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Danger in the jungle?

Nothing like a tutorial to send you off where you least expect to go…..


In Paris I saw a number of the great Dounanier Rousseau paintings – this is my photo of La charmeuse de serpents (Rousseau, H. 2007) taken in the Musee Orsay on the recent trip to Paris, those swirling jungles full of the exotic, the danger of the unknown, inpenetrable, superficially decorative, but born of the dream, made real by a painter that never set foot in a jungle.

This is such a good image for my educational research, a metaphor for how difficult work in social media with young people might be, initially and superficially attractive, full of exotic and imagined dangers, inpenetrable at times and a place where teachers rarely go.

Time to clear a path with a sharp machete……



Museums in Paris

Perhaps it is unfair to self criticise the choice of museums on our annual Paris Trip from School.  It is an amazing array of work to share with young people in 4 short days…..

A selfie taken in an ancient Egyptian mirror in the Louvre

It did make me think about the museum as a depository of things to store and share…

Visiting a museum is a matter of going from void to void. Hallways lead the viewer to things once called ‘pictures’ and ‘statues.” Anachronisms hang and protrude from every angle. Themes without meaning press on the eye. Multifarious nothings permute into false windows (frames) that open up into a variety of blanks. Stale images cancel one’s perception and deviate one’s motivation. Blind and senseless, one continues wandering around the remains of Europe, only to end in that massive deception ‘the art history of the recent past’. Brain drain leads to eye drain, as one’s sight defines emptiness by blankness. Sightings fall like heavy objects from one’s eyes. Sight becomes devoid of sense, or the sight is there, but the sense is unavailable. Many try to hide this perceptual falling out by calling it abstract. Abstraction is everybody’s zero but nobody’s nought. Museums are tombs, and it looks like everything is turning into a museum. Painting, sculpture and architecture are finished, but the art habit continues. Art settles into a stupendous inertia. Silence supplies the dominant chord. Bright colors conceal the abyss that holds the museum together. Every solid is a bit of clogged air or space. Things flatten and fade. The museum spreads its surfaces everywhere, and becomes an untitled collection of generalizations that mobilize the eye.

I had never been to the Musee Orsay before, and was stunned by the sense of battery farm for famous art, the giant reclaimed station dominating spaces, but maybe the whole experience was reduced by the cumulative tiredness of a residential school trip. The reflected light of a glass case or the view from behind the clock having more of an impact on a tired mind.


Society Realiste


Laura Henno’s work

Laura Henno: From the series ‘Lands End, il desert rosso, 2009



The borders of life and death

In Pere LaChaise Cemetery…

famous lovers Heloise and Abelard and Composer Chopin are immortalised in miniature  buildings set behind metal fences that seem to devise them from the kingdom of the living.


The individual plots outlined by fences and borders, in Paris they are more ornate than those simple grave places recorded by Nancy Holt in the American west.


The unsubtle crash barriers that surround the relatively plain burial place of Jim Morrison, to protect it presumably from overzealous fans, create an exclusion area, a security zone in the otherwise mostly democratic space of the graveyard, where the temples stand together and the trees grow around and through the stones.

Instagram in school

Introduced the new school Instagram account yesterday.  There are multiple issues with Instagram as an educational device, but equally lots of possibilities.

Firstly, I posted a work from last year, created by a highly talented student from last year (now on foundation course).  On it’s own, with banal tagging (#firstpost) it generated, at time of writing, 10 likes and 10 followers.  This, of course is the joy of Instagram, work that had been destined to always be in a sketchbook is presented and appreciated by a host of passers by.

Untitled Print by AD 2016.

Yet, the doubts creep in – who are these people who trail past and leave their trace?  Will our students gain or lose from exploring these trails.

Students also started to use their own ‘school’ instagram accounts – with serious induction about safety and appropriate use.  One student did question wether wether she wanted the digital attention and the openness that was implied, (This of course will be her decision) others jumped into the system with delight as their first works were put under social media scrutiny, presented as creative work rather than purely personal of their own streams.

The analysis of the benefits (or indeed distractions) over the next few months will be interesting.

Motivation – finding a way through the woods

Motivating secondary school students is now,  in my recent experience,  a main part of the job of teaching Art at A-level.  I want my students to be independent learners to develop their own projects, plan a bit within the time available, explore and develop and then synthesise the thinking and research and experimentation into coherent art works that show fantastic technical ability and reflect themselves and their burgeoning world view so that what they have made can speak to a wider audience.

I want this for them, because it makes them artists.

