school galleries

During my visit to Welling School in Kent, I was able to have a look around ‘the gallery’ – a dedicated art space for students to display their work. The school had recently had the 6thform show, where students from Years 12 and 13 all had their art up on display. Parents, friends and other teachers could come in and view their work, and they could view each other’s work too. I talked to the students about what the gallery space meant to them, and the experience of having work on display.

Well the gallery

I think we are really lucky to have things like the gallery though. It is nice to present your work like that. It makes you take it a bit more seriously.

All of that stress and everything we have done for a whole year; that is the end result and it makes you proud.

You show it off.

I found it quite daunting. I didn’t want to admit to it being my work. They put my name underneath it so in the end everyone kind of realised! I enjoyed looking at everyone’s artwork.

It was nice because in the lead up, when we had the 10-hour exam, everyone was really stressed. But when it came to that, everyone was happy. We all sat there in the corner talking to our teachers, talking with our parents.

It was a bit of a relief. You could relax and just enjoy our work.

It is weird seeing everyone’s parents taking pictures of other children’s work so their parents didn’t just like their own kids work, they were looking at everyone’s.

It utilises our work because obviously once you’re produced your work, people just chuck it away. Whereas here they keep it and value it to be shown.

I asked students what it was like having family and friends come to view their work. They said:

Oh nervous!

Everyone has their own interpretation of arts and not everyone is going to like your work.

It is funny when someone doesn’t get it and they’re like ‘what is that?’ And you have to explain it!

Like you know where you had your plaster of the sanitary towel and some boys walked past and went ‘what is that meant to be?’ and I went ‘sanitary towel, periods’, and they went ‘oh! Oh okay!’

I remember with my room as well  [sanitary towel prints installation] when I was at the gallery, no one wanted to walk in. I purposely put it on the floor so that people could walk on it and I had to be ‘you can go in! It is fine. Just walk on it!’ It is interesting to see how people react.

I find it funny when they just stand. Just stand there, ‘is that a piece of art work?’

I also asked the students about the experience of sharing art, of having it displayed in a gallery space. They explained:

Quite cool.

It makes you feel more professional. A lot more confident I feel. I feel like we all had a lot of doubt in our work, thinking it wasn’t good enough, that we could’ve done so much better than we had done but after receiving comments about everything from different people, some people that don’t even take an interest into art normally, they’d be like ‘oh my god, that is amazing, tell me the meaning of that’ and knowing that they had that kind of interest, it just built up our confidence.

It makes you think you are capable. And capable of so much more as well, for next time.

It is very rewarding.

A lot of them could tell how much effort was put into each piece of artwork, which is not really normally appreciated. So when they were like ‘wow, that must’ve taken you ages’ and you’re like ‘yeah, it did! And not even doing it, the thought process as well’.

Everyone is really proud of each other. It was such a nice feeling.

It was a really happy environment to be in.

Even on the school website we had a banner with a photo of all of us in it. When we saw that we were like ‘oh my god, that is so cool! ‘

It was nice for me because my work had a message. To actually get it across to more people than what it was before was a big thing for me.

It is quite nice actually. It shows that you are doing something. It is actually good enough to go up on a wall.

Yeah. I’m proud of it.

When you get the feedback like in the shows and stuff, you feel more secure about it. It makes you want to carry on, which is nice. I’m glad we’ve got that kind of support in art.

The 6thform students at Welling clearly appreciated being able to display their work, and for the opportunity to talk to different people about what they were doing. The gallery space had a professional feel about it, and the students clearly felt that their work was taken seriously by the school because they had the opportunity to have it professionally displayed and shared. It is a model I hope other schools consider!

 

art classrooms

Throughout the TALE project, I have been enthralled by art teachers’ classrooms. They are busy spaces, filled with pictures of student work, posters of art-related events and activities. There are piles of sketchbooks, jars with pencils, paintbrushes, sinks splattered with paint. There are large art books for students to reference. Often there is a kiln, sometimes a dark room too. There are trays for drying work on, or work is pegged up over the sink, like clothing on a washing line.

