The original inspiration for the research came from looking at the examplars I made in the classroom to show the pupils a particular technique or idea. I have long thought that showing them ‘one I prepared earlier’ was not very useful as it takes a skilled eye to be able to unpick how an image or object was actually made. It is more useful to see a piece of work being made before your very eyes and so I actually make work in front of the pupils. Whilst doing this, I think about the ways in which I learn to do something; it makes my own learning more apparent and I am then better able to communicate this and the process helps me to anticipate the tricky bits. So, it has been a long-standing habit to make work in front of and alongside the pupils. This sort of work though, made as it is with cheapish gouache on sugar paper or £1.99 watercolours on cartridge paper, I didn’t consider to be ‘my work’. I had my own paintings and other work and then I had this utilitarian work I made in class. I didn’t value it as part of my art practice but then again, I nearly always finished the work and didn’t throw it away either. So I valued it in some way.

I never threw it away because I remember when I was twelve, an art teacher showing us how to throw a pot, then knocking it over when he had done. We were shocked and disturbed that he did this. He said he had lots of pots at home but it still seemed shocking to be able to make something as well as he had but not value the outcome. So I don’t throw them away and I tend to finish them. I give them away sometimes, to adults, not pupils. I let the frost destroy the pots in the garden and I keep the forty-five or so self-portraits in the manner of Modigliani amongst the drifts of work in the art room.

Part of why I value them is because they often have a looseness and freedom that my more considered work doesn’t have. Some of the paintings, made with cheap paints, have a quality that work with acrylics on canvas or board don’t have and I am fascinated by this aspect. Making work in front of thirty children can be less inhibited than work made alone in a studio. I am concentrating very hard on demonstrating the idea and the decisions about why I am doing it have been made at a much earlier stage. I also become very practised at making the particular pieces as I am likely to do the same demonstration four or five times in a. I might not make a mono-print based on a drawing from the Sainsbury Centre again for a year but for that week I become very focused on that particular method. The demonstration is more of a live performance than a studio recording, with more energy in a short space of time and different production values.

Part of what I am doing is modelling the project and giving the children a target but I am also validating their work by showing that it was worth an adult doing it too. I also finish the work for fun, for pleasure and because I am practising making art. I am still running through the learning exercises of being an artist like a musician practising scales. Though now I have set the exercises partly out of a consideration of what I wish I had known about art when I was their age. Anecdotally, art teachers have told me that they have collections of work made in this way. They have not considered these as their ‘own work’ either and we have discussed the possibility of making an exhibition of these ‘lost’ works.

This research 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 is a response to a 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. An examination of this neglected or lost aspect of teaching and art practice is the original contribution to knowledge.

The research question, therefore, is ‘Can the classroom art demonstration be recontextualised as an art practice?’

The research process is based in case studies about working in the classroom with pupils aged between nine and thirteen in a middle school. The art practice is inspired by the teaching and learning process in the classroom and vice versa. The work considers the role of skill in art, of learning to draw, the nature of what is demonstrated and learnt in art lessons and the notion of influence as an educational tool.

The art and teaching practice is conditioned by the restraints of the school curriculum. The art practice has been guided by the school projects. The artwork allows the different influences and projects in the classroom to wash through it, trying on multiple artist’s 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. The artist is demonstrating his or her own work to themselves in the studio as well as the classroom. The art practice examines what it is that is being demonstrated and what that might say about the relationship between the artwork and audience.

Case Studies

The research is centred on five case studies. Four of these are based in the classroom and examine different projects over a period of three school terms. Three of these projects use an orthodox teaching method, using the work of an artist as a starting point. One was based on Alan Davie and Sandra Blow, one used camouflage as a theme and the third, called How to Paint and Draw, was based on observational and expressive painting and drawing. The fourth project concerns a visiting artist, Craig Kao, to the classroom.

The fifth case study is the art practice of the teacher. This is the major part of the study. The art practice case study covers a range of work over the duration of the project that relates to the teaching practice and shows a development of the practice based on the demonstration in the classroom. The work produced in this fifth case study relates to initial case studies. An analysis of the classroom case studies and what has been discovered from them provides further material for the art practice. Some of the conclusions and outcomes reached in the art practice have fed back into small art projects in the classroom as part of a dialogue between the two practices.


