A longer version of a presentation I made for the 2020 NSEAD national conference. Sharing ideas with Primary Art Leaders around how their art provision can encompass wellbeing, cultural representation & celebration, creativity and links to creative industries.
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.
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 DrawingLive! 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.
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.
This is a Question that I get asked a lot, in various forms. I myself have experienced the frustration of sitting in front of the computer, trying to find female artists that link with the ‘Topic’ or ‘History’ theme for that term. So, in a fairly non organised but quick way, here is a list of SOME female artists with suggestions for links…This is not an exhaustive or particularly refined list but hopefully is is helpful nonetheless! This list is a work in progress and I will endeavour to add to it and refine ASAP.
Frida Kahlo – Self portraits / family tree / Mexico / Painting feelings / nature / Colour mixing / still life
Elizabeth Catlett – Portraits / Family / People who help us / Printing / Lines / Tone
As schools have admirably done throughout the crisis, post Covid they will continue to provide routine, safety and education but also, importantly, address the emotional and enrichment needs of their communities. I hope that schools will feel they can focus less on the children ‘catching up’ and more on the school system catching up with what is needed by their school communities.
With speculation and anticipation about the reopening of schools, many of us are considering how that should look. Experts are advising against a hurry to return to old norms, examinations and emphasis on attainment in core subjects. We are realising that children, and indeed staff, will need carefully thought out activities and interactions, to support them through the transition and address the deficit in learning. I am sure that art and creativity will have a role to play in this reintegration period, and hopefully long-term too – but that’s for another post.
For now we remain in Lockdown, and one of the unique outcomes of this time is that all children are spending an extraordinary amount of time at home with their adults. There are undoubtedly disparities in each family’s approach and attitude to how that time has been spent. One of the key concerns of myself and others involved in education has been how the children are spending their time at home and what they are learning and doing. Of course, I have busied myself providing (art) resources as many others have. What children learn at home and during the holidays is not a new interest for educationalists but it has, like many other things, been highlighted by the lockdown.
For example, when schools return we can be certain that some children will have spent these months enjoying family time, perhaps establishing even stronger bonds with their caregivers. The power of a nurturing family environment emphasised by the circumstances. I have seen through friends and Instagram, how some adults have managed to provide rich and exciting experiences from home – whole houses revamped for theme days, such as a ‘weekend in Paris’ or ‘Space day’. I have enjoyed seeing photos shared with me by my teacher friends of their children ditching the school online programme for a ‘naughty’ day of baking and play. I, like the rest of the nation, have been amused and wowed by the collaborative efforts of some families to create whole musical performances. Adults taking initiative and trusting their instincts about how to proceed day by day.
Of course, with the best will in the world this level of engagement is not always possible. I think in particular of those Key Workers who will be dealing with their own emotional needs as well as physical exhaustion. Also, of other adults who have tried to maintain a work schedule whilst home schooling, and any of us really on an understandable ‘off day’. Also, of course, thoughts go to those households for whom ‘normal’ life is a struggle let alone Lockdown life… That said, generally I am heartened by the thought, of parents spending quality time with their children, creating, learning, sharing and playing.
There’s something that has been playing on my mind though and so in my home learning video number 8, I actively encouraged parents to be ‘Home School Rebels’. I did this because I felt concerned that some parents might lack the confidence to, and may need support with (not how to teach the resources provided but) how to deviate from the home school timetable. I suggested sharing family histories, photographs and stories as a day or two of learning; enriching their children using themselves and their ideas as a resource. Using this unique time as an opportunity to do so.
I did this because, it has not escaped my notice as a teacher, but also from conversations within my own friendship groups, that not all of us can speak with confidence and knowledge about our family history. I have taught many children (secondary and primary) who could not say where their mum or dad, who they lived in the same house with, were born or which languages were spoken at home. In contrast, some individuals have their family histories communicated to them with pride, they know where they are from geographically and in relation to a substantial family tree. They have photographs of their ancestors and they own family heirlooms that are passed from generation to generation. In my experience though, some children don’t have the same enriching experience. In my friendship group this seems to be mainly children of immigrants – some of us are not even sure of our own exact birthdates or our parents ages. Some, like myself are not sure which country our great grandparents were born in but only have a sense because of surnames and skin colour. Surnames have been changed in migration, possessions lost or taken and I am not sure why but with some parents and elders there is less of an inclination to talk about family history. My own grandmother is full of interesting tales but she delivers them sporadically. For example, I only learnt after a few years of living in South London and aged 37, that her and my grandfather got married in the town hall right near my flat – I had always assumed Guyana as their place of marriage!? Of course, some stories are hard to tell especially where migration is forced and lives are impacted by war, natural disaster or other traumatic experiences.
I think that it is a form of privilege to know about your family and that there must be a valuable beauty in being able to reach through time with them as far back as is possible. Even though stories are inevitably altered and subjective, there are bound to be facts intermingled within each persons retelling. In any case the reassembling of the information, perhaps from different sources, is part of the integration process – ready to be regurgitated again and again to future generations. Knowing about your family helps you understand your place in the world and this gives you a certain amount of confidence about who you are. That confidence is empowering.
I really hope that during lockdown, families have shared their personal histories and stories, because whatever those stories are and even if they are scattered and disjointed, they are important and they matter. Class teachers are amazing but this is one lesson they cannot teach to each child. Perhaps, moving forward, schools can better support and empower all parents and carers to share and culturally enrich in this way.
Lots of schools are great at outreach around how to extend formal lessons at home, but how about empowerment around how valuable parents and carers are as a resource, regardless of their own educational experience or personal stories. Back in the classroom, conversations between children who know about their families and the nuances of their personal history can support a genuine appreciation of diversity and equality – one that stems from an understanding of each other.
Many artists utilise their families and histories as stimulus for their work. I myself have done this, in my first year of my art degree I presented a projection of old family photographs onto a billowing mosquito net, alongside the suitcase that my grandparents used when they travelled over to the UK from Guyana. Through making our personal experiences visible, we make them available for others to understand and appreciate, and to learn from. This in turn makes us feel valued and worthwhile – regardless of demographic. There are lots of great examples out there, I like Frida Kahlo’s Family Tree and Homesteaders by William Johnson.
I believe that confident children who feel valuable trust themselves and their surroundings more, and that this is a good foundation for being a curious and self-motivated individual and learner. Not only that, having spent so much time with our families hopefully we return to post lockdown life with a new appreciation of them.
“My aim is to express in a natural way what I feel, what is in me, both rhythmically and spiritually, all that which in time has been saved up in my family of primitiveness and tradition, and which is now concentrated in me,” William Johnson
A brief introduction to primary, secondary, complementary and tertiary colours with a challenge to create your own colour wheel. Suitable for all ages. You will need: 1/2 pieces of paper, paints in Red, Yellow and Blue, paint brush and water pot. Please share your outcomes and any videos of you taking part on my FB page The Primary Art Class.
Learn about the art of Rodrigo (https://www.rodrigosrecycledart.com/) who makes art using materials that would otherwise be thrown away. Then use relief sculpture techniques and your own recyclable materials to create your art! Share outcomes with me at firstname.lastname@example.org and my FB page The Primary Art class
A very quick post, just to share a simple slideshow about Paolo Uccello, 1460. Saint George and the dragon. I have not provided too much information to go with the painting, as the National Gallery have fabulous teachers notes already made – there is a link in the slideshow to them.
Look out for my next video ‘Home Art Lesson 3’ on Monday… Have a good weekend:)