Over the last few months, I´ve taught an extensive Pop Art related practical art project. Pop Art is an easy hit in education, its accessible, eye-catching and technically not too challenging to appropriate. We’ve dipped into the work of Roy Lichtenstein, Andy Warhol, Michael Craig Martin and others. This year we started with a little observational drawing of pasta that later brought us onto designing repeating wallpaper-like still lives of everyday drawings, comic-book drawing and lettering techniques before exploring the making of multiples and repetition in the form of lino-prints based on the original pasta drawings. It has been an excellent project that simply hangs together very well. But like I said, Pop Art, in a school context seems to lend itself very well to such projects.
This appropriateness and ease with which Pop Art can be used has set me thinking in other directions. Are there other areas of the history of art that are more, or even too difficult, for a school context? The short answer to that is undoubtedly yes, the ones whose work dive headlong into truly adult content. but right now I feel the need to try and develop something new that perhaps goes off into more uncharted areas (for me at least). Drawing on art and artists that are maybe a slightly trickier fit in the classroom.
Listening to a review of the new Francis Bacon exhibition at the Royal Academy in London has set me thinking further in this area. Bacon’s work is confrontational and at times a little shocking, but I think his images could be interesting to the fifteen-year-olds that I have in mind. Yes, they would have to be carefully selected and explained well, but I do see some possibilities. The sexual references are, for obvious reasons, an area where we have to be careful in a classroom situation. Art history is filled with references to sex and sexuality, but whilst the idea of a discussion about such a theme could be something I could imagine doing, the idea of taking it into a practical form is a minefield that I can’t imagine stepping into.
The brooding, slightly nightmarish quality of many of Bacon’s paintings with their twisted deformations are perhaps an area to explore in the near future. I have spent time working with ‘violence in art’ themes with a similar age group in the past. Representations of violence are of course, to the average fifteen-year-old, quite familiar territory, be that in the news, through movies or social media. Opening up a discussion into how we respond to such images and doing it within the safe context of a classroom, does have persuasive arguments to support such a decision.
I see myself returning to the brutality of Picasso’s Guernica, Goya’s work and others before getting as far as Bacon.
This idea is very much a ‘work in progress’ at the moment. I’m sure there are others in art education who have dipped into this area before me. Maybe I’ll come across them in the weeks ahead. But as I wrote at the start, a little Pop Art in the classroom is a more straight forward route, or a bit of analytical cubism, portrait or landscape work for that matter.