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Explore the meaning of art with a toilet

A UK-wide competition is asking primary school children to think about what art means – using a toilet sculpture.

Launched by arts organisation Artis, the competition challenges children and teachers to move beyond the idea that art is just a picture on the wall and respond to the question: “What is art?” To help get the thinking started, Artis is offering teachers a free teaching resource that uses Korean artist Do Ho Suh’s sculpture, Toilet, as a stimulus.

A toilet sculpture may seem a strange choice, but one of Apple design guru Jonathan Ive's first projects after leaving college was designing a toilet. And what could challenge an 11 year old's preconceptions about art more than an artistic representation of where they go to the loo?

The competition links to the core curriculum for English, maths and science. Leanna Zimmerman, a class teacher from Essex, is helping her pupils to take part in the competition.

“To start with, I asked the children what they thought art was and we mind-mapped their ideas,” she says. “After that, I showed them the toilet image, which sparked an intense debate. Through the course of the session, the children started to change their original ideas and began to relate art to life, thoughts, emotions and feelings.”

This shift in understanding is exactly what the competition aims to promote. The focus is on getting children to discuss and question works of art − applying the same rigour they would to a science experiment or an English lesson.

“The children’s understanding of art has definitely changed from it being just models, drawings and paintings to a much deeper philosophical outlook,” Zimmerman says. “Rather than taking things at face value, they have begun to look beyond the first impression and to investigate further.”

To enter, primary school children must answer the question “What is art?” in 10 words, starting with “Art is…”. Entries can be accompanied by an image, sound file or movie.

The winning class or child will receive £1,000 to spend on the arts in their school. The deadline for entries is Friday 27 March 2015 and the winner will be announced in April.

Find out more about how to enter the competition online by visiting the Artis website. Leanna Zimmerman teaches at the the RJ Mitchell Primary School in Hornchurch, Essex.

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