Tuesday 23 April 2013

Professional Learning and Development

Learning Through the Creative Process - SCREEN PRINTMAKING.

Professional Learning and Development for teachers has started up again at Auckland Art Gallery!

Learning through the creative process we explored examples of screen prints in the collection, experimented with techniques and styles, created paper and fabric screen prints and then shared ways these techniques could be implemented successfully in our classrooms. Junior and intermediate teachers and a teacher of students with special needs participated enthusiastically in a busy 5 hour session - so enthusiastically nobody wanted to stop for lunch!

We began by exploring the Auckland Art Gallery Print Room with Assistant Curator Mathew Norman. Mathew showed four different examples of screen prints from our collection and spoke about the time they were made, the  techniques used and the style of the work.

Mathew explained the use of the room, the storage of artworks on paper and the precise conditions that need to be maintained in the space to ensure the artworks would be safe and well preserved for the future.

Back in the studio, we explored other screen prints on paper and fabric from our collection. In groups, we tried to work out the process. How had these works been made? What would need to have been considered? How has colour been used?

Focusing on screen printing on paper, we discussed possible backgounds for the print such as collage, paint, sprayed dye, brushed on dye or coloured inks. We then experimented with different designs, materials and techniques to create a backgound on paper and a design to go on top. The designs were photocopied and made into a number of different stencils.
Some problems needed to be solved before moving to the next stage!

Then the screen printing on paper creating began!

Followed by screen printing on fabric.

Finally, we came together and shared our reactions to the process, how we learnt through the creative process, how we problem solved, made modifications and refined our ideas. This lead to great discussion on exactly how we could follow this process and teach screen printing in our own classrooms.

Feedback from the teachers:
  • 'A wonderful environment to create without the fear of failure. A perfect mix of talking and sharing paired with creating, exploring and experimenting. A fabulous day that seemed to zoom through - a great example of a fun day!'  Year 1 classroom teacher.
  • 'The content was awesome! I've gathered many ideas to use in class. I enjoyed being allowed to work at my own pace and problem solve my own artwork.'  Intermediate art specialist teacher.
  • 'I achieved my goals. Great facilitator, very welcoming and plenty of opportunity to explore. I will definitely build these techniques into term 2 and 3 planning.' Teacher of 5-21 year old children with special needs.

How have you implemented screen print making in your classroom?

Useful links:

Find out how silk screens are made and watch a number of different screen printing processes.

The process and history of screen printing. Famous screen print artists.

Sunday 21 April 2013

Drop in Drawing - Here to Stay!

Drop in Drawing is now a permanent programme at the Auckland Art Gallery!
Session times:
Tuesdays 12-1pm
Sunday 2-3pm
FREE with all materials provided, no booking needed
Ask at the front desk for locations on the day.

Lots of people ask me why we are doing Drop in Drawing. It's a really good question. Drawing in a gallery is not a new concept or idea by any means. You can walk through galleries all over the world and see people sketching or even painting. But the purposes behind why we do this programme is something I think is unique. Some of the reasons we do this programme are:
  • Because it is not about learning to draw, but about drawing to learn
  • Because it helps people connect with the artwork
  • Because it is purposeful and flexible
  • Because it is about a process as well as a product
  • Because it celebrates and validates our visitors experiences 
A Visitors idea of what happens next in one of the Victorian paintings.

Through Drop in Drawing visitors experience each element of the Creative Process. They...
EXPLORE an artwork more closely
EXPERIMENT with mark making, and the process of drawing
CREATE something of their own
SHARE the experience with others taking part
What visitors saw above eye level in our North Atrium.

Prompts we have challenged visitors with so far have been:
  • Draw something above eye level
  • Draw with your pencil in your other hand
  • Draw what you think happens next in the artwork
  • Memory game - look at the artwork for 20 seconds then turn around and draw from memory
  • Never take your pencil off the paper
  • Clothe the nudes
  • Caption this artwork
  • Hold your pencil in your elbow
  • Guess my scribble
  • Change the background
  • Reconfigure the composition of an artwork
We have used historic works, contemporary installations, modernist paintings, and the architecture and spaces to provide inspiration to visitors.

A visitors work who took on the challenge of continuous line drawing.

As you can see from the prompts, the focus is on being social, close looking, engaging with the artwork, and a process, not a polished end product. We have very consciously decided that these are not technical drawing sessions.

Visitors have expressed appreciation of the challenges, because sitting in front of an artwork and just being told to 'draw' can be overwhelming and intimidating. Two feelings we want to eradicate from peoples experiences with art making! If there is a prompt,challenge, or type of artwork you would like to experience in Drop in Drawing let us know, we love suggestions on how to further push and extend this concept.

Thank you to everyone who has taken part in this programme so far and for all the positive feedback and suggestions you have given us. So far over 260 people have taken part in these drawing sessions in the past eight weeks! We cannot wait to watch this programme grow and are really excited to have it in our Learning Programmes family. 

