Cradle of art appreciation
Pupils are getting in touch with art through workshops which explore artists' thinking, writes Di Hope
The large, light-filled interior of the Fruitmarket Gallery in Edinburgh is enticingly divided by empty geometric shapes outlined by taut coloured string, yarn, elastic and wire.
Some installations use the planes of the floor and walls to suggest shapes, some stretch from floor to ceiling. Overall they create a series of elegant and surprisingly intriguing volumes, a lucid architecture of space.
This exhibition is showing a retrospective of the work of Fred Sandback (1943-2003), a graduate of American Minimalism, who studied philosophy at Yale before transferring to the school of art and architecture.
Among the work, P5 pupils from Bonnington Primary, in Edinburgh, are grasping Sandback's ideas and making cat's cradles.
Sandback himself created a step-by-step cat's cradle guide for his 1989 exhibition in Houston, believing that the tracing of imaginary planes in space entailed in the activity would give people an insight into his work.
Fiona Bradley, the gallery's director, is delighted to see the pupils'
"There is no such thing as hard art," she says. "People can be educated without it being made easy for them, or reduced.
"This age group just comes straight in, no preconceptions and no prejudices, full of curiosity."
Engaging more children aged 7 to 18 is at the heart of the gallery's two-year education project Opt in for Art. Now entering its second year, the project, funded by the Hamlyn Foundation and the National Lottery has been a great success in demonstrating how, with some support, contemporary art can offer rich opportunities for learning, exploring ideas and engaging in creative thinking that often crosses curriculum borders.
As part of Opt in for Art, nine primary schools are lined up to tour the Sandback exhibition with project co-ordinator Johnny Gailey. They will then take part in a workshop with Edinburgh-based installation artists Eilidh McNair and Louise Fraser, engage with Sandback's work through making cat's cradles, and have a follow-up classroom-based workshop. This will give pupils the chance to explore line and three-dimensional forms and create large-scale temporary sculptures.
Bonnington Primary teacher Robert Hammersley is delighted by the enthusiasm with which his P5 pupils describe their visit and demonstrate their new skills.
"The specialist input has been so important, especially as going to galleries is not something that happens too much," he says.
"The 3D nature of this project has been particularly stimulating for the children as it has spilled over into maths. Anything hands-on is a real bonus."
One girl was keen her parents see the show. "I really enjoyed using the same materials as the artist, making shapes, especially the Eiffel Tower one. It has been really fun," says Phoebe Codona.
Mr Gailey is not surprised by the children's enthusiasm.
"This age group is so open, so responsive to ideas," he says. "They are not interested in the history of the work and they are certainly not judgmental.
"They engage right away with the idea, bringing a simplicity and curiosity that makes them great to work with.
"There is a time when it is important to stop explaining and start doing.
When their hands are moving, their brains are moving and they start to understand the work by making their own creative decisions.
"To experience live art in this way is essential, so much richer and more stimulating than looking at images."
He is passionate about getting children into galleries to come face to face with art, especially work that is contemporary, dealing with issues that mean something to them.
"Kids who come back here are comfortable with not knowing what to expect and that excites them," he says.
Future exhibitions will include work by the Scottish artists Calum Innes and Christine Boreland, with workshops and school visits available, this time targeted at Higher and Standard grade pupils. The project also offers professional development opportunity for art teachers, with workshops and gallery discussions.