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Art in Schools

I often get into conversations with people about my own experiences and how I got into art and illustration. I am predominantly self-taught, save for a few online or day courses. My experience with art in schools was very, very damaging.

From the age of around 8 or 9 I loved to draw. I was an avid comic book fan, particularly superheroes and I was content to spend hours and hours copying out the illustrations from my comics and recreating them. I didn't have expensive resources, mostly pencil, biro for the ink and colouring pencils. But it fueled my desire to become a comic book artist.

Sadly, school was not where I found much artistic inspiration. Primary school lessons were dull and methodical affairs reserved for Friday with little teaching direction, or in some instances, to allow the teacher to sneak off for a sneaky smoke. The 90s was a different time for teachers.

I was excited to move up to High School and, I hoped, be guided by a more experienced and enthusiastic teacher and initially, this was the case, and I was persuaded to take GCSE Art.

However, I soon regretted it. By the end of the first Autumn term, Art became something I no longer looked forward to. This was in part to a teacher who didn't even bother to remember my name, referring to me as 'Paul' for the next two years. Her only focus in the class was what I called 'The Top Table' a group of her favourite pupils, who she'd deemed to be artistically gifted. Her belief was that creativity was not taught but gifted to the chosen few. We called it the top table because the tables were literally higher than the rest and much more comfortable to work at. I was confined to a small workstation in the corner beneath (and this sadly is not just for dramatic effect) a flickering strobe light.

Needless to say, I did not do very well and despite feeling that I had submitted a decent final project, I was graded 'D'. Sadly, I also never got my portfolio back, discovering later that the art teacher had allowed one of her form group children to destroy my work.

I downed tools. It would be 30 years before I started drawing again.

Sadly, this was a very extreme and negative experience and I am here to say that this is commonplace, however, there are a few things that I want to share that might help others provide a more positive experience for their learners in the future.

  1. The desire to create is what makes you an artist. It is not gifted, you are not born with it and it can be taught. Artists are not mystical beings.

  2. Blue Peter is not a good model for an art lesson. Art lessons should contain experimentation and choice. If it is outcome-based then what are they learning? Think about the process and the skills they are going to learn.

  3. Create an environment where making mistakes is safe. This is really important in an art lesson.

  4. Spend less time worrying about art history. I know that the curriculum says we need to cover it, but keep it light, don't let it take over. Recreating an artist's style is a good way to develop confidence, but limited in the long run. Studies have shown that children entering high school struggle with basic drawing skills. And lower creative resistance.

  5. Get in experts! There are so many people being creative all around us, all the time. They are often socially awkward and maybe a bit weird, but they will be happy to come into schools and share their process with infectious enthusiasm! I'm discovering new art ideas all the time from other artists. It's important to explore, I recently discovered acrylic pouring.

  6. Try to avoid it becoming an easy Friday lesson (this being said by the teacher who currently teaches art on a Friday afternoon).

I hope this helps!

Feel free to comment.

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