Art for a Post lockdown school

As some children return to school, I like many others, hope that creativity and art will play an integral role in the transition.

I am in the art education world; I actively seek out creativity and art through programmes, (usually) galleries, books etc. However, even if this is not your lifestyle, it cannot have escaped your attention that during lockdown, art and creativity have become popular culture. It seems that in this time of social isolation and disconnect from our normal activities, art and creativity have been a natural resource for many people.

Some, like myself, have been grateful for the extra time to bring to fruition long thought about creative projects. I have felt lucky that my lifelong tendency to enjoy time on my own, to make art, has come into its own this year. Aside from the usual arty types though, there are also many people who have rediscovered their creativity – picking up old hobbies such as baking or sewing or beginning never before attempted projects and art tasks. I say ‘rediscovered’ pertinently because, predictably, I am of the belief that we are all innately creative and the process of becoming an adult squeezes it out of us. You might have found yourself to be a Lockdown baker, gardener, junk modeller, patterned mask maker, dreamcatcher maker – these all require creativity.

A wind chime made by my self-proclaimed non-arty mother

You only have to look at the popularity and wide reaching engagement of programmes like Channel four’s Grayson’s Art Club and BBC4’s Life Drawing Live! to realise there’s something inherently engaging about art. As well as this, it seems there has been a tendency towards creative activities to keep children entertained and happy at home during this homeschool period. Even without the art making, we have seen galleries make collections and exhibitions available for the public to view online. I have to say, one of my favourite art outcomes has been in the photographs of people dressing up and recreating their favourite artworks – so funny!

Of course, some of this willingness to engage with art and creativity is simply because we have more time, but I believe it is more than that. Shopping, drinking, keeping over-busy with socialising, holidays, even fun day trips on the weekends – These are all distractions from ourselves. In normal life, even on my ‘days off’ I would feel compelled to hop on a packed tube to an exhibition, of course followed by lunch then maybe browse a few shops etc. That is all great, and of course part of me misses it, but if I am honest I have always found life overstimulating, even when it is the good stuff that I love. This year we have had our distractions taken away and when left with time and ourselves, many of us found a sense of peace and we have made art.

Creating is a human urge and when we are left with our humanness, we create – the mind wonders to beautifully executed cave art discovered around the globe. It is a personal resource, a way of venting, self regulating and communicating.

I have lost count of the amount of times I have seen a room full of children, or teachers fall totally silent and tranquil during an art task, only to come up for air at the end and describe feelings of peace, calm and flow.

So, creative flow is good, it makes us feel good and helps us to find a sense of calm, even when things around us are not. That in its self is invaluable – children need to know that this flow is always an option, and we need to make sure they know it as an inner resource that they will always have. So that when life, as it inevitably will, changes and stresses, they know they have a method for soothing their souls.

There are other ways though that art can support us, and possibly children on the return to school. Looking at art and discussing it or writing about it can provide an excellent stimulus for talking about feelings, and processing them in a safe way. When this sort of discussion is held in a safe space and by a sensitive and qualified adult it can lead to some powerful conversations. So, selecting art that is appropriate and can facilitate these conversations is key.

Lastly, if you are a school that is willing to dedicate some time to processing the events of Covid and its impact on the children, then you could think about designing a project around it. I would suggest looking at examples of artists who have made work about their feelings in reference to a particular experience or event. You could also look at self portraiture and how artists communicate how they feel through their work.

Suggestions for art activities Back to School post Lockdown:

1. Creative flow – Any activities that are creative flow based and not outcome based. Play relaxing music and let the children get in ‘the zone’. You could start and end each day like this and maybe even do this in transition times. I really like doodle books, a book where the children can draw or doodle whatever they like but you could also try (I by no means advocate this as a usual art lesson) colouring in activities. Just playing with play-dough or modelling clay is another good one – for all ages!

Some more ideas for creative flow activities here.

Mandala Art – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OiSzGBguPm0

2. Look at and respond to art

There are some great examples here and here of art that could be related to themes around isolation and Lockdown. You could ask questions such as:

How do you think the artist was feeling when they made this work? What is happening in this work? How does this make you feel? What does it remind you of? What title would you give this work? Can you write a story to go with this work?

3. Make art about the experience

Look at examples of art made in response to an event, that include the artist’s feelings on the matter. You could start with questions such as How did it feel when school was closed? What was it like to be at home during Lockdown? What do you miss most about life before Lockdown? Did you see or hear any news stories that meant something to you? What did you notice about Lockdown? What did you like/dislike about Lockdown? How does it feel to be back at school? Then simply let the children make a picture about their experiences of Lockdown – it doesn’t have to be the most technically brilliant or make sense to us as viewers. Once the children have made their art, have time for sharing and discussing the symbols, colours choices etc. in the art. Children could even write a ‘curator card’ to go alongside the work.

Chris Ofili, No Woman, No Cry

Frida Kahlo on her move to America

Sonia Boyce on Christianity and Rastafarianism

Peter Blake with badges and love of American culture

Some self-portrait examples

I hope this post offers some guidance for you as you embark on your return to school and planning lessons.

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