At Archbishop Tenison School in south London, Hannah King’s art class is similarly fascinating. The space is bright and airy. The art rooms are located right at the top of the school and so they make use of skylights, as well as a wall full of windows. The space is welcoming and busy, with posters on walls, a shelf full of reference books, and student artwork stacked deep against the walls.

The sense that the art spaces are somehow ‘different’ from the rest of the school though is not just something I have noticed. In my conversations with boys at ATS, they spoke of how being in the art space was different to being in other spaces in the school.

Is being in art similar or different to other lessons?

Completely different. Obviously the work is a lot different. But I think communication with the rest of my peers, it is also really nice to have because in this room it’s sort of like, I wouldn’t say family but it’s sort of that, the bond between all of us because we all have the same things we want to do. We all chose art for a reason. That just works perfectly in the workspace. Because of that bond that we have, I think that the space that we have is just… it’s just nice to be in the room with these people as well because they have the same interests as I do. It is friendly.

 You feel free because it’s just you sitting down, doing your work. No one is there to tell you what to do. It is just you, sitting there and expressing yourself, and sometimes we listen to music, which is helpful because you get new ideas.

The boys talked of how Hannah was different from other teachers too.

Miss is more free. She lets us do more creative stuff, like she lets us be in our zone. If you want to listen to music and get on and work, she’ll let us do that.

You have to be more creative. She lets you express yourself.

Moreover, approaches to work were different in art than they were in other lessons:

Art gives you a sense of freedom in this school. In our GCSE work in Year 11, we had 8 topics to choose from and I chose detail and with that you can just study three different artists and then create a final piece to do with your chosen theme and I think that is really good because the school doesn’t give us a fixed thing that we have to do. You can study different things, explore with arts, if it is sculpturing or if it is painting or if it is just tonal drawings. Ms King gives us the option to explore and try something new. You can mix two pieces of work together and it becomes your something good so I think it gives that sense of freedom so it also allows our creativity to just flow with the work.

The boys I spoke to at ATS put into words what I had only noticed – that being in an art classroom feels differently to other spaces at school. It was a space where they had freedom to express their ideas and thoughts, and spend time working creatively.

you can’t express a feeling in an equation

During my visit to Three Rivers Academy in Surrey, I had numerous conversations with students about the importance of arts in their lives. At the end of one interview with four Year 10s, they expressed an argument of why arts should be included in schools. I thought I would reproduce it here (with some editing) so that others could read what young people at Three Rivers think about the importance of access to arts education in school and what it means to them. This conversation came after we had been talking about their experiences of arts education in school, their plans for the future, and their own creative practices. I always ask if anyone has anything else they would like to add to our conversation, or if there is anything I’ve missed or they think is important that we should know about their own experiences. This is the conversation that then followed…

I’ve heard that they’re going to try and get rid of all the creative subjects for all the years to come, I heard in parliament. That is so sad!

What do you think about that?

Absolutely no way!

I think Art is really important. Arts is a way for a lot of people to express themselves.

It is a massive part of school and growing up.

And school in general is so stressful. Being able to have that one lesson that you can look forward to and you know it’s not going to be as stressful. And this is the one lesson I look forward to every week because I know it’s not going to majorly stress me out.

It’s a nice subject and if we get rid of it, how are kids going to be able to express themselves? It’s going to become a rare thing. So many people are not going to find what they want to do in school. Everyone will just be doing straight writing on paper like 24/7. It just makes everything a lot more boring.

Where are you going to get architects and stuff from? It’s literally such a big part of everyday life and I think no one realises. It’d be stupid getting rid of it!

Also if you get rid of art it can affect anyone majorly because if you work or go to school, every lesson is always writing and it’s not easy in a way. Everything is so hard and it can stress you out and affect you so badly. Being able to have art or photography or textiles where it’s different, it can change a lot of things.

