As the term draws to an end, I find myself sat in my Art room waiting for the next group to come in for their final lesson of the year, contemplating what I want to write in this post. I should be writing Year 11 reports, but I’m a “last minute” merchant… I find it so tedious this late in the year… I know I’ll get them done… I’ve never missed a deadline…

I feel disillusioned. My exam board has once again failed to send out my papers so I can’t do my prep work for my pupils over the holiday… an ICT oversight in transferring data they tell my exams officer – no human error. It is unlikely that I will receive them the first week back in the new term and after a catalogue of errors from them, I’m left wondering how much the system does really care about young peoples education, development and progression?

The whole notion of examination brings me quite poignantly back to exemplars and leaves me brooding the question; what makes great Art?


Increasingly I am of the opinion that what is expected of me isn’t the viewpoint that I should be teaching pupils to make Art, but instead I should be training them in how to pass a GCSE. The frustration that brings out in me leads to dark moods and complete disenchantment with the whole education establishment. So I return to favouring the artist. My preference becomes making.

Am I alone in this?

Of late I have been championing change… reform… fresh starts. But it’s far more intricate than that. The artist side of me questions the possibility of teaching Art… argues that its an innate part of all of us. We know intuitively what appeals to us, the flavours that we enjoy and that which we dislike. Is Art so much about the making, or could it be about the appreciation? Can either be taught? How do I see the images my pupils carry around in their heads? How do I bring them forth and enable students to reproduce them to their satisfaction?

I suspect these are timeless questions and I waste my time in pursuit of their answers, however I seek excuses to justify the darkness of my pique and prophecy of retirement. Richard Eyre writing in The Independent offers some interesting observations; –


I think Richard Eyre replaces my word “Worth” with “Ambition”. I love what he writes, “a work of art should introduce something that didn’t exist before”… “It’s nothing if it doesn’t aspire to be excellent, but it’s nothing if excellence alone is its ambition. There has to be an element, in all art, of exceptional skill, of something being done with awesome craftsmanship”…


“Art must have form, it must have meaning – like science, art is a way of knowing the world, of giving form and meaning to a society that often seems formless”…

“There has to be a complexity about art – but that’s not the same as obscurity. There must be mystery, a sense of unknowability in a work of art – as there is in every human. In art, reality must be given the chance to be mysterious, and fantasy the chance to be commonplace”…

It is rare that I use quotes like this – and I could so easily use all of what he has written. These words carry real meaning for me, they contain depth and wisdom that I am incapable of matching.

“Art reflects, expresses, invokes, and describes the ambiguity of humanity”…

Here is a worthy exemplar.

But how do I teach that? How do I examine that?

I leave it to your good self to read his conclusion and then welcome any thoughts or comments you might have on them…


I am beginning to feel like a fraud. I don’t have all the answers…. I use this to air my ideas and occasionally panic when I don’t have a response to an answering comment.

This is hard. I feel inadequate. I get sidetracked and wonder into territories where I am easily ambushed and shown to lack any real understanding or involvement in issues… yet I embrace the conversation. It tests, makes me think, enables me to consider, reconsider, evaluate and evolve. It educates me.

It educates me!

I’m missing something… educates me… what is the answer I seek? How do I pass this on? Can I adapt that visually? Engage? Provoke? Prompt? Stimulate? Entice..?

I keep coming back to worthy.

I’ve been reconsidering my secondary education. London school. 3000 pupils. I’ve already mentioned my Art teacher who was so memorable I can’t remember his name…

But there is one teacher who stood out…

A group of us used to move his Mini Coupe by lifting it and bouncing it down the road a bit… says where I was with my education. Not proud… English was his thing. He made it exciting, gave it drama. He would read to us from “To Kill a Mockingbird”, animate it and bring it alive; entrance us with his storytelling. We had a good rapport with him. He enjoyed banter. But it’s so easy to overstep the mark – to showoff in front of ones peers.

We clearly caused anxiety when we moved his car. Groups of youths can intimidate. He would have wanted to catch us… yet we thought in our naivety that he would have shared in and enjoyed the joke.

I think he knew it was us… No, I know he knew it was us… he never let on; just waited patiently… we became his prey… you have to admire and respect that in the man.

One by one he got us…

My misdemeanor was to arrogantly greet him one morning; “Mornin Major!” Was enough… he had me. No longer banter, I had flouted his good nature once to often… lunch detention until further notice…!

“What? That’s not fair. You can’t do that!”


But that was the beauty of the man. It wasn’t a punishment in the conventional sense. For months he set me questions that at first I was reluctant to engage with, but his persistence, his ability to find the right push-button, involved me to such an extent I was sorry when he said I no longer had to turn up. It was individual tuition, a love of a subject and care for ones pupils that he taught. Every piece of work was marked and returned for correcting, fresh question attached, new task linked to previous. My English matured. I’d look forward to the punishment. I was entered early for O’level, and passed.

He never raised his voice to us. Never caned us. Never judged us. He took the opportunity, for me, to further my understanding, encourage my creativity through foreign language and enabled me to compete with my peers on a level playing field. He taught me to think, question, argue, pursue, revisit, accept, enjoy… Had he done this during lessons, no way would I have been complicit. He knew. Wise man.


Am I worthy of him?


For a visual subject, when it comes to its defense, we don’t half talk a lot!

I’ve been considering this for the week, and it just doesn’t make sense to me! Why on earth aren’t we using what we are best at? Why not bombard the government with a visual defense – show them and the public the benefits of art – with art?

There appears to be a huge reticence in the teaching profession to place oneself in the spotlight and stand up for what we believe in. Is this the difference between the artist and the teacher I wonder? Artists don’t appear to have much difficulty in sharing their opinions. I would describe my formative work as “political”. My intention as an artist has always been to make a statement. But teachers appear far more demur. Is this because we aren’t supposed to have opinions? That we have to present a balance at all times to represent all sides fairly?

Education starts in the galleries, looking at exemplars. I love that term; Exemplary!.. Worthy of imitation… there’s the key word… WORTHY…

…Are we?

There is huge irony in the notion that we create visual stimuli as statements, yet academia needs explanations to validate it. It mirrors what is happening in the press and government at present. The world looks the way it does because of artists. The clothes we wear, the cars we drive, the buildings we work and live in, furniture, decorations… the list goes on and on ad infinitum… anything man made; created by an artist or designer; in essence, started as a drawing. Yet we need to safeguard our position in words.

Isn’t it obvious?

Yet I’m tempted to refer back to my previous blog and assert the notion that alternative expression and vision take precedence to that initial drawing. Do you have to be a great draughtsman to develop an innovative concept? Academia and examination suggests so… deconstruct your idea and gain acceptability.

This is beginning to read like I have an issue with the institution. I merely suggest that they are culpable also and have a responsibility to aid the cause of the Arts by championing the work rather than seeking to continually critique it, or with oration.

To be worthy we have to show we are transparent – show what we are doing. Hidden away in our cozy classrooms we have little chance of convincing a general public that has forgotten its own instruction, the rewards that art contributes. We need to personalize it once again and involve and remind them of their time with us. Even the politicians partook in our lessons. We need to form partnerships and move to a more central ground partnering “high” art with functionality giving the work purpose and presence. The banks in Germany collect art to enhance the workspace; it becomes a part of the building and workforce. By establishing links with business, seeking to place work in environments, giving purpose to the work, surely we have a far better chance of defeating the proposals that are being forced upon us. Jude Law spoke of cultural vandalism in his Turner prize speech last night. Lets change that to educational revolution with art spearheading the assault…


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.


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…