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My foray as stated, started shortly after completing my BA. I had moved up to a little village just outside of Cambridge and for lack of other opportunity, was working in the local petrol station that was the social centre for the village youth. Night after night they would try and persuade me to sell them cigarettes, give them tabs for sweets and generally bully passing trade. I got to know them as individual characters that were bored and desperate for alternative entertainment in the evenings. Surprisingly, they sought leadership. Like me, some of the older ones had rejected education, citing problems with non-understanding teachers and lack of practical opportunities as key causes of their withdrawal. So I gave them opportunity. We would meet up outside of work hours and create pieces of art together, through sculpture, paint and graffiti. We would work together on the same pieces, discussing what should go where, in which material, taking it in turns to do the work. We found homes for the work… sometimes keeping it ourselves, other times giving it to family members or friends. Their enthusiasm was infectious and youth workers got involved. Three of the lads re-entered education and people started telling me that I should do more of the same… that I was good at it!

Youth work didn’t suit me. To much form filling and needless health and safety checks. So I applied to Homerton and to my surprise they offered me a place…

…and here I am…

So again finally; why do I teach Art?

I teach Art because at school it failed to inspire me or show me a useful purpose. It consisted of a set of set exercises with fixed outcomes, and for me Art is far more than that. I will hold back for now the story of why I returned to education myself aged 27, but I will say that Art offered me the opportunity to change my life – irrevocably and completely – and my gratitude to that group of petrol station lads that inspired me to try this is hopefully repaid in the lessons that I teach today. I want to encourage my pupils to think for and believe in themselves; to understand that art can be an alternative form of expression that communicates ideas and understanding in a way that allows them to get their hopes, aspirations, frustrations and anger out in a positive and informative way. I want them to realize solutions in a practical way that has purpose and use, alongside work for confidence boosting displays. I want to give my pupils an escape from the everyday pressures and stresses of their lives and education. The art room should be a fun, relaxed environment with creativity flowing continuously out of its doors.


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My grandparents brought me to this country aged 7 as a social migrant and to protect my mother from a terrorizing father. Adopted with my brother aged 10 into a strict yet loving family of 8 that I struggled to accept, I left home for the final time aged 15 to make my own way in the world. The focus of my primary education was learning the English language, yet my lasting memory was the day I had my drawing of a Roman catapult displayed on the wall of our classroom – proud don’t even come close… my first exhibition! Art had become my second language…

My secondary education started in the remedial classes as they were called in those days, but again the lasting memory of those early days was a visit to Hamleys toy store in London with my parents. I came away with my first beautiful set of watercolours that kept me endlessly entertained in the evenings, painting the birds in our garden and surrounding neighbourhood. Art had become my escape… By Year 9 I had worked my way into the majority of all the top sets and with nothing further to prove, I essentially gave up on education, choosing instead to disrupt or skip lessons. Nothing held me. I lived in a fantasy world that I’d etch out onto the back covers of my exercise books. Critical to this was my forced decision to drop art at that time. I remember my art teacher well. He wrote a report prior to us taking our options praising us and commending us on our achievements. Once the reports had gone home he informed us that all the scores and comments were wrong and that we weren’t capable of taking the subject further! I can only guess at his motives, but for me my art education was over. I opted for other technical subjects… preferring to continue with Art in my own time. I never stopped making. I returned to art education aged 27.

These formative experiences have served me well as an educator. The empathy I can show to troubled teens gives access to guiding them on new paths. My troubles only subsided when I reengaged with art on a fulltime basis and the catalyst of me enlisting into teaching came about from working with a group of youths shortly after completing my BA. I’m not claiming I’m better or worse than you. Teaching has to have soul.

My education has never taught me how to make money from my work. I guess hard graft and relentless persistence are options, but it is a break down in art education that I fail to understand? Shouldn’t education prepare for life after itself? If career options, business and money are now the key promotional tools to sell Art to the government, shouldn’t we as educators be building a client base for our pupils to be working with? Giving them real life experiences? Finding commissions for them to produce for real consumers in offices, hospitals etc. The best work I have seen produced is when a group of my Year 9’s developed a set of work for a nursing home looking after Alzheimer sufferers. The work that was presented was used in therapy sessions to aid memory recall. (I may exemplar blog this at some stage). Pupils met with the client prior to making and worked with a specific brief. They made the work for others and benefitted enormously from the experience – they worked as professional artists…


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And then in steps the doubt…

Why would I do this?

