Some thoughts on art education

The International Society for Education Through Art (InSEA) has just published their 2018 Manifesto

Obviously it lists a set of beliefs, e.g. ‘Education through art inspires knowledge, appreciation and creation of culture’ or ‘Visual art education develops an understanding of creative practice through knowledge, understanding and production of art in contexts’ and some that are couched as instructions ‘All learners, regardless of age, nationality or background, should have entitlement and access to visual art education’ and ‘Educational programmes and curriculum models should prepare citizens with confident flexible intelligences, and creative verbal and non-verbal communication skills’ for example. All are apparently laudable, if open to interpretation, and may be true for some, most or all people but equally they may not. How do you define citizen, or for that matter culture?

In one statement the manifesto defines the nature of visual art education, saying that ‘Visual art education should be systematic and be provided over a number of years, as it is a developmental process. Learners should engage with ‘making’ alongside learning about art’. This statement raises questions for me. Is art a developmental process? Should it be systematic? What’s the system? And what about ‘making’? isn’t ‘making’ learning about art rather than, as is implied, a separate activity?

'Critical Studies?' 2018 WIP - Oil on Paper 120x90

‘Critical Studies?’ 2018 WIP – Oil on Paper 120×90 – underpainting

Further the manifesto suggests that ‘Visual art education opens possibilities and opportunities for learners to discover themselves, their creativity, values, ethics, societies and cultures.’ Isn’t that what education does, if we’re doing it right? The danger is that we identify visual arts as the place where learners develop all the skills linked to creative thinking and by doing so exclude creativity in other subjects. A good read on this is the recent article on the RSA website by Julian Astle which contrasts Sir Ken Robinson’s well known view on schools and creativity with that of Tim Leunig who, when working as Chief Scientific Advisor for the DfE, argued that “True creativity is based on knowledge which in turn is based on literacy”. I don’t think schools necessarily kill creativity, I think Ken Robinson’s argument is that the way we are educated stifles creativity. Tim Leung’s argument seems to be too specific to carry any weight and highlights that experiment means different things to scientists and artists. What schools do increasingly, and along with society as a whole, is hammer the individuality out of children, and only the strongest survive.

The manifesto is listed under ADVOCACY on the InSEA website, and in the UK at the moment, or at least in England, the arts lobby is beginning to gel around objections to successive governments’ marginalisation of creative subjects. In a capitalist society everything has to translate to a financial return, there is therefore no intrinsic value to an activity there is only value in trade, and ‘art’ activities are generally high risk in financial terms. Society (or if you like ‘culture’) therefore struggles to ascribe value to these activities, it is not easy to see where the ability to visually critique the actions of your local council, or paint a forget me not, is going to help you pay for the NHS. What has happened over the course of my career in education is that Visual art, and the arts in general, have become more and more the leisure activities of the well off.

So what? Does art education start with a notion of pedagogy or just with a gathering?

Art ought to be subversive, so the political situation is almost ideal now, and people almost invariably have an urge to transgress. Art should disrupt the status quo to highlight society and culture to itself as art is a mirror. The beauty of art education is that art is about failure. Through learning about art you develop resilience and we could all do with a bit more of that.

I would like to see an approach that isn’t certificated or examined except by portfolio or individual creation. It should be for everyone and take place in a forum where experience is shared, where you bring your knowledge and share it with a peer group who bring theirs. Where you identify what you want to learn and find people who have the skills or knowledge to share. Where you are challenged and can respond to that challenge without rancour.

A new first post!

It’s been a while, December 29th 2012 in fact, so here’s an early new years resolution. Post more regularly.

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The image was taken in my studio about a year(ish) ago and I may have posted it to Facebook at some point in 2013. The print is a Twombly ‘Protea’ and the paintings are developments. Another one, around the same time,

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continues my obsession with the bottom of my garden.

There are other images from the years since I last posted, and there are posts that I typed up somewhere but never published. I’ll get to them. For now this a pre resolution try out to make sure it all still works.

