Drawing creativity into every subject

28th March 2014 at 00:00
Scheme puts artists in schools to bring new vision to lessons

The Imaginative expression that is so crucial to art can feel as though it has no place among the hard facts of traditional classrooms. But a new project is attempting to break down the barriers between subjects by putting art and creativity at the centre of learning.

The initiative, entitled Adopt an Artist - Running with Scissors, enlisted students from Edinburgh College of Art and student teachers of maths, English and art from Moray House School of Education for placements at six east Scotland secondary schools. The recruits were then asked to come up with activities for the school students inspired by works from the National Galleries of Scotland in an attempt to highlight the artificial divides between subjects.

Amanda Gizzi, an art and design lecturer at the University of Edinburgh, said she had been "staggered" by the creativity shown by the student teachers.

Some asked their charges to make sculptures to understand mathematical sets, while a class that was reading The Merchant of Venice looked at period paintings to get a feel for the play's setting. Another project transformed a maths classroom into an art workshop, where students created elaborate bound workbooks to replace traditional tatty maths jotters. This gave them a sense of "ownership and pride" in their maths, Ms Gizzi said, and recast the subject as one of creativity and invention.

"Artists and mathematicians have a similar kind of mind. Mathematicians are quite artistic," Ms Gizzi explained, adding that tailors and architects were among the many professionals who applied both skills in their daily work.

The notion of discrete subjects was useful, she said, but often too much distance was placed between them in schools, sometimes literally if maths and art departments were at opposite ends of the building.

The artists' unconventional approaches challenged entrenched opinions among students, according to Sheila Calder, an art teacher at North Berwick High School in East Lothian. The young people's view of art as pretty pictures in frames had been turned on its head by exposure to conceptual and performance pieces, she said. "It showed [that] art can have an impact on different subjects, like maths and English. It's not just something nice you get to do after sums, it's something that weaves into people's lives."

Helen McCarrie, an English teacher at the Royal High School in Edinburgh, said that working with English student Morgan Orr and artist Nikolaos Karavellas "allowed me to see talent that sometimes might not emerge properly in the classroom".

Adopt an Artist emerged from a 2012 report for Creative Scotland that explored the idea of "artists in participatory settings" and recommended more high-quality placements in schools and other educational institutions. Scotland's Creative Learning Plan, published last September, underlined the importance of the national "creativity portal", which gives teachers access to cultural organisations and artists throughout the country.

Ms Gizzi said that Curriculum for Excellence had strengthened art's role in schools, although this could be overstated. "I think it's a wee bit sad that creativity wasn't one of the overarching themes of CfE, that it's just literacy, numeracy and health and well-being," she said.

An exhibition based on the Adopt an Artist initiative - which already has funding for next year - runs in the National Galleries' Playfair Project in Edinburgh until 30 May. An evaluation of the scheme will be published later this year.

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