I consider myself to be not really that arty. That’s strange really as I play the ‘cello, I create when I sew but I find drawing really difficult. When I taught children used to complain to me ‘I can’t draw Miss!’ and I would say ‘can you draw me a circle?’ they would say yes and then I would say ‘well you can draw then, just not what you want the way you want too’…
Art in school seems to be about looking at a particular artist, seeing how they create their particular ‘style’ and then doing your best to copy it. The nearer the children get to the original the ‘better’ the art is judged. In the beginning of my teaching career I went along with this idea as I didn’t really know any better and could be heard to say ‘well done Jonny, that sunflower is just like Van Gough’s.’ Sure the children are taught skills, how to shade, mix colours, really look at what they can see but the emphasis isn’t actually on creating your own piece of artwork, just merely churning out imitations of Monet’s garden, Van Gough’s sunflowers and Kandinsky’s concentric circles.
My son found art dull at his last school and appeared to not be very good at art in the traditional sense. But ask him about his favourite artists and he is able to talk about his feelings about particular works of art and give very well thought out ideas and opinions. Monet is his favourite artist as he says his painting are ‘like a dream’ and he likes the calming feeling and the lack of preciseness of them. We read a book about Vincent Van Gough’s life and he cried at the end and when I asked him why he said ‘he was never happy’ and this, to me is the sign of someone in touch with their emotions and the world around them. We talked about his feelings and we said that the best thing was to go and see the painting (it’s in London) stand in front of it and say ‘Vincent, you are truly amazing’ and that is what Hubbie and Oliver did. He came back full of the painting, how wonderful it was, how small it was –books never give you the reality of the size of paintings- and how much he loved it. My son loves art.
He just doesn’t like doing art.
Or should it be he doesn’t like the art that’s done to him? At home he’s very artistic. He builds the most amazing Lego models where he demonstrates great artistic flair. He can talk you though every brick that he has placed and exactly the reason why it’s there. He shows imagination, thought and lots of artistic skill. He plans his models thoroughly, loves symmetry and balance. He uses colour to add to his designs accentuating certain important features. He constructs them as a sculptor would and has an awareness for how to build so that it lasts and, of course, is able to be played with.
When I mentioned his ‘art’ to his previous school I asked if he could bring in one of his models to show the class. To make him feel that he was good at art, well his art anyway, and I was told no that it would be a health and safety nightmare. When I asked if there could be an exhibition of the models that a lot of his friends built again, I was told no that it would be too difficult. Even a picture on an art board would have been some sort of recognition that art doesn’t just come from a scheme of work and the narrow parameters that these contain. The answer was always no. Oliver the art enthusiast was not allowed to create using his own materials and that was that. Maybe the teacher’s weren’t confident artists themselves, maybe they didn’t have the time or maybe, just maybe, they just weren’t bothered after all if they have experienced the lesson, have done the art expected well, that’s doing art –surely?
I know you may be thinking that’s great, you were a teacher so what did you do? Once I realised I wasn’t teaching art well I changed the way I planned lessons. I used the learning objectives but gave the children free rein to create what they wanted. We made picture frames from wood and calico (starving artists don’t always have the money to buy new materials) for our printed pictures. They were all shapes and sizes but very much their own work. We used dolly mixtures to make sculptures and again the children were left to create what they wanted in all aspects of shape, size colour and outcome. We varnished them with glue and had a wonderful exhibition of them to which the whole school loved the idea (though we did have a few problems with the reception children in convincing them that they couldn’t eat them!) We had a unit of work on still life so some of the children painted, some, took photos, some drew on the computer and some just drew but they were able to interpret their ideas into whatever media they wanted and this really brings out the inner artist. They always asked ‘is it finished Miss?’ and I would say ‘I don’t know, you are the artist not me –what do you think?’ and they would potter off and have a look, have a think and make the decision themselves. I always encouraged my children to sign their work as again, they are the artist why shouldn’t they?
What would I have done with the sunflowers and Monet units of work? If a child wanted to make their art out of Lego then who am I to say that would be right or wrong? I would have let a child use a different media if they felt that was the way they wanted to interpret the learning outcomes then we would be really developing the next generation of artists rather than just constraining them to fixed idea however nice that makes a display board. My worst nightmare is seeing 30 identical pictures hung on a wall –that screams out ‘my teacher didn’t trust me to make my own art!!’ and I will always prefer to see a mixture of art.
Art feeds the mind both in terms of appreciation and of creation. It should be fun, lively and bursting with ideas. It shouldn’t be just churning out yet more copies of previous artists work (and mostly dead artists too) and children should be allowed, and trusted, to experiment, to succeed (and fail) at creating what is their heads and imaginations.
So. I feel my opinions as to my lack of artiness stem from my old art lessons where I couldn’t draw in the way that was expected, I couldn’t produce what they wanted what I did never really looked like what it should. It’s not until I started my sewing business that I found my inner artist when all the previous constraints had been lifted that I have been able to create exactly what I have wanted. I’ve learned new techniques which have opened up new possibilities so I totally understand that the skills of art are essential and should be taught to enable ideas to be put down in a creative way. Lack of skill can hold imagination back. But I have learned that I am arty. I am an artist in the way I create designs to make my products look attractive, I need to take note of form and function to make sure they are useable and I have to make sure I add quality to ensure longevity and value for money. My ideas are now flowing like I have unblocked a pipe and there are not enough hours in the day for all that I want to do. I have a little book for my ‘when I have time…’ ideas. Some will be made and some will never be but I am happy with my discovery of my inner artist and I know that art isn’t just about drawing…