Picasso Improved No. 3

IDuring my art teaching career I have always made art work in the classroom in one way and another. I have always had some element of my own art practice in the classroom, some project on the go at the back of the room or on a desk. I also make work in front of the children as demonstrations of idea, technique or style. How do you show someone how to make a coil pot other than by making one in front of them? When I was first starting art teaching the art adviser told us that we were the best resource in the room, that we were representatives of art practice for the pupils we taught.

I realised over the years that I had accumulated folders of work made in front of children. I tended to finish the work and often worked on them whilst the children were working on theirs. I was modelling the project and giving them a target but I was also validating their work by showing that it was worth an adult doing it too. I also finished them for fun, for pleasure. I remember an art teacher showing us twelve year olds how to make a pot on the wheel and we were all very impressed. At the end of his demonstration he smashed it with his hand. He said that he had enough pots at home and that he didn’t need another one. We were shocked that he could do that to his own work, that he didn’t value his own work to that extent. I resolved never to do that in the classroom.

Because of this I have accumulated a collection of work which is not quite my own art practice but which I value enough not to throw away. Some of this is kept to be examples next time but I tend to make afresh for each project. In my view learners find a finished art work difficult to unravel and to see a piece being constructed has the most value. Anecdotally other art teachers have told me that they have collections of work made in this way. Not considered as their ‘own work’, work made for a pedagogical purpose in the classroom.

My question is can this work be considered as the basis of an art practice? Can this sort of work made for an educational purpose be re-contextualised as art practice? Is this a lost or mislaid art practice at the heart of art teaching practice?

This project is a subsection of the interest in the artist teacher and much of the initial research was guided by the literature on various artist teacher projects thus far. The development of this interest in the demonstration as a form of art practice comes out of a frustration at the lack of detail in the current research about the effect that the art practice of the art teacher can be said to have in the classroom. This project proposes that all art teachers who make demonstrations in the classroom are carrying out a form of art practice.

The project is based on five case studies. Four of these take place in the classroom and the fifth is the art practice case study, intersecting with the classroom ones. Much of the current art practice arises from an analysis of the classroom case studies and an examination of the role of the art teacher’s demonstrations and subsequent art work arising from them.

The art work is inspired by the teaching process, by questions about how we learn about art and the autobiography of learning about art in school and beyond. The art work plays with the persona of an art teacher playing with the styles and tropes of art education in schools. The work considers the role of skill in art, of learning to draw, the nature of what is demonstrated and learnt in art lessons of the notion of influence as an educational tool.

The practice is conditioned by the restraints of the school curriculum. The art work allows the different influences and projects in the classroom wash through it, trying on multiple practices. The demonstrations in the classroom have become the whole of the art practice and work made beyond the classroom is seen as a demonstration. What the artist is demonstrating and to whom becomes part of the work. Is the artist demonstrating their own work to themselves? What is it that is being demonstrated? If it doesn’t look like art then what is it that is being demonstrated?

The rhythms of the school day and the school year become evident in the work. The fragmentary nature of the work becomes more obvious as ideas are pursued but only so far, conditioned as much by the attention span of the children as by that of the artist. There is never enough time to be thorough, as the curriculum demands a move to cover a new topic or method. The teaching practice conditions the art practice. What would the art practice look like without the teaching practice? Have the two become completely interwoven?