The frustrations of an art teacher…seeing it for real

You hear it often enough, ‘You have to see the real thing, it so different’. As an art teacher you know this well, the days of scratchy slides in a half darkened room may be long gone, replaced now by large scale digital screens at the front of the classroom.  The possibilities on offer to an art teachers (and all teachers of course) have improved enormously during the last decade. But still, the chance to see art, design, architecture, theatre, dance, music and other cultural forms for real, first hand, offers so much more.

A fabulous case in point is an exhibition of the Dutch fashion designer Jan Taminiau that I have visited today.  I’ve referred to his work in my lessons at school in the context of a fashion design assignment that I use with my groups of 15-16 year olds. Examples and cultural references are important in my work as a teacher. Not in the sense of showing pupils what I expect them to do. It is more a question of firing the imagination and showing them the possibilities; possibilities that often go way beyond their wildest imagination. There is so much that I’d like to show and share with them.

But the limitations of the classroom, even with its generous display screen at the front and pupils with tablet, laptop or phone screens available to them, can’t match seeing the real thing.  What it would mean to be able to bring my groups of budding fashion designers to the Centraalmuseum in Utrecht to see Taminiau’s exhibition?

The exhibition oozes qualities that grab your attention. The elegant silhouette’s that he creates, the rich use of colour and the, quite literally, dazzling textures and structures of the surface of the fabrics. This would have been the most amazing teaching aid to the above mentioned assignment.

I have photographically documented as much of the work as I can.  I’ll be using it next school year I’m sure.  Teaching fashion design is just a little outside of my comfort zone, but I do like to do it once in a while.  But oh, how I would like to let the pupils see such an exhibition. But then the same is true of so many of the shows that I see.  The museum world in the big cities, certainly in Europe, is booming. The challenge is finding a way to be able to get pupils to visit them in the context of the educational programs that they are following.  More often it seems to  happen in a rather detached sort of day out to the city that often seems to have rather vague educational aims……the fully focused and contextualized field trip is a sadly underused and rather squeezed out aspect of contemporary education. But the detail of that is a post for another day.

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Magical Miniatures

I have never been someone who has made large artworks. For me above, let’s say, 60cm in any direction and you already have reached one of my larger works. I feel an affinity with smaller artworks, The intensity and intimacy that they offer draws us in in a different way to how larger scale work often tries to dominate us.
The work of the miniaturist portrait painter takes us into this area, but for me at least such portraits have always felt like a compromised, shrunk down version of the work of the full scale portrait artist.
The small format work on show at the Museum Catharijne Convent in Utrecht certainly doesn’t have this problem and it overflows with intensity, craftsmanship and meaning.


The exhibition Magical Miniatures displays in its carefully lit glass cases an array of thick and immaculately bound Medieval manuscripts. Each individual book is of course in itself almost enough for a complete exhibition that once open displays just two carefully chosen pages from the binding that potentially offers so many possibilities more.
The fineness and intricacy is extraordinary, the amount that can be crammed onto a page of perhaps 15x10cm quite mind blowing. You can’t help but wonder about the world from where these books come and the hands that created them. The consistency of the work and the shear quantity make you wonder about the rituals and devotions for the makers. It is highly appropriate to see the books lying open in the halls of a former convent, a building with its own history that has so many parallels with the displays.
The museum in a series of film offer insights into their processes and techniques. These leave you even more baffled by the degree of commitment and knowledge of the working contexts that these unnamed artists found themselves working in. In our world of fast moving imagery and sound bites the contrast could hardly be greater.

Bilingual education conference, Utrecht – Art and Language

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Once every two years bilingual education in the Netherlands gets together for a session of reflection, evaluation and workshops aimed at enthusing all of those involved. As the Arts subject coordinator I am tasked with leading a workshop specifically aimed at the arts teachers present. For those who were there, and those who weren’t, the link below will take you to the PowerPoint that I made use of.

Presentation Utrecht 2015

I appreciate that the images without the explanation isn’t always going to be clear, but if there is anything that you desperately want more information about don’t hesitate to say so, either through the comments option on this blog,  my school email (p.sansom@maaslandcollege.nl) or via the contact page on my website: www.petersansom.nl

For those of you who were there thanks for your active participation and enthusiasm. I find myself wondering every time how much to try and cram into a sixty minute session, especially in the context of what is an incredibly intensive day with all the other workshops and presentations. I assume that there will be another subject meeting in a years time, most probably again in Utrecht. That is also likely to be more of an afternoon filling session, with as a result much more time for discussion and sharing of ideas, I hope to see you there!