Away with dead Frenchmen

22nd March 1996 at 00:00

By Brian McGeoch and Steven Porch BBC Education Scotland and Wayland Pounds 10.99


By Jennifer di Folco and Ruth Neil Leckie and Leckie Pounds 4.95

Despite the educational vogue for Scottishness, evaluating and appreciating artists and designers, now a prerequisite in expressive arts 5-14, tends to concentrate on great artists of the past, such as the French Impressionists. One of the reasons is a lack of appropriate materials on contemporary Scottish artists.

Fortunately, a remedy is now available, published as an off-shoot of BBC Scotland Education's Around Scotland series. Looking at Scottish Art by Brian McGeoch and Steven Porch, who have long experience of working with teachers and pupils of all ages in Strathclyde's museum education service, is a timely resource for aspects of both expressive arts and environmental studies 5-14.

The book will be welcome in several aspects, not least because of the ever-present demand for high quality, colour illustrations in art and design teaching, to say nothing of the innovation in presenting children in the 5-14 age-group with user-friendly, readable material on artists living, working in and inspired by their own culture and environment.

Introduced by straightforward advice on how to look at art, the book is modelled on the television programmes and is divided into five themes: "People", "Places", "Things", "Stories" and "Dreams". Each is imaginatively handled and offers clear comparisons between artists, their subject matter and working methods. Thus, under "Stories", Will Maclean, who makes constructions derived from his West Coast background, is contrasted with David Sutherland who draws Dennis the Menace for The Beano. Similarly, the theme of "Things" allows the highly accessible paintings of still-life water colourist Elizabeth Blackadder to be set alongside the more unusual sculpture of David Mach who uses objects such as tyres and newspapers.

Even more helpfully, each section relates present-day to historical, Scottish examples - for instance, the oeuvre of Anne Redpath who taught and influenced Blackadder. And looking at women artists is another commendable feature. By putting ideas into context, the book will help overcome common misconceptions about contemporary art.

This approach is also conducive to a topic-based or subject treatment and should satisfy teachers from either sector. Another virtue is that the authors have drawn on their acquaintance of public collections around Scotland for sources. Therefore, the work of all the artists represented, both present and past, may be seen locally, at first-hand.

As well as being amenable to "multi-tasking", that is, fulfilling 5-14 strands and targets in expressive arts, art and design, or social subjects within environmental studies, it will be no surprise, given the general lack of appropriate Scottish resources for art and design, if Looking at Scottish Art is deployed for a wider range of age-groups and variety of purposes. Importantly, the dependence on deceased Frenchmen might be replaced by a look at living, Scottish artists of both sexes.

For any of the 30,000 students doing Standard grade art and design commercial resources are thin on the ground. This led publishers Leckie and Leckie to plug the gap. The result, as would be expected from Jennifer di Folco and Ruth Neil, two experienced principal teachers of art from Fife, is a no-nonsense guide.

Being similar in design to earlier local authority materials, the format is familiar. Graphics are put to good use, with clear captions and key ideas laid out by section. The book is organised around the three Standard grade course elements: expressive, design, and critical activities.

As well as covering examination requirements for each element, methodological issues are dealt with, which is particularly important in using first-hand sources in the expressive element and developing a range of ideas in design.

Pains have also been taken to differentiate between "thinking like a designer" and "thinking like an artist", thus clarifying two major areas of the course. Di Folco and Neil rightly stress the need for a clear focus in the selection of topics for critical activity, closely relating them to design and expressive activity, and providing helpful guidance in the form of a study plan and related learning skills such as note-taking and investigating. Other useful strategies such as brainstorming and wordbanks are also discussed.

Importantly for this subject, the book is well illustrated by Neil's black-and-white drawings.

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