gallery visits, art work

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.

finding inspiration

This post is written by Chris Hall, about her recent trip to Upton Hall.

I saw this banner on the lamppost in the driveway as I was leaving Upton Hall on the first day of my visit.

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I hadn’t noticed it when I came in that morning, partly, no doubt, because I was anxious about arriving on time – I hadn’t visited Upton Hall before or negotiated the morning traffic through the Mersey tunnel – and partly because it’s the kind of strap line you see on school advertising nowadays and don’t think twice about. But after a day at the school talking to students and to the art teachers, the banner definitely gave me pause for thought.

Becky made the research visit to Upton Hall last year. She’d already told me that the school building was very beautiful, and I’d seen for myself from the prospectus and website that the current school is centred on a ‘small mansion’ which it moved to in 1860, eleven years after being founded by the FCJ Sisters, a religious society originating in France. The reception area is immediately welcoming, even with all the normal security measures. The walls are painted a warm pink and covered with artwork produced by students alongside a large specially commissioned piece by a professional artist opposite the front desk, an elaborated version of the mandala the girls wear as lapel badges.

Two year 7 students took me on a quick tour of the school. They – and I – agreed with Becky’s opinion about the original features of the buildings, the chapel and the tiling in some of the older corridors. But what struck me most on the tour was the sheer volume of students’ artwork that is displayed on the school walls, on mannequins and in cabinets. In a long career of visiting schools, I’ve never been in a secondary school with so much student work on permanent display.

I’ve been in lots of primary schools, of course, where you have to fight your way through the thicket of dangling artwork and where there are layers of paintings on the walls, but the aesthetic at Upton Hall is very different to that. The work in the public spaces is mostly framed and always carefully hung. It’s obvious that a lot of thought has gone in to making the environment stimulating and, yes, inspiring, as the banner claims.

It was the students I interviewed who made the link between the artwork on the walls and being inspired. Here’s a snippet from a recording I made of a group of Year 12s talking about their school:

On nearly every corridor here there’s work by students and that really inspired me to do art.

Our school’s got colours everywhere.

In my other school they only picked certain people’s art to put on the walls, only the finest ones, and it’s not like that here.

You take ideas from them.

It gives the school a different aspect. It’s showing off students’ work, it gives us inspiration from the years above us and it gives us ideas for our own work as well.

A year 13 student said:

It’s nice that in this school they don’t use paintings that outsiders have done. Because all the stuff on the walls is what the girls have done. It’s advertised in the school and on the websites, it’s something that they’re proud of. You can take loads of inspiration from it. If you’re stuck you can go round and see what other people have done and get ideas.

The students talk a lot about being inspired because it’s part of their everyday work in art lessons. Ginny and Jennie, the art teachers, explained to me how they set tasks that involve students in visiting galleries and doing individual research to find and document their own sources of inspiration. One girl explained the process to me like this:

They [the teachers] always tell us to research artists and they tell us toshow your inspiration’ and, even if inspiration didn’t come from the artist, you can always show how the ideas link.

Others, from year 11 and 12 said:

We take a lot of inspiration from one another.

If you see someone’s work and it’s really good, you do think ‘oh mine’s not so good,’ but you can sort of look at the way they’ve done stuff and take ideas from it and kind of bring it into your own work. We learn from one another quite a bit.

I like looking at my first sketchbook and looking at the one I’m on now, and I’m like ‘this is so much better’. Because it’s not just that you get better at using techniques, but you get a lot more creative I think. Because you obviously look at other people’s work and you see how other people are using materials and it’s like – you won’t copy what they do, but you’ll use it, and make it into something of your own.

Being inspired, in this sense, isn’t about passively waiting for the Muse to strike – it’s about actively exploring, analysing, appreciating, and synthesising to generate new links and associations and ideas. The students I talked to at Upton Hall really understood that. Their inspiration was stimulated by the way their art teachers taught them, but also by the school environment that the staff have created.

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.