As part of the research, I learnt how to etch at the art college. This was a way of becoming a learner and putting myself in the position of a pupil acquiring a skill. I had done little etching before, partly because I had not found it a particularly conducive medium and partly because of the technical difficulties involved. It is not of much use in the classroom due to the health and safety issues and I realised that most of the skills I had acquired during my teaching career had come about due to their usefulness in the classroom. In this way my teaching and working in a middle school has conditioned my art practice and guided it in a certain way. Some media and techniques are more applicable than others in the classroom and my skills have been extended in paper-mâché and large-scale cardboard sculpture in a way that they might not have been had I not been a teacher.

The etching process has produced a set of etchings along with writings discussing being a pupil learning a craft skill, the sort of work that has been produced using this skill and how that might relate to contemporary practice, particularly the work of the Chapman brothers and Paula Rego. The etching has fed into the classroom project on Alan Davie and Sandra Blow as some pupils made dry points with a small press and I have shown the etchings to pupils and displayed them at school. The awkwardness of the process and the interest in drawing that the medium has provoked has related to the How to Paint and Draw project.

One theme of the art practice is how one learns about making art and how that learning has informed teaching. My art education and subsequent teacher training, the expectations of the education system and those of the pupils and parents inform what I teach and how. The folklore of art and artists affect what happens and the background that the pupils bring to lessons. The mythologies and common-sense views of art have also affected how I learnt about art and how I went from being ‘good at drawing’ through art college to art teaching and art practice. I have this in common with many art teachers and I see pupils who are ‘good at drawing’ in my classes.

Another theme in the art practice is drawing – notions of good drawing and drawing to acquire the skill of drawing. Drawing manuals and the exercises and clichés of drawing are referenced ironically and are used in the classroom and art practice. I use drawing a lot in the classroom but I use it to express, to map, to imagine and to communicate as much as to observe and analyse. I use a wide range of media to draw including print, computers, paint and clay as well as more traditional pen and pencil. This has meant some arguments with external inspectors expecting evidence of more observed drawing. One of the points against an emphasis on observational drawing skill in the classroom is that it alienates the majority of pupils who find the process difficult and confusing. The intention of a curriculum based on a broad range of artists and media is to try to give as many pupils as possible a positive introduction to making and thinking about art. This is sometimes referred to as inverting the pyramid. This means a project based on colour, collage and Sandra Blow that does not foreground drawing skill will appeal to more pupils than one based on observational drawing skill that values ‘good at drawing’.

Alan Davie and Sandra Blow

This was the idea explored in the classroom project initially based on Alan Davies and the free associative drawing practice he uses to generate ideas and images. We took this as a starting point and then developed imagery through a range of media and techniques including paint, collage, and printmaking. As the project progressed, we looked at other artists such as Sandra Blow whose collages were very popular with the pupils. Alongside this project I made a large number of drawings in the manner of Davie as I developed the project and I made prints and paintings as demonstration pieces in front of the children. I also made three large paintings based on Davies and a series of collages based on Sandra Blow. These have been exhibited at NUCA and in a small show in Suffolk.

An interest in abstract art has been a further theme in the art practice and I have produced a large number of painting studies inspired by Jonathan Lasker and Thomas Nozkowski. This is part of a theme about influence in art and art teaching. The intention is to use the work of an artist as a benign influence in the classroom as a part of modeling or the scaffolding of a learning experience. It is a way to present a historical view of art and to introduce children to the work of artists through the visual. It can serve to introduce a range of voices into the classroom from different times and cultural viewpoints.

Artists have always been influenced by other artists and has been a way to learn about art. Many artists have made work based on or inspired by the work of artists that they admire. Much art is a conversation between artists through art works and this continues into contemporary art. This seems to validate the use of artists in the classroom though it causes some problems with notions about originality and creativity.

I think of the art projects as a series of games with rules in different places. Art can be considered an etiquette, a way of doing things. The use of artists’ work in the classroom introduces children to the idea that art can be made in a wide variety of ways about many things with many materials. This week we are being neat and tidy and staying inside the lines and next week we are splashing plaster bandage around on a large sculpture together. A set of rules allows the pupils to express themselves in a certain way and hopefully think about the work of an artist and acquire some technical insight into a medium or technique.