Speaking yesterday to two A-level students who are far behind in their units, I realise that I have used threats and fear rather then positivity.  I can justify this in a shallow way, because with both of them I have tried passion, excitement, co-working and the provision of lots of my time and some spoon fed solutions, and I know co-teaching colleagues have done this with them to.  However, is the problem with these students at least partly to do with their setting and their response to the curriculum structure that is put around them:

‘In fact the idea of conveying passion and enthusiasm misunderstands the nature of the relevant kind of motivation.  Motivation is not an emotional cream dolloped on top of a dry cognitive cake. On the contrary, the motivation and the cognition are all mixed up. It is rather a way of connecting directly to the subject matter…….motivation involves an evaluative perception of the subject matter.’

Gill, S and Thomson, G (2012) Rethinking Secondary Education, A Human Centred Approach, Harlow: Pearson. [Available online at: http://www.dawsonera.com] (p188)

Gill and Thomson are comparing a traditional model of an ideal teacher in a system of ‘learning as acquisition’ with ‘teaching mainly as an issue of transmission or delivery of predefined knowledge’ (Ibid p186)  with a more progressive ‘humanist’ or alternative education setting stressing teacher as facilitator or mentor. They find the second wanting as well,  because ‘mere facilitation is not sufficient to challenge the student’ (p197).  Their proposal is that the role of teacher be split into mentor, counsellor, specialist tutor and academic tutor with specific detail applied to all of these roles, but crucially, these roles should be performed by different individuals.  The motivation aspect appears, in this model, to sit within the role of the Mentor.

Gill and Thomson propose:

‘…a step further: a kind of deep listening that allows the innermost voice of the young person to be heard, that which guides a young person’s fundamental choices regarding his/her direction in life, potential and human becoming. For a young person to own his or her learning requires a rejection of passivity. It needs a non-coercive environment but it also depends on the capacity of teaching professionals to provide empowering guidance to the students.  With support of their mentors, young people can sit firmly in the driving seat of their learning.’ (ibid p 268)

I hope that I have provided some empowering guidance this week.  The self reflective point is to ensure that I do not echo the coercive environment that I am located in.  Is it possible to provide some high standards within the 4 separate roles identified by Gill and Thomson, within the perilously short time available with each student.

Motivation is going to be a key part of my research project – identifying what it is, how to encourage it and measure its presence is still a work in progress. Gill and Thomson’s central idea is that ‘cognition motivates’ (p63)  and ‘it matters dramatically how students contextualise their activities’ (p64).  They  need to know why they are doing things, and how that understanding can power motivation.

‘Usually… (motivation)…is conceived as an inner force pushing us outwards.  Here we stress the opposite; motivation is often like drawing in the valuable aspects of what is around one. It can be a pulling in rather than a pushing out.’

The authors then go on to compare this to love of another person, whereby the love becomes ‘perception with feeling’.  Thus students ‘falling in love’ with the subjects or topics that they discover becomes a metaphor for the motivation they can experience. (P67)

Can all students fall ‘in love’ with art, with photography A-level, and all the other things they have to do, or is that state only for a select few, and most of all can that ‘love’ be made explicit……



Drawing Machines at Queen’s Hall

Year 12 students work with visiting artist Jenny Purrett to design and make drawing machines inspired by Tanguly and others including Ted Lawrenson


They design drawing machines on the first day and then put them into practice with younger visitors to the Queens Hall Art Gallery in Hexham.

Above: Workshop in progress with older and younger young people interacting with their drawing machines


Jenny demonstrates the spinners


a drawing machine in action


finished works

Road Trip Darkroom at Featherstone Castle

At a weekend residential at Featherstone Castle I set up an open access Dark room for the adult participants top access and use – calling this a ‘Road Trip Darkroom’

First issue to deal with was making the room dark and creating a reasonably safe workstation to allow some work to be made.

I had deliberately not created a fully formed workshop – lets all do the same thing…but tried to suggest diffrent ideas.  I did point some participants towards ‘making negatives’ out of selotape and sampling textures and paint peeling from the old castle:

Above:Sellotape negatives and other ‘photogram based’ ideas

Above: When participants take over the workshop – making chemigrams with jam and lemon curd….

Processed with Snapseed.
Ghost – made with a paper negative on tracing paper

Experiences inside the black tent

flowerheads-6Yesterday we welcomed a tented  ‘Camera Obscura’ to school, partly as a late summer term experience and a way of linking digital photographic practice back to the origin of photography.  Janet Ross from VARC – Visual Arts in rural Northumberland and Artist Helen Pailing assembled the tented structure in front of school and welcomed students into the dark space to view the light images created onto a white board projected by lens and mirror mounted at the apex of the teepee-like structure.

The experience for students was fantastic, the tent was small and intimate, dark  and then suddenly  illuminated by the almost magical image of their school.  Conversations and questions were asked, concepts of  focus and depth of field were illustrated, links were made with the science of optics and refraction,the  history of photographic practice was discussed and the feelings of standing on the base of a camera in a dark room were expressed and valued. An excellent education experience.