Visual literacy

Visual literacy is a bit of a hobby horse of mine. We live in an ever increasingly visual world and yet in our educational systems we seem to have something of a blind spot for it. This link below takes you to a document that raises many interesting points:

Opening the treasure chest, or Pandora’s box….

It depends on your point of view, the increasing tempo of digitalization in education can result in the feeling of either. Sitting in my first training session for the introduction of iPads to our first year classes next year it was probale that we had both extremes. Most though probably feel somewhere in the middle ground.
Everyone has had their shiny new iPad for a week or so and have been experimenting away. As far as apps go I´ve been mostly looking for the most applicable drawing software that offers creative possibilities without giving pupils so many options in their digital drawing box that they will undoubtedly grind to a halt.

I’ve also been finding my way around, getting used to the Apple way of doing things after fifteen years of doing things the Microsoft way. I can only compare that to having to learn how to drive on the right hand side of the road after being used to the left, it’s all kind of the same, but different….fortunately any mistakes are likely to have less serious consequences!
Perhaps the most important thing I take away from this first session is the feeling that, as a teacher who has always written all my own lesson material, this is really going to be a fantastic development, allowing the digital resources that are out there to link through into my own material. Limitless new possibilities? Perhaps, …..but that is in the frantic and pressed for time educational world also the biggest danger.

War memorial artwork continued


The work of an art teacher is at times one that requires considerable patience. When you see a given class for two hours a week, on separate days and the project you are working on requires a certain of setting up time at the start on each session and clearing up time at the end, then the ‘big picture’ is sometimes very slow to unfold.

This is certainly the case with the war memorial shoe project that I’ve been working on. It feels like months of lessons have passed since the beginning of the big project, whereas I know from my diary that it is actually just a matter of a few weeks. But now as the project, spread across three classes, nears its completion things things are starting to fall into place.

Teenagers level of activity is interesting to watch in such circumstances. When you announce “and this is the last lesson working on this” inevitably the level of activity rises. Sustaining engagement and activity is the key. This particular project has had a number of different phases, a certain amount of donkey work preparing the shoe for the relatively intense, in terms of content part, that comes at the end. Maintaining interest in what becomes an over familiar object over the weeks requires strategy to freshen things up. The poetry element for these pupils who are being taught in their second language provided such a break and a good reminder of the seriousness on the content.

The photos here show the work of the first of the three classes to reach thr conclusion of the project. It is not the complete pile of shoes, but I am definately not unhappy with the way it looks.

War memorial artwork


I’ve been working for a few weeks on an inter-curricular project with my three classes of 15 year olds that I teach.  The whole project has been hung up around the theme of war and peace and has involved contributions from the art, physics, English, geography and history departments and possibly a few others too.  My art part of the project was based on a couple of main points.  Firstly that art can be used as a carrier of a serious message or opinion.  Secondly, beauty is often a criteria that seems rather dominant in the minds of the pupils, but in this case, due to the seriousness of the subject matter, it wasn’t really appropriate or even relevant.  And finally I wanted to try and make the work about real issues and real history.

With all this in mind and with the experience of a visit I made to Auschwitz in Poland a number of years ago I set about making an assignment that turned around the shocking sight of the mountains of shoes of the victims of the extermination camp that can still be seen by visitors.  Lists of names of victims, the huge numbers involved and the scale of the camp make an impact, but these ‘leftovers’ marking individuals who died was truly shocking to me.

The resulting project, that is nearing completion now, has involved pupils using a shoe to make a three dimensional collage that documents conflicts in the period since the second world war. The photos here show the Auschwitz shoe stacks and the progress of the work of a few of the pupils.  More documentation will doubtless follow when the project is complete, but the working process and the tone of the collages that the pupils have made has been great to see.  This attitude has been reinforced by the poems that they have written on the themes we explored in the lessons, such as Goya’s 3rd May, Picasso’s Guernica and photography from Vietnam.  These poems too will find a place in the project when they are finally added to the sole of each shoe.

A new beginning…… Apple for the teacher


One of the motivations for setting up this blog was to document and reflect on a forthcoming change in the nature of education that I am involved with.  In short that is an increase in the speed of digitalization at the school at which I work.  As from September 2014 all the first year classes I teach will be working with ipads.  As an art teacher my initial reaction is wow, great a new medium to work with, but I feel quite certain that there are a whole load of possibilities that I haven’t even thought of yet.

Today at school the first step in this digital journey took place when I was given my first ipad.  I’ll not bother with an unboxing film, I’ll be doing that at home later.  I’m not overly familiar with Apple products so the first thing on the agenda is a couple of weeks of play to find my way a little before the first course that I am signed in to follow comes along next week.  More digital experiences will doubtless follow…….

The Most beautiful People Project

beautiful peopleThe Most beautiful People Project

In secondary education we work with young people who take more photographs than any previous generation and discard an equally large number of images.  The idea that the photographic image can have a sense of design, a sense of meaning or of social context or importance is often quickly lost.

A number years ago I saw (together with two of the classes I taught at the time) an exhibition of the work of Michel Szulc Krzyzanowski and his ‘Most Beautiful People’ project.  I was instantly taken by the simplicity of the project and saw clearly how the same simplicity and the social edge the project has attracted the attention of the pupils.  In the fixed format of three photographs and a simple series of questions so much information is given.  It invites us to ask the same questions about ourselves and make comparisons.

The differences between our own situation and others on the other side of the world are often huge, but when the social ‘mirror’ is turned, we all want to see ourselves and be seen by others as beautiful seems quite universal.  Some of the reasons people give as to why they consider themselves to be a beautiful person are hugely revealing, others are humorous and still others are simply familiar.

The accompanying photographs tell their own stories and provide the ideal springboard for a relatively simple schools photography project.  I stick to the exact same format with my own pupils, having shown them the work of Szulc Krzyzanowski.  The photographs are always interesting to see, and once in a while someone comes up with a real gem of a reason as to why they see themselves to be beautiful,

Intimate Strangers

This photographic project by American photographer Richard Renaldi raises some interesting points. How does our body language can betray us when we are in the company of strangers? With the guidance and skills of a photographer how these nervous tendancies can be hidden? Can we genuinely look at a stranger as if we know them?
The results make for perplexing viewing. We know they are strangers, are we imagine that they are not? We are familiar with a similar situation when we watch a movie, we allow ourselves to be swept along by the artifice of that, but in Renaldi’s photographs the artifice seems somehow nearer to the surface and allows the viewer to continually switch between what we know and what we see.