Brushing up against the great artists
Martin Child views a different perspective on teaching art.
Enthusiasm for art is very apparent in young pupils. For many the week's highlight is to have the freedom to be creative and to learn new techniques and processes. The national curriculum expects pupils not only to produce practical work, but also to have a "knowledge and understanding" of the work of artists and art from other cultures. This area of the curriculum is sure to be the most difficult for the inexperienced teacher to tackle in interesting and lively ways. Some help is at hand with a new series of programmes on school television, which cleverly includes examples of historical and also modern practitioners within thematic programmes.
In the first programme, "Myself and other people", Picasso, as played by an actor, describes how his portrait work developed from realism into abstraction. This grabs the viewer's attention, giving a clear understanding of the artist's work as he explains how he decided to invent new ways of making pictures of people by looking at them from a variety of angles, then combining these different viewpoints in one image. It is then suggested that pupils create collages of different parts of faces cut from magazines.
This approach is sure to strengthen pupils' understanding of what has just been said. The first programme also shows artist Patricia Coates constructing life-sized sculptures of people, using a frame of rolled newspapers and cloths soaked in concrete. These impressive figures are then dressed in concrete soaked clothes, after which the programme follows children making their own portraits, employing a number of techniques.
Some thought has been given to ways of capturing the infant imagination. Cartoon characters Drip, Squiggle and Squidge introduce ideas about colour, line and form, and the whole programme has an upbeat, lively feel. The sense of involvement is encouraged by asking questions and suggesting projects or ways of developing the ideas presented. These programmes could simply be looked at as educational entertainment, but their best use would be as individual springboards to topic work.
Grandma Moses, talking about her work in the programme on "Places", suggests painting a familiar place from memory. The artist Clare Goddard is shown making an unusual city scene by dyeing tea bags and assembling them as a collage, a scene followed by pupils constructing a collage based on the seaside. In the "Growing Things" programme, there is a range of activities, including Van Gogh explaining his work, stencilled patterns of fruit and students involved in an exciting fantasy garden project.
"When you make a drawing, make sure that you really look at it," says Leonardo da Vinci in "Animals", as he shows examples of his own work and suggests that a pet would be a good model to draw. Then a sculptor, David Kemp, is shown making inspirational "junk sculptures", models out of found objects, with his example being followed by children who are shown making lively animal masks from papier mache.
Augmenting the programme is a teachers' pack consisting of 14 high-quality mini-posters and two large posters, extensive notes about what is covered in the programmes, how to prepare pupils prior to watching the film and the development of ideas and projects afterwards. All of this is connected to the national curriculum. There is also a booklet with background information about each of the posters provided. Written by Rod Taylor they offer an excellent background guide to the illustrated work and are clearly and concisely explained. Questions are also posed, which should help initiate dialogue about works. This is a definite help for less confident teachers who are not really used to discussing artwork.
This series will not only capture the imagination of pupils, but will also enrich their experience of "real art". These programmes are exciting, very accessible, with never a dull moment, and 15 minutes is just the right amount of time perfect for capturing the attention of young minds. Used in conjunction with the excellent teacher's notes, this series should provide a good springboard for fruitful discussion about art and could lead to some very creative work.