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.
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.