Leanne Troy is a primary school teacher based in the Midlands. She told us that she has a great passion for art both inside and outside the classroom. She attended Learning through Creativity educational course at the Glucksman Art Gallery this summer
I am very enthusiastic about visual art and its impact on education. I challenge myself to try and be as creative as possible in all my approaches to teaching each subject area. Thematic teaching allows me to integrate subjects more freely and use more hands on visual methods. An example of this is the Craft Ed project I recently undertook through my local education centre (a fantastic scheme that unfortunately very few teachers know about). For this project I was paired with a local artist who came to my school to complete a six week project. The wood carving artist and I team taught my class in 2 hour blocks. The children from my 1st class were delighted to be handed chisels and pieces of wood! We based the project on a trip to Lough Boora Sculpture park in Co.Offaly, where the children learned all about the local wildlife and the history of the bog . Each child chose an animal to write a report on and also drew an accompanying image. This image was then transferred onto the wood and carved out. The results were amazing. We created our very own ‘Sky Train’ which is proudly on show at the front of our school.
My experiences with Craft Ed have even further heightened my interest in art education and so I am constantly on the lookout for new ideas and ways to upskill and develop my artistic abilities. I try to attend as many local art workshops as I can in areas such as ceramics, mosaics as well as art education classes in the Glucksman Art Gallery in University College Cork. A particularly strong influence is the art classes I attend with Hazel Greene in Shinrone Co.Offaly, where we paint mostly landscapes using acrylics. We also complete silk paintings and palate knife paintings. I also gain a lot of experience and inspiration from the childrens’ summer camp I run each year. I am the co-founder of an art and alternative sports camp, named Da Vinci’s Frisbees, with my partner Liam. Our camp is in its fourth successful summer and it is based in Offaly and Cork. The art activities focus on the process of art making and creativity.
So this week I was delighted to get the opportunity to attend my own summer camp, in the form of the Learning through Creativity educational course run by Tadhg Crowley at the Glucksman Art Gallery. The bright, airy spacious gallery is the perfect space to facilitate our week long voyage of discovery. Even with the end of the summer holidays looming, I was very excited. Throughout the week we have looked at art and the possibilities for integration with other subject areas on the primary curriculum. We have explored various examples of artists that could be used to facilitate the creative combination of Art with Maths, English, History, Science and SPHE. Each afternoon we were also lucky enough to work with different artists to put into practice the theory from the morning session.
Initially we started off our discussion on the impact of art on education. Just like when you read a good book, art education allows you to develop empathy, different points of view and it awakens your senses. Tadhg introduced the concept of creativity to us as an essential part to education and a unique human factor which allows us to show case our individuality. Everybody is creative in some shape or form whether it’s through your sense of fashion or how you hang the clothes on the washing line! Creativity is even fast becoming one of the most desired characteristics for employers who are seeking to employ innovative problem solving employees. Children are the future so let us prepare them as best we can!
I particularly enjoyed the caricature depicted by Ann Bamford, the art educator, which really highlighted the importance of teachers developing creative teaching methodologies in order to differentiate for the children in their class. There is a line of zoo animals in front of a tree. Maybe there was an elephant, a lion, a monkey, a seal and a zebra. The teacher tells the class, ‘Now climb the tree’. We discussed how as educators, we sometimes ask all of our class to do the same thing, using the same method, when there are many different capabilities and skills present in every classroom. By making the effort to offer a variety of imaginative approaches we will have a much more beneficial impact on the education of our students. We were also told about the impressive project in Harvard Medical school, ‘Training the Eye: Improving the Art of Physical Diagnosis’. In this project a group of doctors were split into two groups. Group A received an art education course and group B didn’t. Both groups were observed during their medical careers and it was found that group A had a much higher diagnosis rate with their patients. We discussed how art education can make you become more aware of your surroundings and awaken your senses and this was clearly evident for the doctors in group A who were demonstrating these skills.
I also thoroughly enjoyed working with Cork based artist, Cassandra Eustace, who outlined numerous invaluable creative activities linking art and language. These simple tasks included drawing simple still life objects using a blinder on the pencil. This took all of the stress out of drawing and some of the control. It really made you focus your attention and become aware of the lines and what you were looking at. We also used a view finder and an acetate sheet to draw our hands. Both of these tasks took a lot of concentration but they were fun and you did not have to be ‘good’ at drawing. Everyone can find their artist! Following this we then had to pick an object in the room and write a description about it without giving the name of the object away. For example, I chose a fire extinguisher and described it as a hard, cold, bright metal object with a beak that made me feel safe. These descriptions were then swapped with a partner. Based on the descriptive piece of writing that you received, you then had to create a collage of words and images, which made for some very interesting results! Another appealing activity was highlighting the use of drawing as a way of communicating and expressing ourselves. Using simple notebooks we had to respond to words that Cassandra said, firstly through non representative lines and then using symbols or images. A series of words were used like, bored, angry, peaceful etc. All of the activities used very little materials and took very little organisation or tidying up, which will make them attractive to a lot of teachers. But also they provided a chance for children to express themselves in very creative ways.
