Art on my sleeve

18th May 2007 at 01:00
Ever wondered what career path you might have chosen had you not stumbled across the joys of teaching? Of course, the classroom feels like home to me now, but sometimes I find myself pondering the alternatives, from the embarrassing amb-itions of my youth (stunt woman and fashion designer), to the sublime hopes for the future (bestselling critically acclaimed novelist).

This week, I received a little reminder of one of those careers-that-might-have-been. May is officially Museums and Galleries Month - a perfect excuse for a class trip, and a chance for this one-time history of art graduate to play the role of enthusiast, critic and curator.

None of that namby-pamby modern art, mind you. I self-indulgently decided we were destined for the National Gallery's Sainsbury Wing. The home of real painting. Renaissance masters - my topic of degree-level expertise.

It began rather well. Pupils were looking, wondering and sketching, like miniature art students. The sight of them sitting cross-legged on the floor, gazing up at Caravaggio, filled me with hope. I proudly took them to see my most favourite painting ever, Antonello da Messina's St Jerome in his Study, feeling as if I were about to unveil a whole new world of wonder to them. They asked good questions, which I was only too happy to answer.

The trouble was, once I started, I just couldn't stop. A simple: "Miss, why has he painted a peacock next to a dog bowl?" led to a 10-minute monologue about obscure symbolism in Northern European painting.

Fascinating stuff. I bounced around, sparkly eyed and imbued with passion.

They doodled on the soles of their trainers and planned their next trade in Yu-Gi-Oh! cards. Even the hyperactive ones went quiet and started to yawn.

Never mind. At least I can now say I've lived the dream. Kind of Louisa Leaman is a London teacher

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