Two separate people have told me I am brave to do this! Why would they say that? Do teachers operate under a culture of repercussion? Am I being foolish?

Consequences matter… don’t they?

Those ping-ponging voices in my head draw me away from what I want to write about again… my pupil like attention span flits from comment, to read article, to thought, searching for the next thread to consider…

Why teach Art?

I’ve never really considered this question! It’s just what I do… I stumbled upon and found I enjoyed. Logic tells me the partner question is “why make Art?” but that’s not for here just yet… or maybe it is? Are they irrevocably connected? For me now though of course, it’s become a critical point.

The one thing that bugs me about this whole debate; that makes me resist this subject, is George Bernard Shaw’s notion; “he who can, does. He who cannot, teaches.” How insulting! The best advocate to avoid the teaching profession ever! How many times have my brothers thrown this at me to rile me… the power it gives intelligent, I want to challenge you pupils! How do I answer?

Why do I teach Art?

NSEAD present an, at first glance, excellent examination and argument for the teaching of art, craft and design in their November E update, http://www.mailbloom.com/[email protected]/nX/[email protected] , but I question the appeal of their summary to the general public, or as a promotional tool for selling my subject to my pupils. I read it as a very eloquent defense of a topic that is increasingly coming under pressure from a government that only endorses results, as presented by Estelle Morris in the Guardian; http://m.guardian.co.uk/education/2012/nov/26/academies-schools-baccalaureate-exams .

(What am I writing here? What am I doing? BCU educated me not to rant. They encouraged me to support my arguments with substantiated evidence. These are my thoughts, I seek not to upset or alienate; yet I fail to believe that I am the only teacher troubled by this. I fear I’m upsetting my sympathizers).

Accessible language has to play a key role in this. I have qualifications; yet envy the academics that paint pictures with beautiful words that I have to decipher in my dictionary. My terminology I hope is honest and understandable, I would like that it makes sense to the man in the street and hides no hidden agendas. To progress this debate further, we need to engage the clients we serve to utilize their support and get their voices heard. I need to keep it simple.

Distraction, distraction…

…come on, focus…

Why do I teach Art?


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It is important for me to offer my pupils a broad variety of ideas, stimuli and starting points once they have completed a certain amount of set tasks to help them focus in the initial stages of developing their own ideas.

The notion that I am an artist first, (though ego driven), holds certain advantages when teaching. It enables an alter ego that can perform, demonstrate, create, exhibit, stage, portray, show and express a whole host of ideas that conventional, text/sketchbook teaching prevents. As the artist, I can make work that exists outside of my teaching practice yet stands as exemplar in the classroom. The art comes prior to the teaching…

In a discussion with my part time colleague yesterday, we contemplated the Art we should/would like to be making… Art that satisfied our needs – yet found that we struggled for ideas – for ourselves, we lacked impetus. The view that I make all my Art as a tool for teaching (though new and irritating to me), would suggest that I am a teacher first. And yet…what other work do I construct? Whom do I make the work for?

I find myself writing about stuff I didn’t intend to address. Comments from previous blogs keep filtering into my mind, distracting me from the natural course of my thoughts. At the outset of this latest blog my intention had been to introduce a second exemplar that encompassed the Olympics on from “artist development”. But I got sidetracked. I sent a link of the whole blog to my colleague who read it all over a two hour period – (whilst supposing to study for a math’s exam), and then fed back to me, which started this discussion.

In our own work, we both struggle to set tasks, themes or projects for ourselves. I question where artists come by their ideas? David Minton questions intuition when writing in his blog “It’s a Hiding to Nothing”. The overlaps in our conversations both galvanize and frustrate my notions on making Art.