A creature that began as a scribble and morphed into something the artist never predicted.

Friday 12 April 2013

The Creative Process: Share

The final element of the creative process in the Creative Learning Centre is 'share'. This is where visitors, and the artist, leave lasting impressions in the space. constantly reflecting on, and contributing to, the process of Tiffany's work, other visitors' work, and the physical space.

Tiffany Singh opens up the process of making her work, her philosophies and beliefs about her practice, and her art. She does this through a silent film showing her collecting materials, melting wax and creating her artworks. She shares objects that inspire her and reflect her work on shelves throughout the room. These objects range from books about spirituality, jars full of pigment and spices, and raw beeswax and honeycomb. There is text opening up and sharing ideas about the symbolic use of colour in her work, the symbols and nature that feature heavily in her practice. A nostalgic collection of View-Masters share images of past installations that are reflected in her work on display, Dusted with the Spices of a Million Flowers.

For our visitors, there are shelves where they can leave their drawings or their sculptures for other people to appreciate in response to the activities. It was important to have a space where the visitor’s voice could be valued; therefore, the shelves where they can put their works are not segregated but are a part of the room. They are the first and last thing you see in the space, they are mixed with the objects Tiffany has left, they are not relegated to an isolated corner.

When children in particular ask me, ‘What do I have to do to get my picture up on the shelf?’ it's so fun to see them burst with excitement when you tell them that they can put whatever they like up there and choose where it goes. Sometimes the enthusiasm to leave their masterpiece fades and they awkwardly hover by it for a moment while a proud parent takes a photograph; they just cannot bear to leave it! Still, the fact that they had the choice to do what they wanted is powerful. The shelves are heavy with the pipe cleaner creatures and the colourful compositions visitors have created.

We have a response wall where visitors share their ideas about the focus colour in the room. The initial focus colour of the room was yellow, and the responses to what yellow reminded people of ranged from funny, touching, and thoughtful. There are the popular options like the sun, flowers, bees, paper, happiness, and summer. Then there are the ones like 'my Grandma's teeth', 'a colour I should wear more', and 'my mum's hugs', which are more personal.

When the room shifted into orange, the responses began to vary. Orange reminded people of Dutch football, Holland, oranges, lollies, traffic cones and high visibility vests, or that the word does not rhyme with anything.

Currently the prompt is ‘Red reminds me of…' What is interesting is of the three colours explored so far, red has prompted the most emotive responses. The ideas are abstract and intangible, less object or nature focused. The board is filled with words like: love, passion, blood, anger, life, fear, fury, equality and revenge. 

Red seems to encompass polarities of emotions for people. People linger at this space for long periods of time, reading other people's ideas, contributing their own, and reflecting on the connections between the responses. It is the part of the room where I have seen the most opportunity for bridging to manifest. 

The elements where people can share in the room have resulted in a space that is changing and evolving with each person who participates here. The Creative Learning Centre therefore feels constantly refreshed and revised, as Tiffany’s artwork and ideas are in conversation with the artwork and ideas of our visitors.  

Sharing creates a balance between the artist's voice, the visitors' voices, and the Gallery's voice. It is through the avenues where people can share, that the Creative Learning Centre exhibition space differs from a traditional exhibition and gallery context.

Wednesday 10 April 2013

Schools Programmes - Engaging Teenagers with Art in a Gallery Context

Below is a blog I wrote almost a year ago, when our secondary programme was in its infancy. It developed out of a realisation that it was not just a case of pitching our existing programmes at a higher level, but actually writing something that was meaningful for students and their needs at that age. 

Making Sense of Art: What do you think? was born out of this inquiry, focus groups with secondary teachers, and a pilot version of the programme. It is a programme that consists of a debate (options are: 'This is relevant to today’s audience/this is not relevant to today’s audience' using historic works, 'This is art/this is not art' using contemporary NZ works, and 'This best represents NZ identity/this does not best show NZ identity') and a close analysis (which incorporates sketching, and descriptive language exercises. 

Hopefully this blog gives you a bit of insight into what goes into writing these programmes, and how we develop our practice to engage with new audiences! We are constantly evolving and developing this programme as we learn about this audience, and it has inspired our new programme For or Against: Debating Ideas and Concepts around Art.

How do I get them to talk to me?

For every group of students whose conversation is impossible to stop because all cylinders are firing with ideas, questions, problem solving and discussion; there is a group that can elude me. Where the metaphorical clock is ticking incredibly loudly and you are staring at the students, pulling out every trick in the book and being met with silence. Experiences like this got me wondering, how can I get these groups to talk? The problem was not the students, it was that I was unprepared on how to engage them, because they were not my usual audience. They were teenagers. The same old tricks just didn’t work for them.

What we offered these year 9-10s was a one-off Tour programme where we explore ways to talk about artwork, focusing on object, subject and context. I was anticipating the level of discussion and engagement I had experienced with younger children. I was wrong.