Artists such as, Josef Albers, Sol Lewitt and Bridget Riley provided inspiration for our maths based art activities with artist, Dominic Fee. Dominic has an excellent website which links numerous artists to the world of maths and he outlined links to various strands in the curriculum, especially around the area of shapes, spatial awareness and tessellations. I enjoyed layering 2d shapes using textured wallpaper and ink. This was then passed through a printing press. For most schools, there is not the luxury of a printing press, so Dominic showed us how the taped down acetate sheet and paper can be covered in paper and a poly pocket and then a wooden/metal spoon can be rubbed vigorously on top to create the print.
We then examined the links between art and history. Tadhg outlined how art works can tell us about the clothes, politics, social situations and living conditions at different periods of time. As a cross curricular activity we had to arrange a number of paintings into a time line (which I found very challenging!) Tadhg went on to highlight William Kentridge, Rita Duffy and Kerry James Marshall as artists who could be used to discuss themes such as conflict and human rights. This approach would be an imaginative visual way of tackling history in a classroom.
Later in the week with the guidance of artist Kevin Mooney, we studied some pictures of ancient artefacts and responded to the various images through painting. It was interesting to mix the various patterns seen in the images and collaborate African statues, the Book of Kells and New Grange into the one piece. One of my favourite activities that Kevin outlined was painting in response to a text. This simple idea could be used with any age group. We underlined the adjectives in a descriptive section about Cuchulainn and then depicted the words through painting and mark making.
As we were in the renowned architecturally designed gallery, it was only fitting that we also had a tour of the current exhibition, Now Wakes the Sea. I really feel that the pieces of art would mean little to me if I did not get the history and background of them and begin to fully appreciate the process that went in to making the piece of art. I was very impressed by the stories that went with each piece. This led to some interesting discussions for the group, for example, we discussed who decides what art is worthy of hanging in a gallery. I think that an established artist can justify his/her pieces through outlining the process of the production and the idea behind it’s creation which in most cases turns out to be fascinating, even if the end piece sometimes does not seem impressive. Without the tour and information I feel that I could have been staring mindlessly at the art wondering what I was supposed to be looking at! This experience made me become more aware of my surroundings, engaging all of my senses in the process of looking at the art. Perhaps most importantly as a teacher it further developed my sense of empathy for the art making process, as opposed to just the final piece of art. This outlook allows me to appreciate art, (and life more generally) from different viewpoints and perspectives, a skill which I feel would be hugely beneficial for the children in my classroom.
The gallery tour also made me question what is it that can be described as art, the possibilities are endless. I am starting to develop a broader concept of more non-traditional examples of art work. As a very interesting activity we had to choose a piece of art from the current exhibition, Now Wakes the Sea, and develop a set of questions that could be used with children. This process of really looking at the art, identifying how it was made, the materials used, the colours, shapes and lines present in the piece as well as the whole thought process behind the piece, made me become much more aware of what I was looking at. My list of questions for my class became longer as I thought about what the children might see and how I could broaden their perspectives when studying a piece of art. For example, what is your first impression when you look at this art, how does it make you feel, what is the mood/tone, does it remind you of anything, what is the focal point, what title would you give this piece etc.
Tadhg went on to discuss the benefits of using a 3d object like a sculpture or an artefact to initiate a lesson. An object would make for an interesting starting point for engaging the children in a lesson. A visual stimulus like this could be multi-sensory and accommodate various learning needs in the class. It would also help to develop visual literacy in children as well as their capacity for careful critical observation of their world. I think that I would have to practice this approach myself to build up my confidence before introducing it to my classroom. However, I can see how it would create a buzz of excitement in the classroom to place some strange sculpture on the table and start the journey of exploration through the senses.
A highlight of the course was working with Killian, when we were integrating Art with Science. We developed photograms! In the dark room, I arranged my jewellery on a special sheet of light treated paper and placed a lamp directly above it for about five seconds. The piece of paper was then put in a tray of water with the chemical developer until the image appeared. The paper was then lifted into the water mixed with the chemical fixer for thirty seconds, before being rinsed off. I was both shocked and amazed at how simple the process was to create such a cool piece of art. I was so delighted to realise how cheap and easy it would be to set up a dark room in a school store room. My third class are in for a treat this year! Bring on September, I can’t wait to try out some of my new ideas!