It is something you can enjoy. A lot of the other subjects are really hard to enjoy getting into but art is so nice to enjoy, you can work hard and get proper into it. It’s so good.

You can experiment as well. You can’t exactly experiment in literature can you?

This is the subject I put most of my time and effort into because it’s the one that I really enjoy. It’s the subject I want to spend all of my time on.

Having a good teacher, not being pressured, makes you want to do well. When I’m so pressured it makes me not want to do it.

I sit there and am like ‘no I’m not doing this’.

I don’t want to do it. But when I’m relaxed and I know that I can take my time with it, it makes me want to do it and want to do well. So being able to have that is better for you.

It feels like you’re worth it as well.

More funding should go towards the creative subjects!

This post is written by Lexi Earl.

practising photography in a garden

This post is written by Lexi Earl. 

Most of our school visits take a fairly general form. We observe lessons of various kinds, interview teachers, and talk to students. These are always interesting and exciting days – one never knows what one will encounter in an art class or a drama class – but I have gotten used to their form and substance. Occasionally however, I have a totally unusual experience during a school research visit. This happened on my trip to Digitech Studio School last year.

My visit happened to coincide with a planned Year 10 photography trip to the Bristol Botanic Garden and I was able to accompany the class on their trip. This 23-acre garden is part of the University of Bristol, and is a scientific and teaching garden. The Year 10 students had just begun a macro photography project and their teacher, Kelly Bogan, thought it would make for an interesting class if they went to photograph different plants. The focus of the trip was on taking close-ups of various plants and natural forms. The students could use the 6 school SLR cameras, a digital point-and-shoot camera, or take photographs with their smartphones. They were encouraged to practice with the SLRs so took turns sharing them around while we were in the garden.

When we arrived at the garden we were split into three groups and were each assigned a guide to give us a tour around the garden. My group started in the evolutionary dell, ‘jurrasic park’ the guide commented as we walked through. The guide explained that we would experience the history of plants, walking a path showing plant evolution. He pointed out the different mosses, the ferns and explained how plants evolved. The guide told us about the ‘fancy’ scientific names – that it is an international language that botanists all over the world can use and understand. The guide, knowing that this was a photography trip, pointed out the monkey puzzle tree and told the students it is very interesting architecturally so would be good to photograph.

We walked past birch trees – one pure silver, another gold and orange and copper. We were shown into the Chinese garden and the guide drew our attention to the gingko tree and it’s foul-smelling fruit. The guide let everyone (brave enough) sniff it, explaining that it smells like rotting flesh. He said that the tree is dying out in the wild because no animals will eat the fruit. Scientists think that dinosaurs ate the fruits but since then, the tree has been slowly moving towards extinction. The gingko is found in fossils it is so ancient.

From there we walked into the Mediterranean garden – this space was filled with lavender and rosemary as well as vines and lemons. Signs around the garden explained the plants, and their history. There is a South African garden, and also a herb garden organized according to the medicinal uses that I personally found totally fascinating. From these gardens we walked into the American garden where the three sisters are grown. The guide explained to the students how ‘the three sisters’ – beans, sweetcorn and pumpkins – are grown by people in North America because they grow best together. This garden also featured nasturtiums, quinoa, and physalis as well as varieties of tomatoes. At every plant, students stopped to take photographs, turning their cameras this way and that, capturing the middle of a flower, or the veins of a nasturtium leaf. There were plenty of beautiful seedpods to capture too.

The botanic garden has a wonderful ballast border garden, where plants found in the ballast in Bristol harbor grow. These are the plants that arrived accidently on ships. The boys loved the squirting cucumber, laughing hysterically while the guide showed students how it reacts when you squeeze it.