One of the things that has altered through the project is this methodology. I am experimenting with more tangentially influenced projects where the work of artists has influenced me in the construction of the project and I use the work of artists less. In a way I have expanded my role as an artist in the classroom and used myself more as an interpreter. Previously I have tried to be transparent and present the work of artists in a neutral way. Some of the work I have done with pupils has shown me that my role as interpreter and presenter is considerably more of an influence than the artist I am presenting. When I use the work of an artist in the classroom I bring a l present a synthesis of what I know about the artist and present this in a way that makes it accessible to the pupils. This has led me to think about my role as an art teacher in the classroom and to play with the role of art teacher. Some of the art practice is based around the persona of an art teacher who has become a semi-fictional figure. By stepping outside, questioning and making work about the role, the presentational and performative aspects have become more apparent.

This realization that I am acting as an interpreter comes out of work on the teacher’s voice taken from transcriptions of videos of classroom demonstrations. This voice has become text on paintings and drawings as I explain how the work I am demonstrating is being made. In this way the internal scripts that teachers use become more apparent. A number of works with running commentaries on them have been produced.

Visiting Artist

Questioning the role of the art teacher has also arisen from the fourth classroom case study involving the visiting artist, Craig Kao. Craig was with us for a week as part of a Sainsbury Centre of the Visual Arts project on Culture in the Countryside. We cleared the art room of as much as we could and filled the space with large amounts of found materials. We left the timetable as normal for the week. This was partly to cause as little disruption as possible to the school and to ensure that the maximum number of children would have the experience with Craig. This meant that the artist was obliged to work within the constraints of the teaching structure of a school as a new set of children appeared each hour. Craig obviously found this quite difficult as he was unused to working in this way and has no teacher training.

The week heightened my awareness of my role as a teacher and as an artist as Craig and I worked together on a series of collaborative paintings and sculptures with each other and the children. The results were exhibited at the Cut gallery in Halesworth in October 2009.

The experience made me very aware of the channelling and institutionalising effect of working in a school; how used one becomes to the structures and expectations of the school day. Not that Craig and I really stepped outside them but we moved them around and we did something more unexpected with these strictly allotted hours.


This led me to a take a different approach to some projects thereafter, particularly the Nikki De Saint Phalle project that I did with a group of ten year old children. I decided to try to be an artist in residence or an imagined notion of an artist in residence with the project. We set off with paintings and then made a collective sculpture with a cardboard armature and a paper-mâché and plaster bandage skin. I was much more directive as if I was the artist and the group were my assistants. I split the group into teams for each section of the figure and then we put the parts together and plastered it together. We finished off with acrylic paint and we also made a set of studies of the marks for the surface that made a sort of skin of the figure which we exhibited as a large painting. The result was exhibited at NUCA in February 2010 and at the school.

By being my own artist in residence I mean that I foregrounded the artist aspect of the role and tried to imagine being Phalle working with nine year olds to make one of her sculptures. I went into the room more focussed on getting them to make a very large scale figure rather than on constructing lessons with learning objectives. I worked with the resources I had to achieve the artistic result that was more in my mind than theirs. My improvisation resulted in my getting the size quite wrong and the only way we got the piece to Norwich was by borrowing a builder’s lorry to move it. The pupils got a lot out of it despite the lack of formal learning objectives. They came down at lunchtime to put the plaster bandage on and to paint the figure. The project began to step outside the constraints of the lessons and inspired and esprit de corps in the group that still exists when we work together. The project did generate the sort of excitement that an artist in residence project often does.

The rhythms of the school day and the school year have 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. How the two have become interwoven or mingled together is part of the art work and it becomes difficult to tell what the art practice would look like without the teaching practice.

The art work, some class work and accompanying writing has been catalogued on a blog over the past year at The art practice and class work has been exhibited at NUCA, the Cut in Halesworth and at Wingfield Barns as part of the SCVA Culture of the Countryside project over the past year. The work has been extensively recorded through a series of learning journals and sketchbooks and there is an extensive photo archive.