The notion that an artist may only sell a few images in a lifetime yet once passed away their work starts hitting record prices is an interesting one. Lets imagine then that Van Gogh is alive today and is reaping the benefits of his labor. Lets imagine he has the money to make significant changes to his room in Arles. It clearly held significance for him as he recorded it for posterity. What changes would he make?

It is the exemplar that I produced for this that I would like you to consider as a relevant, contemporary piece of Art.

Lets just for a moment forget about the quality of the image. It was produced a considerable time ago in felt tip pen on watercolour paper. Lets briefly look at the changes I made to the room and then visit the work it inspired – further work I would like considered as contemporary practice.

Firstly I updated the pictures on the walls. Surely Van Gogh would invest in his peers work and start collecting himself, giving other artists the opportunity to share in his spoils. I chose a couple of Auerbach’s to ordain the freshly repainted yellow and orange walls… both colour’s being linked to creativity.

Secondly I sealed up the small window and instead introduced a massive skylight to flood the room in light and to create a clean, bright working space for the artist. The mirror and the furniture remained the same as reminders of paintings I’m sure Van Gogh would continue to make studies of, if he were alive today to enjoy the space.

The bed was moved into an alcove to permit him the privacy he so craved, and a cage like screen was introduced into the room to remind us of his times in the institute he placed himself into.

Pupils were encouraged to deconstruct the room and then set to task to create their own room as though they were successful multi-millionaire artists.

I had a lad who lived on the 23rd story of the adjoining tower block with his single mother, whose room will forever inspire me. He found education very difficult and was regularly sent to isolation by other teachers. I tell my pupils about it to this day because it was just so beautifully simple – my only regret that I’ve lost the photos I took of it.

In his own time he constructed a very simple yellow room that he stated he would love to live in. it contained a single bed, a single cupboard, a single wardrobe and a single bookshelf. He had constructed a single television, a single radio and several books that ordained the shelves. But best of all, the feature that continues to inspire me today was the simple view he had created in the single window that the room contained; – it was a simple, green-hilled landscape – a view that I wake up to everyday of my life.

Offered the world, his humility astounded me.

Over the years at times, I have continued to use these two images as starting points to this and similar projects. The work has developed and pupils are given a far greater set of options now to create their ideas with. The link below is an example of this. The film was completely made by the group of pupils named within it some 14 years ago. It is for this stage, the final piece of work that I offer up for consideration as relevant, contemporary artwork.




Because of the 700-word count on this blog spot, I need to publish this next installment over two blogs… so please read both…

The first teaching tool that I produced was a copy of “Vincent’s Bedroom in Arles” for an installation project that I was teaching whilst training as a teacher in Cambridge – the idea being that Year 9 pupils would create their own installations in boxes. I need to be very specific here and state that this is not an exemplar in my opinion, it is a copy, a version that I produced to instruct my pupils, not inspire them!

The school was in the middle of a council estate surrounded by tower blocks that the majority of the pupils originated from. I was very fortunate with the mentor I had, who encouraged me to teach my own schemes of work and allowed me to make numerous mistakes whilst encouraging me to continually learn from them, and use that new knowledge to enrich my teaching.

The image had several purposes; primarily to show the pupils that I was capable of doing what I asked them to do – essential to getting young people on board, but also to act as a teaching tool for drawing in perspective and a deconstruction instrument in the search for the original maker… a history of art/ist implement.

Through a question and answer process the pupils worked out that; –

5 pictures on the wall indicated the person who lived in the room had an interest in art.

The lack of belongings indicates that the person was relatively poor.

The predominant colour of the room being purple, an indication that the person could have suffered depression – purple symbolizes the search for spiritual enlightenment, suicide and despair amongst others, combined with the small window in the room that doesn’t let much light in.

The mirror on the wall might mean that the person liked looking at himself or herself, leading to the idea of self-portraits and the story of the missing ear.

The chairs and table being indicators of objects the artist may have painted.

And finally the lack of possessions indicating that the person may not have been very wealthy and the notion that the artist sold only three paintings in his lifetime, yet today his work sells for millions – ultimately revealing the artist as Van Gogh.


So maybe the art is in the teaching?

The Chambers Dictionary defines the word “teach” as;- “To impart or give instruction as ones profession,
To impart knowledge or art to,
To impart the knowledge or art of” and “To exhibit so as to impress upon the mind”, amongst others. Yet its definition for “learn” reads;- “To gain knowledge, skill or ability in”. There appears to be a slight irregularity in these descriptions to me.

