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Lesson ideas: Art and design

Key stage 4+: critical studies activities with pupils should be much more than simply using the work of an artist as a stimulus for pupils' own creative work. Older pupils should also be encouraged to reflect on and debate the nature of the creative impulse, the role and contribution of the artist in society and the problems of financing personal creative artwork.

Many secondary art teachers are in a particularly strong position to do this as most have been trained as artists. There is a sad vignette from the life of the artist Paul Gauguin, struggling to finance his painting by digging the Panama Canal. It serves as a useful introduction:

In 1887, the French painter Paul Gauguin arrived in Panama. He was hoping to find a tropical paradise where he could live for nothing on fish and fruit, but ended up broke and having to work as a labourer digging the canal for 12 hours a day. He became ill, he loathed the country and the people. As a final straw, he was arrested and fined in Panama City for urinating in the street ("...it's an open sewer anyway", he told the police). As soon as he'd saved enough for the fare, he fled for Martinique.

How has artistic activity has been financed throughout the ages? Examples are, through commissions from the church or crown, by acting as war artists to the state or, more recently, with support from arts councils for what may be seen as obscure or irrelevant contemporary art forms. Should artists be forced to earn their living? Anticipate a lively debate!

John Bowden

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