They had different sections so we went round there. Then they were showing us how they create magazine covers and it was just really good to see how it’s all created. So they start off with a basic idea and then we moved on to how they edit it on Photoshop and then how they print it. They do loads of different prints to see which is best. It was just nice to see how it all comes together and how much work it actually takes to create something like that. It was just really good.

Rose Warner, one of the art teachers, explained about the importance of these kinds of experiences for their students.

It was great. The kids just loved it. […] We did a lot in five days and it was a really good trip and the kids get a lot from that for their sketchbooks. […] It’s an exhausting trip but it is brilliant because some of our kids haven’t even been out of Salford by the time they get to Year 10 and there were about four girls who had never flown before. That is a lot for them and it means to lot to them and they learn an awful lot from it even down to how to manage their own budget and money. […] I think for us it’s the chance for pupils to see us in a different way and a couple of years ago we took a girl who had completely switched off from art and when we took her to New York she returned a completely changed girl who wanted to get back to her art. We took a girl this year who is really quiet but creates beautiful art work but can’t talk about it and she came back with a much more confident side to her. I think it will help their confidence a lot.

Bernie and her team work to build these partnerships precisely so that their students are able to gain a lot of experiences whilst still at school. This, they hope, will help their students understand the wide range of job opportunities that exist, particularly in a creative hub like Manchester.

keys to the city

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My research conversations with GCSE and A level art students from Upton Hall School FCJ quickly revealed some in depth knowledge and engagement with the galleries and public art in the centre of Liverpool. On further enquiry it was clear that this relates to an annual summer homework which invites the students to visit a specific exhibition and then choose a number of other venues and galleries to visit and to document this in their sketchbooks.For those students who have taken art through to A level, this means they will have undertaken this activity four or five times by the end of their courses.

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I looked through the documentation the students had created after their visits which varied in design and content considerably. Each journey the students had taken reflected their personal responses and affinities with particular spaces or exhibitions. Many of them used a mapping design aesthetic, adapting the materials from the galleries such as logos and directions and plotting them on the page. This gave a strong indication that the students felt a degree of ownership or connection to the key cultural institutions in their city, despite living a long bus journey outside the city centre.

 

unspecified-4I asked the students if they ever felt that the galleries were ‘not for them,’ a comment students from other schools have made in the course of the project. They strongly rejected this idea, stating that Liverpool was ‘not posh’. One student also suggested that the staff at the school had high expectations of them and this included things like visiting galleries independently as well as through school visits and projects. Others talked of the summer homework as something they did with friends, describing it as an enjoyable and memorable experience. The students talked about the art they had engaged with and how it had influenced their own work, citing different artists as well as shared experiences.

Ann Spears, Head of Art at Upton Hall School FCJ, described the rationale:

We consider familiarisation and a sense of ownership with galleries and museums to be pivotal to the success of the GCSE and A Level courses and that the pupils’ cultural development is an absolute entitlement for our pupils. Their experience outside the classroom energises learning. Our aim is to support the development of eloquent and confident students, whatever their backgrounds, who can embrace contemporary art and innovative ideas to inform their own practice. Students regularly undertake workshops with artists in residence both at the galleries and at school and benefit enormously from the interaction.

Funding can be an issue but initiatives such as the Arts Council and Curious Mind’s SLiCE Fellowship has enabled me to work collaboratively as the Lead School with Cultural Partnership organisations in Liverpool and by adopting a Systems Leadership approach has enabled 3 other schools to benefit from the enriching experience with a series of 4 workshops based on the current exhibit Open 2:Pieces of you at the Open Eye Gallery.

The key aim of this year’s research project is to measure the impact on literacy of a Pupil Premium cohort by tracking pupil progress over the academic year after their involvement in the project.

a SLICE of creativity

 

When I first arrived at St Ambrose School in Salford, it was the day after attending a seminar at the Centre for Creativity, Arts and Literacy (CRACL) led by Paul Collard of Creativity, Culture and Education. When I mentioned this to Bernie Furey, the assistant head in charge of creativity across the curriculum and research and development at the school, we quickly realised that the animation Collard had shown and some of the stories he had shared were the results of the work of St Ambrose who have focused on creativity in teaching and learning across the school for many years. No coincidence! Indeed Bernie and previous head, Marie Garside, visited Boston Arts Academy  nine years ago and later became a Creative Partnerships school. so it was very interesting to begin to understand the relationship with  Tate Liverpool in this context.

Over the last two years the school have been in a partnership with the Tate Liverpool, with Bernie in role as a SLICE (specialist leader in cultural education). This scheme is managed by Curious Minds who are a bridge organisation for the Arts Council. This enabled a partnership through which Tate Liverpool and St Ambrose considered how young people are invited to engage with art in galleries. This resulted in impact for both partners as Bernie reflected:

Tate changed their practice that year and it also made us re-evaluate how we engage with an art gallery. Years ago, when we used to go to an art gallery, we would ask the children to sit down and do a drawing of a work that they liked in the gallery but I think now that is a total waste of time. We get them to gather resources and create collages; take photographs; tweet; use social media. Because that is their language and that is how they get to learn more. It made us think about when you go to a gallery you don’t have to look at everything and you might just look at one or two pieces and that’s fine.

The partnership, now in the second year, has also led to changing practices in relation to staff planning meetings, highlighting the need for teachers to be inspired and stimulated:

 So, through working with the Tate it’s changed our way of thinking and it’s also had an impact on how we’ve had staff meetings because we realised that it’s good to get out of the school and go to a creative organisation and have our meeting there because we are more inspired and we’ve found that we get better results and that came from our discussions with the Tate.

Despite this extensive experience, it is also very clear that St Ambrose do not only reflect on their previous successes. They are currently collaborating with Bill Lucas on developing creative habits of mind and  the school has also been working with their new head, to produce a three year creative plan which they have articulated in visual form.