We were then taken into the greenhouses. There are three, all with varying temperatures moving from cooler plants to sub-tropical to tropical. There was a citron plant in the first greenhouse with amazing sized fruits, various cacti and lots of carnivorous plants. In the second greenhouse are orchids, and in the third we found a pond with water lilies. There was a lot of oohing and aahing over the beautiful orchids, and many photographs of their flowers.

Later I asked Kelly about the purpose of such a trip. She explained:

Initially it was about where could we go to take some good photographs and I thought that natural form was a great thing for photography and there are loads of photographs to look at and lots of photographers who have done that. I didn’t really think about the sort of cultural element of the gardens and the historical element as well which I think is really useful and if we go there again we will develop that a bit more. The idea of wellbeing as well with the medicinal garden and the herbs and I feel that can uplift the students in a way. When we started they were a little bit despondent because they thought it would be boring but when we got there they did engage with it quite well. And looking at their photos and the outcomes that they got from that trip, they were really impressive. They got some nice work that they can print out and use and manipulate further. So that is all going towards their final piece. I think it was quite a successful trip actually and probably a place that many of them hadn’t been to before so it was a new experience and I think that it is important that we do that.

A trip to a botanic garden thus provided a multitude of possibilities for the students at Digitech. It is yet another example of the extraordinary experiences that teachers organise for their students.

painting clay, having fun

This post is written by Lexi Earl. 

At Grey Coat Hospital in London, the Art department has found an innovative way to offer more skills development for their Year 12 students, by running an informal after-school Art Club.

On Monday afternoons, once school is finished at 3.30pm, the Year 12 art students congregate in the bright upstairs art room. The room has a wall of windows looking out over the city, and as dusk fell outside one November Monday, Phillipa Prince, the Head of Art, demonstrated painting clay while still wet.

This method uses decorative slip to paint colour onto clay that has been rolled out flat, not yet formed, and not yet fired. Phillipa showed the group how you can add texture to the clay using a variety of ordinary household materials (bubble wrap, feathers, woven bamboo, engraved with pencil). The slip can be painted onto the clay, or painted first onto newspaper and then pressed onto the clay, or painted in sections. The possibilities are endless, really. Once a pattern or series of designs and colours have been added to the clay, it can be shaped into a form (a small vase perhaps), or left flat like a tile, to dry. Phillipa explained that this technique allows layers to be built up over time. Once the shapes have been fired in the kiln (something the group will be doing in the next few weeks), glazes can be added too. The results are complex, interesting forms that could be used as potential presents or gifts.

After the demonstration, the students were able to experiment with their own designs. Each had a flat piece of clay to which they could add colour or texture. Everyone worked happily, discussing their designs as they went along, asking Phillipa for advice or thoughts. Towards the end of the session, shapes began to form out of the flat clay as the students manipulated vases, jars, and spirals.

After the session I spoke with Clare Burnett, the other Art teacher who helps run the Art Club, about the purpose of such sessions. She explained:

“What we realised is that they [the students] do a lot of personal investigations in GCSE but the danger of doing project after project is that they go straight into more investigation just relying on what they’ve learnt before and they don’t actually expand their repertoire. Pottery after school has been really fun– it’s nice for them to have a bit of relaxation, allows them to expand their sculpture skills and we’ve got the kiln”.

The Year 12 students I spoke to explained what they felt the purpose of the class was:

Right now we’re doing pottery. We just learn basic skills. The first skill we learnt was making normal thumb pots. Then learning how to use the wheel. Yesterday we learnt how to use slip and how you can paint onto clay when it is dried or when it is wet. It is just adding to your book of skills that you can use in Year 13.

It is good that we are building up skill sets.

They are helpful because I have never done any of the things that they have. It is exposing me to different things apart from what I know.

Art Club is therefore a way to both introduce students to techniques they may not have encountered before, and to let the students develop their interests in multiple art forms. The session I witnessed was relaxed and fun, the students free to experiment, make mistakes, and develop ideas. Even though the club is extra-curricular, it clearly has an important place in the wider goals of the art department.

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.

WDtheatre

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.