Talent that's gone to ground

9th May 2008 at 01:00
An amazing artist, a quick video and a mood-elevating song help Andrew Medd sculpt artists of the future
An amazing artist, a quick video and a mood-elevating song help Andrew Medd sculpt artists of the future

I changed my approach to teaching Year 7 pupils after a school trip to an exhibition at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park last year.

We went to see the retrospective of Andy Goldsworthy, a sculptor and photographer who works with natural materials. During the trip I realised that you have to grab pupils' interest and attention from the outset or, potentially, you will lose them forever.

It is essential for teachers to find a new, exciting and dynamic way to introduce the basic formal elements that are so fundamental to art. For me, that was through the contemporary natural sculptures of Andy Goldsworthy.

At the Sculpture Park I was transfixed by watching one particular pupil.

This boy, who is not known for his patience or attention to detail, sat in the education area and built a magnificent sculpture in the style of Goldsworthy, solely using branches and sticks.

His determination reminded me of Andy Goldsworthy, who repeatedly takes his sculptures to the point of collapse, each time picking up the pieces and gradually getting to know his materials. It was almost as if this pupil was looking for the correct piece to place in a jigsaw puzzle.

So I began a series of lessons specifically looking at Goldsworthy's work and relationship with the environment. This meant looking at basic art skills that incorporated formal elements such as pattern, texture, tone, shape, line and form.

I added a new twist in terms of encouraging the pupils to build a series of table-top sculptures inspired by Goldsworthy, recording the results photographically.

I started using the technology at my disposal in an innovative way. Fortunately for me, I work in a progressive school that encourages enterprise and innovation in the classroom.

Having seen a video technique performed for self-portraiture during my training year, I decided to video myself at home building the type of sculpture I wanted my pupils to make.

During one of my many recreational visits to BQ, I found the perfect building material: garden slate chippings. These mini building blocks provided a great platform for my intended creation.

Building a cairn-like structure was a fiddly business and I could empathise with the frustrations Goldsworthy must feel.

Back at school I had help from one of our Audio Video technicians to edit my footage.

I decided to speed the film up to compress my building time into approximately one minute, just fast enough to still see the process, but with enough pace to hold the pupils' attention.

As a final touch, I imported it into Microsoft PowerPoint and created a theatre background to show my film. My Year 7s particularly enjoyed the Chemical Brothers soundtrack that accompanied my building.

Afterwards there was no stopping them and they built a varied range of successful sculptures, taking inspiration from nature. These included cairns, walls, towers and turrets.

The most successful outcome for me was discovering talent in pupils who would normally fall by the wayside as victims of the traditional "Can youcan't you draw?" style of teaching.

By including a large degree of hands-on activities early in the pupils' academic career, I can expose and engage the sculptors - and perhaps even the engineers - of the future.

Andrew Medd teaches art at Trinity Academy in Doncaster.

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