It is great to immediately grab the attention of your pupils at the start of a new year, to make them sit up, have a memorable first lesson experience and, if possible, deal with an important content related issue.
I have something of a favourite way of doing this with my third year classes (aged 15) at the start of the school year. The point that I want to make, apart from perhaps shaking them out of their summer holiday slumber, is that art doesn’t necessarily have to be beautiful or skillfully made. It can also be simply about an idea, a point that the creator is trying to make, be that incredibly serious, humouress or thought provoking.
The way I do this is you ask the pupils to set up a small still life of objects from their school bag or pencil case. We talk a little about what a still life is and how they should approach making a pencil drawing of their own arrangement. I subsequently then give them half an hour to make the best possible drawing they can produce. I then ask them to sign their own drawing in the bottom right corner.
All very regular art lesson stuff up until now, but then comes the twist. I ask the pupils to switch drawings with the person sitting next to them. I think initially I think they expect to carry on drawing on someone else’s picture. But instead I ask them first you rub out their friend’s name and replace it with their own name! Some are very happy to do this, others less so, but I insist!
But then comes the moment that causes the most uproar in the class. “Rub the whole drawing out , remove as much of it as you possibly can”, is the following instruction. The whole room bursts into discussion, laughter, one or two sometimes initially refuse, but in the end, after some frantic work with a rubber the drawings are removed.
We then compare the new versions on the drawing and talk about points such as:
- What the difference is between the ‘drawing’ and a brand new and clean piece of paper
- What the ‘drawing’ actually records….it is after all a sort of document of the first half of our lesson
- The importance or not of beauty in art
- The value or such a rubbed out drawing
Those who know their art history well will perhaps have guessed where this is going. I then recount the connection of what they have just done with the incident from 1953 when Robert Rauschenberg rubbed out one of Willem de Kooning’s valuable drawings in order to create his own new artwork entitled Erased de Kooning drawing.
Use the link below for a bit more historical detail:
The pupils are old enough to appreciate the element of humour in the work, but I think with a little explanation they are also able to understand that here is an artwork that has little to do with creating an aesthetic object. It is about the idea, the performance or an action and the curious way that the artwork has become a document of that action. It poses a question to these fifteen year olds about what can be considered art.
All in all it’s a great lesson to start the year with. You get engaged pupils, you get drawing activity, you a little art history, you get a serious ‘what is art’ issue into the discussion and….you get laughter and a lesson that they’ll talk about when they get home.