Aspects of the tour definitely worked, like:
  • Independent looking around spaces of their choosing
  • Historic artworks that had recognizable symbols, themes and techniques.
  • They felt comfortable with works that had a clear narrative. 
What didn’t work was:
  • Talking about artworks an an object (perhaps it was too obvious and felt like a trick question when I asked 'what do you notice?' or, 'what do you think the work is made of?') 
  • Sharing with the whole group, and me (too much pressure)
  • There seemed to be an underlying look they all had, which was ‘what has this got to do with me?’

If I’m really honest, in hindsight… probably not much of it had anything to do with them. Who can blame them for not wanting to talk about something they found irrelevant and disconnected from their daily lives? No one does.

However, I firmly and stubbornly believed that this age group could engage meaningfully with artwork. So what was I doing wrong?

After researching some tips and teaching strategies for teenagers (see below for links), I realized I had broken some cardinal rules.
  1. This age group has very tight social spheres and is riddled with anxiety, and is therefore resistant to sharing with strangers (me).
  2. Nina Simon says in her blog Museum 2.0, that you will have more success by creating opportunities for teens to share with their friends than by forcing them into uncomfortable situations. (Again, me, and a new environment)
  3. It takes a lot of time to build a connection and rapport with this age group. They need to trust you. (They are only with me for an hour)
  4. Topics they might ‘geek out’ on at home, they will not share with friends because fear of judgement. So even if they were really interested, peer approval trumps 'geeking out' in public.
  5. Louanne Piccolo writes that they appreciate participating in decisions on what happens in a lesson, so they feel ownership of and commitment to the learning programme. Teenagers look for meaning and significance in their own lives in what they are taught, and teachers should capitalise on this and personalise their lesson with regards to what is happening in their lives.
So my entire lesson was a horribly awkward situation for them that was not personalised, current, quick paced or relevant. Based on my research, my new challenge was to create a fast-paced, fun, student-driven session that gave them independence to take control of what they were learning and why. And I had one hour to do it. And I was a complete stranger. Piece of cake!

Students taking part in our Secondary Pilot in 2013. We used what we learnt from our experiences with the students I talk about in this blog.
If they were anxious to voice their own opinions because of their growing fear of right and wrong, then I decided to give them opinions. If they didn’t want to talk to me, then I would get them to talk to each other and nominate a confident spokesperson. I would also flat out ask them what the gallery had to do with them, and try to personalise the gallery experience, bracing myself for whatever response.

When I finally got to put theory into practice, I was thrilled to see that I was on the right track. I incorporated half an hour of self-guided looking with their peers (no facilitation) to satisfy their growing desire for independence, and within the facilitated component the discussion and debates were student-driven. I took a back seat and talked much less.

The opinions I gave to them to debate in a contemporary space were 'this is art, this is not art'. Students had to pair up, choose an artwork, and argue both sides, coming up with three points as to why this was or was not a piece of art. In the Victorian art exhibition they argued, 'this is relevant, this is not relevant', where they argued the relevance of showing these artworks for today's visitors.

This approach gave them a safe space to voice opinions in a supportive environment where there was no right or wrong. It was informal, it was not a question-answer session. They got to take the reins on the direction of the lesson and the discussion. What I want to include next time is a close analysis to create a balance between broad looking across a range of works, and close looking at one artwork.

The revised programme felt like an opportunity for them to apply skills from their lives into a real world context. There was high level critical and creative thinking happening where they were making connections, synthesizing and evaluating their ideas and the ideas of their peers. They were justifying, debating, and seeing things from multiple perspectives. I can't wait to teach more with this age group. When you engage this age group meaningfully with art, it is a hugely satisfying and rewarding experience for everyone involved.

What is your experience teaching teenagers in a gallery or museum context?

Here are just a couple of useful sources I came across in my research:

Simon, N ( July 2010). Teenagers and Social Participation.

Wednesday 3 April 2013

The Creative Process: Create

Two posts down, two to go! After exploring and experimenting the space, it is important visitors to our Creative Learning Centre have a chance to create something of their own, actively participate and contribute to the room in a tangible way. The elements in the room that allow visitors to create their own work are where you can see how they interpret the artwork and the activities. I have seen the following things created in this space:

Image: David St George
 The pipe cleaners have mutated into
  • a kiwi
  • a cowboy
  • a helicopter
  • a tank
  • the Sky Tower
  • flowers
  • glasses
  • people
  • birds
  • bees
  • a chair

Image: David St George

Pieces of blank paper have been transformed into:
  • jars full of lollies
  • eyeballs
  • family names
  • bees
  • summer
  • bubbles
  • homes
  • abstract compositions of bees with snazzy patterns and colours

Apart from the visible things created in this room, the element of the room I most enjoy is the conversations that this room creates amongst families and strangers. The experiences that are created here, and a feeling of accomplishment and contribution to the space. But more on that when we get to ‘share’...