The opportunities teachers have to take their students out of school to visit art galleries, museums, and theatres are growing smaller. There are many reasons for this, and in Year 11 (when students write GCSEs) and in Year 13 (when they are finishing their A-levels) such opportunities are even more limited. It is not that schools aren’t going out, it is just they are going out less, or only at certain times in the year.
At Upton Hall School near Liverpool, the art teachers have designed summer projects which require the girls to visit a gallery over the school holidays, take photographs, and begin making art pages to then connect with in the new term.
Mrs Pell, one of the art teachers explained the purpose of these projects:
It’s to start them off basically with their coursework and it is to make them take their own photographs to start working from. If we set that in September, we just wouldn’t have the time to do it so giving it to them over the summer, they always enjoy it because they have the time to make the pages and to think about their photographs and to go and visit the exhibition as well.
The students explained how this type of project made them go and see the artwork.
Like for example the one between Year 11 and 12, was we had to research Ella Kruglyanskaya. We had to go and look at all her work, take pictures, take notes. Then come back and do a page on her and a painting. It is useful to go and actually see the work.
It was part of our summer project to go to some of the exhibitions, we looked around. So it was interesting to get a perspective.
But the influence of exhibitions went further than simply a summer project. Mrs Pell explained:
The work that we start off with in September is always kind of influenced by a gallery visit. So Years 10, 11, 12 and 13 have all been to Tate Liverpool to see the Tracey Emin exhibition and they all had a theme of domestic environment. If there is anything really good going on we always encourage the girls to go to it and that might even change our schemes of work. Grayson Perry came to The Walker and we made Year 10 and 12 go and see that exhibition and from that we’ve come up with some really good pieces of work that we want them to do. Obviously we hadn’t planned that in September but once we saw that exhibition we kind of reacted to it and changed what we were doing.
The Grayson Perry exhibition had led to different projects completed by the Year 12s, including some beautiful pots that they were busy finishing when I visited.
Tell me about the pots? How did they come about? Where did the inspiration come from?
Grayson Perry. We got a homework to do Grayson Perry and then we suddenly got an idea, he does pots, why don’t we do pots and that is where it came from.
It just happens. Mrs Pell is very ‘oh I like that idea, let’s go with it’. She will research it and decide.
So we used inspiration from that and artist research. We did a dress project so we had to design a few dresses for him and then we’ve been doing pots alongside that as well.
We went on our own. They set us a project in school so we didn’t know about it and the school said that it was on.
Some students explained how the process of going to an exhibition and then creating art work developed:
Normally is what we do is we go to the exhibition, take photos. Do power drawings. Make a page and put our ideas down. Then we will go from there, construct things from what we’ve seen.
And link it up to sketchbook work you’ve done before. Link it to colographic plates and the printing so it’s got a flow to it.
We started with a project, which was domestic environment. So everything linked back to that. All the Grayson Perry stuff we tried to link back to the domestic environment as well which was the first project we did.
Everything we do has a link to it.
And the teachers will go and make their own ones and then come back and say this has worked, this hasn’t worked, this is what we’re going to do.
It is trial and error.
By encouraging students to visit galleries, and basing their coursework on such gallery trips, the teachers were able to ensure students went out and saw artwork in real life, even if they did not have time, opportunity or resources to escort them there in person. It was an interesting example of how teachers are able to adapt their work in changing times.