Archives for the month of: September, 2009

This was the last day of the Clemente’s. I had two year 8 groups one after the other, first thing this morning. The first group I started off using the paintings I had made. I told them that I had been doing some expressive self-portraits and that this is how I had made them and why there were turtles in them and so on. Off we went and the pictures the children made were quite close to the models I showed them. There were even some turtles, ‘because I like them too’. I showed them the Clemente at the end and explained that I had been influenced by these pictures. I asked them if they though that seeing the Clemente early would have changed what the did and some said that it would have made it easier, they would have had more ideas from them and so on. More or less the same as was said yesterday by the group that saw the Clementes but not mine about my stuff. Interesting.

The last group I showed them the slideshow whilst my pictures were hanging up at the back. A couple of them spotted the links and started pointing to mine and the slideshow, especially the one with the star fish over the face and the clouds which were pretty close to overt lifts of Clemente.

I showed them what I had done, just the idea of putting things down and then putting the face behind the thing and constructing it in that way. And off they went. A teaching assistant was in and I gave her a piece of paper and off she went too. She wasn’t sure what to do and I suggested a few ideas about what she did at the weekend and so on, whatever was in her head and she drew rugby posts and pets.

We chatted after and I asked if the things I had made were a useful interpretation of the Clemente or did they get in the way. She thought about it for a bit and then said that my things made it more possible to do the painting because I showed you how it was done and that this was not necessarily obvious from the  Clemente. I said it seemed to me that I had taken some things and disregarded other things, that I had interpreted the Clemente and taken out things that seemed relevant to the teaching project and she agreed. She said it made it possible to see me do it. I said you should be looking at the work of Clemente though, he is a proper millionaire artist endorsed by the art system and I am just a teacher in Lowestoft. She said that I was pretty good and that she would rather look at my things than Clemente’s.

The first group in the morning I don’t show them my examples and I don’t stand and do a painting or anything. I show them the Clemente slide show and set them off to make a Clemente-style expressive self-portrait. The results are alright. More space than when I do them and the things in the portraits are not so bold and are more cliched. I wander round the room, pottering, but don’t pick up a brush. What to do with myself? I make my usual ‘helpful’ comments and try to stop a few from obliterating their work. In the end I crack and do a self-portrait.

Another change is that I have mixed up a batch of sienna with black and a purple and a bit of glue and water to make a smoother paint. I had felt that the black we used yesterday had been a bit claggy and just a bit stark. I tried out the paint with one picture earlier in the day when I had a bit of time. So that was two pictures by lunchtime.

I showed the children the examples at the end of the lesson and asked them if it would have made any difference if they had seen these at the beginning of the lesson. A couple said yes, they would have had more ideas about what to do and that they would have had more ideas about how to do it. I tired to ask them if they thought my things had anything to do with Clemente. They ssid yes but we didn’t get very far with that so I left it.

In the afternoon I showed them the slide show and the examples hanging from the drying racks. They made their paintings and you could tell that they were picking up on what was in mine. The simplification and the way I put together the image. I aksed them at the end if the examples made a difference. Some said yes, that the pictures on the slide show had been done whenever and those had been done now so they were more modern and more immediate, I think she meant. Others said that you could see how they were made and you couldn’t see that so well on the slide show. I asked the teaching assistant who had been in there and she said that she hadn’t got much out of the slides and it had made more sense when I had explained it and showed them.

I could see that what I was bringing to the images I was making some of Clemente but a load of other things too. I was bringing in all of the Clementes I had seen, not just the ones on the slide show. I was also bringing in bits of Ken Kiff and Eileen Cooper and Baselitz and Bruce Mclean and so on. And I was having quite an intense little art school time with these things as they unraveled before me. Or raveled before me.

It was all coming back to me now. I remembered what I had liked about this sort of painting and what I had liked about my painting in this manner. I liked the apparent ease, the simplicity and the skill. The line. The not hard-won image. The relationship to Indian and Chinese and Japanese art in the brush work. And I liked the fecundity of it, the out pouringness of it, the riffing, the endless productivity of Clemente et al. Have an idea and make an image and have another idea and see something and have another idea.

