News from Visual Arts
As an Art teacher, I am often asked to explain or even, at times, justify the importance of the Creative Arts as part of a child’s education. In a world of rapid change, quick fixes and instant gratification, of big business, innovation and defined outcomes, what is the point of Art? It is a delicate question to answer as, unlike many subjects on the curriculum, Art is as much about the journey as it is the destination. It is about slowing things down and engaging in the process of exploration through patience and perseverance, about developing ideas, learning new skills and techniques as much as it is about resolving outcomes.
By way of example, I recently took a group of students to Heide Gallery to participate in a workshop inspired by an exhibition of works by Australian contemporary artist Melinda Harper. Students were invited to listen to a piece of music and to fill a page with continuous lines and shapes working to the beat and sound of the score and then filling the shapes with colour from a limited palette. Despite the predictable and expected variance in outcomes, upon reflection, it was not lost on the students, that the works that used the music convincingly to inspire their outcomes, despite their very abstract nature, had a more satisfyingly fluid and cohesive meter.
Music, it seemed was the perfect springboard into a tapestry task I was planning with my Year 7 students that required colour and shape to be the main Art elements. Students looked at works by Sonia Delaunay, Edward Steichen, Miro, Kandinsky and Harper, all abstractionist visual artists that, although important in a historical and cultural context for student learning, could easily have intimidated or overly influenced the students’ development of ideas.
To overcome this, students first listened to classical music while closing their eyes and resting on their desks for 10 minutes. The idea being to create a calm engagement with the task by putting space between themselves and their thoughts. I spoke to them about tuning into the music and to think of organic and geometric lines and shapes.
Having dreamed and drawn in their minds before putting pencil to paper, they filled several pages with different types of continuous line, then either found shapes within the lines or had the opportunity to add shapes over the top. A section of their work was chosen that would translate to a balanced composition that they coloured in using a harmonious palette to complete their finished drawing.
Once the idea was born and developed the next part of the process utilised fine motor skills such as threading a needle, and exploring a range of stitches before launching into the final stage of creating their completed tapestry. The results are a beautifully rich and diverse exploration of harmonious colour, line, shape and texture all inspired by the same piece of music.
This task highlighted the importance of having the “right head space” as a starting point for individual expression and ideas, one where the everyday clutter of life was replaced with a calm, blank canvas, allowing space for a mood (in this case classical music) to transform that inner space and provide a source of inspiration. The selection and arrangement of art elements, such as lines, shapes and colours as well as the individual interpretation and expression flowed from that space.
While not every one of the students involved will continue to work in the creative arts, it provided them with a practical metaphor for life that can be applied to any task that demands planning, patience, practice and absolute immersion to create a resolved outcome.
Creating rich learning environments for middle and senior school students that enables them to dream, explore and refine their own ideas, skills and potential is a logical extension of what we encourage in the junior years by providing opportunities and environments that allow for play based learning.
Time and thought, patience and skill underpin excellence and accomplishment in any field and the creative Arts provide a wonderful platform to hone these skills. In the words of philosopher and Art Historian, Alain de Botton: “It helps us make sense of the world and demonstrates that Art has the power to extend the capacities beyond those that nature has originally endowed us with.”
To succeed in life and unlock our potential we must invest in ourselves and our capacity to imagine.
It is a slow but rewarding process.