In response to my first post, David Minton questioned the notion of “skill” and proposed in it’s place “how can I best teach this child?”. I am so grateful for his input. It has raised issues I hadn’t considered and galvanised my thinking to such an extent that I’ve felt it necessary to change the name of this blog to The Art of Teaching.

The above explanations appear to reiterate David’s thoughts – there is no reference to “skill” or “ability” in the term “teach”. The primary term used is “knowledge” and this I suggest introduces a whole host of new and difficult calculations, particularly in terms of Art education. I propose that to teach art one must be a practicing artist to substantiate the above interpretations. One must have a relevant interest and erudition.

During the Renaissance an apprentice’s first tasks were humble: sweeping, running errands, preparing the wooden panels for painting, and grinding and mixing pigments. As the apprentice’s knowledge grew, he would begin to learn from his master: drawing sketches, copying paintings, casting sculptures, and assisting in the simpler aspects of creating art works, gradually attaining equality.
The best students would assist the master with important commissions, often painting background and minor figures while the Master painted the main subjects. Few apprentices could become masters themselves.
Once an artist did became a master, he could open his own workshop and hire apprentices of his own. Many workshops were versatile and could tackle many kinds of work: painting, sculpting, goldsmithing, architecture, and engineering. Artists were called to homes to paint portraits, decorate furniture, make silverware, paint banners, create sets for plays, make book covers or even design military machinery for war. In a brochure to patrons, Leonardo da Vinci listed thirty-six services that he could perform for his patrons. But artists were still a service business. Unlike today, artists did not create whatever they liked then put it up for sale. Art served specific functions.
The Renaissance was an important time for artists. They developed new techniques and expertise. Soon people began to admire their artistry as well as the subject of the artwork. By the late Renaissance, artists were no longer thought of as tradesmen. A master artist could become a highly respected member of the community.

This passing down of knowledge; the experience of making that is an essential element to learning, play a fundamental role, yet they lack some of the critical elements I propose that pupils require to learn effectively.

There are two components that I shall refer to in “The Art of Teaching”. Firstly, and for me most importantly, the Art teachers make as exemplars for lessons. Secondly, the key skills they deploy to initiate effective outcomes from pupils, that also stand as relevant pieces of contemporary art.


I don’t really know where to start with this. My good friend Elena Thomas has been trying for time now to get me to start a blog, to get you to enter into discussion with me.

First and foremost, I’m an artist – but even as I write this, I question the validity of that statement.

First and foremost, I’m a teacher.

That sounds worse!

Truth is, I don’t know which statement is true… no, thats not it either. I don’t know which statement I WANT to be true. That’s better. That’s closer.


…which do I think I’m better at?

Is it about confidence? Ego? I completed my Masters a couple of months ago and the final conclusion I came away with was that I couldn’t make Art unless I was teaching! But what exactly does that mean?

I completed my BA(Hons) nearly 20 years ago at KIAD Canterbury in Fine Art, but if I’m completely honest, I wasted my three years there. I didn’t produce to my full potential, prefering instead the party lifestyle students are renown for, living the myth of the artist. Even as a mature student i was immature…

PGCE at Cambridge two years later I did much better. I’d been working as a youth worker. Had helped two written-off kids to re-engage with education, got them college places and interested in Art. People said I was good at working with young people – why not teach? Without sounding arrogant, I took to it like a duck to water. Enjoyed it. Found it easy. Got on with the kids. My first two projects saw pupils building suit’s of armour from flexible mirror and building string spider webs and spiders in trees – my enthusiasm fed by theirs.

Now a good while on, I am the Art department in a small rural school with 600 pupils. I teach every child, bar two groups of 30 who are taught by a non specialist part timer who deploys her own schemes of work with my supervision. A great job you might say… and it is, but lack of stimulation from like minded creatives started to drive me mad. I wanted to be able to discuss my subject intelligently.

Four years ago I applied to study for an MA in the hope that it would re-engage me with the art world. I was offered a place at BCU on the strength of some old paintings I took along and examples of my pupils work based around an installation project I taught, but a short while later had a serious heart attack and was forced on medical grounds to defer my place for two years. It was, with hindsight, the catalyst to my present dilemma.

During my recuperation time I started pondering my life and what I’d achieved. I concluded that unless I endeavoured to pursue a career as an artist to see if I could be successful (definition required), i would always regret not trying.
2 months on, with a Masters now under my belt, the question becomes;- how do I do that as a full time teacher?