Grammar of art

Mike Fairclough

Last year, I worked with the Royal Society of British Artists (RBA) to create a national pilot scheme starting at our school, called the "Junior Academy". The scheme is designed to raise the standard of primary art education through teaching the so-called "formal elements", such as tone (light and dark), line (without tone), texture (mark making), form and composition.

The Towner Art Gallery in Eastbourne provided artist-in-residence Lucy Peddlar for two terms. She brought in a large abstract painting which children were encouraged to identify, and they discussed its formal elements. Once the work had been explored through language, the children made charcoal drawings of the compositions to demonstrate their understanding. They were also taught to draw the "negative space" within an image - the space between forms - as opposed to the "positive space" of the form itself.

Lucy emphasised the need to concentrate on acquiring skills rather producing a neat end product. We compare this approach to literacy teaching, for example teaching the skills of grammar, punctuation and spelling. We call this approach the "grammar of art".

Pupils became more sophisticated as the project progressed and previously undetected talents were revealed. Pupils explored their images with rich vocabulary, at times venturing into metaphor, and we have seen significant improvements in pupils' literacy and numeracy.

The Towner Gallery showed the children's work alongside the professional work in its collection.

Mike Fairclough Headteacher, West Rise Junior School, East Sussex

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Mike Fairclough

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