A country with vision
Arnold Evans looks at a pack which introduces the art of Wales.
Always aware that Wales is in imminent danger of going the way of the dodo, the Welsh have invested enormous creative energy in pinpointing and celebrating those elusive characteristics which in some ultimately indefinable way make their nation unique.
It's a preoccupation which permeates the education system. Indeed, schools are expected to deliver not only the national curriculum, but also y curriculum cymreig, which asks all teachers in all subjects at all key stages to introduce a distinctively Welsh dimension into their lessons. This has given art teachers an added incentive both to invite local artists into school, and to introduce pupils to the indigenous art and craft that is currently exhibited in the principality's 18 or so galleries.
Such events are never easy to arrange, especially for that significant minority of Welsh teachers who work in isolated rural areas. The National Association for Gallery Education is aware of the problems. With funds from the Gulbenkian Foundation, it is piloting an ambitious project in 10 Welsh schools which enables pupils to spend a day at a gallery and then to develop their own ideas under the guidance of a professional artist. A further 50 schools have received travel grants to help meet the cost of a gallery visit.
The aim is to encourage more pupils to opt for art as a subject at GCSE and so the scheme is restricted exclusively to Year 9 classes. As such, it can't meet the far more pressing need for a bedrock of source material which teachers can use in their day-to-day lessons and which is specifically Welsh in character. So a new bilingual resource pack, funded by the Curriculum and Assessment Authority for Wales is certain to prove invaluable.
Teaching Art in Wales provides nearly 100 full-colour images, arranged in themes and presented on 24 laminated A3 cards. They range from Celtic artefacts forged in the Early Iron Age to the work of some of the exciting young artists making an impact on the contemporary scene.
Wales hasn't been home to much great art, but there are, nonetheless, a few major names represented in the collection. Some (for example Augustus and Gwen John) were actually born in Wales, although they completed their best known works elsewhere; others (notably Graham Sutherland) chose to live in the country; and many, from the 18th-century onwards, came to wild Wales in search of suitably spectacular subject matter. Among the images are those that are unmistakably Welsh, inspired by Celtic mythology or depicting the mountains, the seascape and - as in Penry Williams's Cyfarthfa Ironworks - the awesome impact of industrialisation.
But pupils are more likely to be impressed by the range of examples that demonstrate that the visual arts aren't restricted to paint on canvas. The collection embraces, for instance, architecture, interior design, ceramics, book illustration and photography. In fact, there is enough here to encourage pupils to experiment with a range of media and to find their own ways of expressing themselves.
They will be helped by the detailed suggestions for classroom activities - which can be adapted for most age groups - offered in the 120-page book which complements the cards. This also contains background information on the works of art, biographies of the artists, essays on art education and useful addresses. A 30-minute video - albeit one produced on a shoestring - offers some in-service material for teachers who are planning to use the pack.