Being in the moment

Dogwalk 2008 Twigs, pins, paper

 

I’ve always felt the worst thing you can do is think. When I’m making I need to dissociate myself from everything and act automatically if the work is to be any good. Clearly this is not axiomatic, there is too much evidence to the contrary in my drawers.

 

 

 

Dogwalk 1 2008, Twigs, paper pins

 

When I moved to Doncaster I had limited space to work and certainly no space for sculpture. I continued a habit of collecting ‘stuff’ as I walked my dogs, twigs, bits of detritus, feathers, etc., and kept a bag full of it in the garage. Periodically I would spend time joining these bits together. The model for this activity for me was David Smith’s residency in Italy at Voltri in 1962.

 

 

Dogwalk 2 2008 pins, paper, twigs

 

Smith was invited to make two sculptures for the Festival of Two Worlds in Spoleto, and given the choice of five abandoned welding factories around Genoa. He chose one in the small town of Voltri. Inspired by the wealth of material available he made 27 sculptures in 30 days. The Wall Street Journal has a good article here.

 

 

Voltri VII

David Smith Voltri VII, 1962 Photo: © The Board of Trustees, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

 

Finding an array of parts, wheels, girders, tools and so on, Smith just built. I can imagine the energy generated by the sheer joy of combining these objects.

I adopted this approach when I discovered it because that kind of energy can only work when decisions become intuitive. I find that I work best when I have progressed beyond careful consideration into try and fail, try and fail, try and accept. I won’t say succeed.

 

 

Since then I have had a working practice, that I’m still tied to, that means I can work for an hour or so each day before I have to stop. The next day I need to be able to pick up the traces quickly, contemplation is not an option when time is limited. So I built small sculptures at a rapid rate, developing the ideas quickly, each responding to whatever I pulled out of the bag, and began to notice connections rather than engineering them. The ‘dogwalks’ maquettes, never to be realised as sculpture, are my effort at generating this kind of energy

 

Voltri VI

Voltri VI, 1962 Steel, 98 7/8 x 102 1/4 x 24 in. (251.1 x 259.7 x 61 cm.) Raymond and Patsy Nasher Collection, Dallas, Texas 1978.A.0 .

 

reference for Voltri VI

reference for Voltri VII




iPad paintings and drawings

February was an interesting month for me, I was effectively demoted at work through a re-structure, had my workload increased threefold and, due these changes, inherited an iPad.

Fruit Bowl

Fruit Bowl

Very soon afterwards I bought a copy of Brushes and downloaded the free version of Autodesk’s Sketchbook software. Like everyone else I’ve been interested by Hockney’s iPad and iPhone drawings and wanted to see what I could do. The ‘Fruit Bowl’ is my first Brushes drawing.

The drawback to Brushes, along with getting used to drawing with your finger, is that there is a complete absence of texture.

Daffodils

Daffodils

Layering is useful, a background in Illustrator or Photoshop helps, but fundamentally it’s a new medium. I have kept up with Brushes, but these limitations led me to look for other software. I bought ArtRage in March and had a go with that. Daffodils is my first ArtRage painting. I think I was still thinking in computer generated mode and didn’t exploit the variety of mark and texture available.

I had been playing around with Sketchbook Express for a while, but it seemed to be like a more precise version of Brushes, so I left it alone as far as image making went.

 

After a while I tried to look at what the programs appeared to be set up to do. Brushes is, to me, a traditional computer drawing program. Sketchbook is very much a designer’s program, ArtRage is a painting program. I went for shiny stuff!

Kitchen

Kitchen

Kettle

Kettle

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The left hand image is a Brushes painting of my stainless steel kettle, the right hand image is a Sketchbook Express version of the same subject.

All of these images have been made since the end of February.  There are more, you can see them here. My favourite so far is this ArtRage painting, it combines watercolour wash with impasto in a way you’d never do on a canvas.

Tea Mug

Tea Mug

But really I think it’s simply because the iPad lends itself to sitting with a cup of tea, bored, when nothing is happening in T’art Club.