Combined with, now, quite a strong distaste for second rate copies of the manner. All the things wrong with it. No real progress, the same thing over and over, why be interested in your emotional life? Etcetera. You have to be good to sustain it and keep it going. It can be appealing to people to do because it is kind of easy. It requires a certain confidence to do it well.

Tomorrow I will try one without Clemente and see if you can see the difference. Just based on my examples of Clemente. And one session with me and him. What would he think if he knew?

The turtles come from watching ‘Last Chance to See‘ on Sunday night. The little turtles going weightless and switching into rapid swimming mode. Wonderful.

It is a funny job. Whilst others plan financial futures or sell knick-knacks to each other I spend my day pottering about with good old fashioned art materials. Usually in the company of twenty to thirty young adolescents. Each day I make an example or two to express to the children what I think might be a good idea for them to do. There is an old Chinese proverb about if I tell you you will forget most of it, if I show you you will remember half of it and if you do it you will remember most of it. These examples are me showing people how to do something so that they can do it themselves.

But it is also something else. It is also my own work. I didn’t think that it was for many years. The things I did at school were the things I did at school for a purpose and my real work was done elsewhere or in gaps at school. There was a difference. But as time has gone on and as part of the research project I have reassessed the work I do in the classroom with the children. I have started to value it for one thing and to exhibit it as ‘my work’. I have also started to see how it isn’t just there as a tool. There is a lot of expression in it. I am not a very good neutral filter. Quite  the opposite.

Should I be more neutral? There seems to be a question about this. I should, I think, be here to promote the children’s own creativity. The theory would be that they are to create independently, to have their own ideas. In order to do this they don’t need to have any one elses ideas. The teacher’s ideas can be such that the pupils doesn’t have any ideas and thus copies the teacher. This would not be promoting the child’s creativity.

But how does creativity work? How do you have ideas? How do people learn how to be creative? Is it possible to be creative in a vacuum? Some would argue not, that it isn’t a skill that can be acquired without it acting on something, that creativity needs a medium in which to work, be that poetry or paint or what ever. I would agree. For me, part of creativity is that interaction with a medium which feeds more ideas. It isn’t the carrying out of a plan. Well, there might be a plan to start with but it is open to suggestion as the piece proceeds.

This Clemente piece is a nice example. We have visitors coming in on Thursday and the school is on DefCon4. The long wall outside the staff room is looking rather frowsy and the work has been there a while. I want to liven it up. I stand and stare at it last Thursday morning when I am thinking that I need to do something about it. I can see in my mind’s eye something to do with a sense of writhing and mark making going going down there and I know I only have one lesson to do it in. Clemente comes into my mind and I have a plan. We are doing Identity in year 8 and I can see some sort of one off expressive self-portrait being the way to go.

So this morning I paste together and PPT of Clemente images from the web. I look at the figures and I would like there to be figures but realise that his thing about orifices means that most of them are unusable. I also see the gossip shots of him with other artists and so on at fancy New York art parties and him looking distinguished and Mapplethorpe shots of him as a sensitive young man.

But I have enough portraits for my point and this afternoon I set out black paint and white paper and I show the children the PPT and I do one myself. I talk a little bit about Clemente and I mention that I really liked him when I was at art college, as you can see, I can still do a fair Clemente. I nearly choke at that point and look at my painting there in front of all the class and a whole lot of things telescope into the moment for me. I set the children off and they all make their versions. I finish my painting and call it Self-portrait as a 1980’s art star.

With the second set I start the painting off with a dolphin and a shooting star and put the self portrait behind them. Not many of the children take me up on that idea. This one is Self-portrait as a much younger artist. There is quite a lot of emotion in them and I can see that really they don’t have much to do with Clemente at all. I have taken the guy’s work and made a representation of it, whipped out some of the elements, the face on, the big eyes, a way to do lips, things whizzing around or infront of the head and things in the orifices. The children pick up much more on what I have done than what is on the slide show.

Is that wrong?

Sort of inevitable as I am a living, breathing person in front of them rather than a bunch of pictures on a screen by some indeterminable bloke. My presence carries more force than his and I am the teacher and I am showing you what to do. Clemente isn’t giving that much away. So it is likely to be the case. But do I use the force for good?