As a teacher, I have no problem generating ideas and activities for my pupils. Elena Thomas has questioned these concepts in response to my previous blogs also; suggesting that work made for the classroom isn’t “real” Art…

…and yet…

I came away from my Masters feeling like I hadn’t really fulfilled my potential,

simultaneously believing I’d overachieved in certain areas. At the outset, my intention was to have my paintings critiqued in the hope that they would be good enough to enhance my salary. The notion of making Art for money isn’t one that sits comfortably with me – it implies that I have a substantial ego, and even if that were the case, I would always deny it…

…and yet…

I didn’t make a single painting in the two years of my study!

Excuses, excuses. I didn’t have enough time… I wanted to incorporate technology that I was using into my classroom – it enabled me to make work quickly and nobody else was doing it… my partner became poorly… the dog ate my work…

Pathetic…

I just didn’t know what to do… I relied on my tutors to move my work forward and then blamed them when I didn’t get the marks I wanted. I flapped about with my iPad altering others work, experimented with miniature cameras, got drawn into ethical issues that really didn’t interest me and eventually produced a final installation that was so far removed from my starting intentions, it felt like I’d wasted my time!

Nevertheless, I hadn’t.

I produced a huge amount of work. My tutors moved my work and my thinking forward. I came away wanting to teach the way I had been taught. I was inspired… wanting to study further… I came away as a far better what?

Oh!

Disappointment with the answer I know I should write there – “I came away as a far better teacher!” Yes, my reasoning and theory proficiency has increased, but my art practice did to. Is it conceivable that I dismiss reality for fantasy? That I know what I want, but fear the consequences of that decision? That I know what I am? Is that why I fail to find starting points for my own practice? Preservation of the life that really isn’t bad and keeps my family in comfort?

Can of worms…

Do I really want to publish this?


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Continued…

The majority of my work these days is made on an iPad. I have several of these in my art room that the pupils are permitted to use along with a suite of Apple Macs.

Art Apps produce an instant, surrogate image and enable pupils to see alternatives for their work, options that generally they wouldn’t usually consider. There are also a whole set of Apps that will randomize work and produce completely unexpected results that again open new dimensions and possibilities.

Apple TV and a whiteboard allow me to project my images on a large scale for pupil’s to engage with, I can also demonstrate the process to whole groups.

Initially, I only ran the image through one App – PhotoStudioHD – to play with the colours of the image. What would it look like in yellow or red, black and white? I then flipped and mirrored the image to produce new faces, then played with the colour of these, (image 2). But the image didn’t relate to futurism, as I wanted it to.

I have no problem with work veering away from themes… I positively encourage my pupils to see themes as starting points only, stressing that it’s the journey that’s important… the route and progression that their ideas take – if the final piece has no association to Olympic Futurism, that’s fine by me.

I wanted my images to look more like Marcel Duchamp’s “Sad Young Man in a Train” painting, to enable my pupils to see fragmentation and movement. I ran several of my new images through a second randomizer App – Decim8 – to show this, before framing, lighting and adding noise in PictureShow – a third App. (Images 3 and 4). One of the surprises of the first images that I produced was the backgrounds. Because the original image was produced on card, when I projected the images onto my whiteboard it appeared as though they had really been sprayed onto a wall – where the card had creased it appeared as bricks. With this notion in mind, I want to present my exemplar…

For my iPad, I have a laser projector that enables me to project my images onto any surface…The Futurist’s had a great interest in cities… combine the two and it means that I can light-tag/graffiti anywhere I chose, to a fairly large scale… churches, shops, buildings, vehicles; they all become my canvas, yet I cause no damage or harm to property.

When I demonstrate this to pupils in my classroom I also project onto my hands (image 5), walls (image 6), floor, ceiling etc.

As an educational tool then, where does this work sit in a contemporary art world? Can it be classified as Art or does the educational context prevent this? My audience is ready made both with pupils and passing footfall in the city, yet because the work was constructed particularly as an educational medium, does that imply it has no alternative ambition.

For now, the pupils haven’t yet started making their own work from this. For me the interest, the joy in my job, is to see if it has ignited their imaginations and inspired them to make work that challenges my own… I will of course keep you posted…


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