At the start of the year I wrote a post about using elements of existing text in a creative way, both in terms of the meanings of the words themselves, but also ultimately in the way that they appear and are presented on the page. If you didn’t read the post it can be found here:
I mentioned the Newspaper Blackout work of Austin Kleon in what I wrote and included a TEDx presentation that he gave. Since writing the first post I have bought a copy of his Newspaper Blackout ‘poetry’ for myself and have been taking a more focussed look at how he works.
Unlike the work of Tom Phillips (and his work A Humunent: a treated Victorian Novel) who uses pages from a novel as his basis, Kleon uses pages from a newspaper. In doing this a few new options are opened up if used in a classroom situation:
- There are greater varieties of theme on a single page
- There are interesting varieties in letter types and layout arrangement
- There may even be an occasional image that could be included
- A degree of current affairs content comes into the classroom, at least at the beginning
As an arts teacher I find the simple blacking out of the unused text too simple for my taste. But to be fair to Austin Kleon, that isn’t the point here, it is about the words and letters on the page and how they are used. This is where the creativity lies, this is where the language challenge lies and this is also why this work offers such great potential to a language teacher and I think especially the bilingual teacher. An existing page of text imposes limitations, but it also throws down challenges. The limitations, or maybe I should say, the framework in which the creative challenge needs to take place.
I was watching a film recently and the fashion designer John Galliano said ‘when you find yourself in a corner, that’s when you get creative’. In a sense when you limit your pupils to just the words and text available on a single page you are placing them in such a corner.
On a broader level limitations and frameworks in which to work are maybe more important than we might think in the way we teach. In the art room I am all for offering choices and variety. However limitless choices can in the end be an obstacle. A while back I was working on a photography project with my 15-16 year old pupils. I wanted them to take a self-portrait photograph. Having done a similar assignment a year earlier I knew how they had a tendency to all fall into the “selfie” snap shot direction. So instead I asked them to model their portraits on one of a selection of old master paintings I gave them. My aim was to get them to look a little more carefully at the paintings, but above all to get them to consider what they were doing with the camera and use of light a great deal more.
The results in the end were generally very good, a few of the results can be seen here:
It’s the clear parameters that seem to be working here. They maybe even bring a slightly competitive edge to the challenge, maybe that’s where the positive response comes from. I think it is certainly where the strength of the work of Austin Kleon and Ted Phillips comes from when using it in a classroom context.