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Educational Studies (Primary) with Art Essay

‘Art is a time traveller; art is an omnipresent teller of story. It’s more effective than CNN, the BBC and Sky News put together. Art is all the poems read, at all the funerals and weddings that happened, on every day of every year of your life, from every class, gender and sexuality of human being. The freedom to write is a sign of a free society. Art is the greatest symbol, the greatest expression of freedom. No wonder writers are a threat to repressive regimes; it’s because of the greatness and importance of books. Art bridges the gap between the spiritual world and the physical one; at times of great need, trauma, loss, celebration, union, hope, introduction, we need the bridge, we need art. It’s why there is song, it’s why there is poetry, it’s why there is dance, and it’s why there is music.

What can art do? Art can save lives; people need the bridge over their troubled waters, because art is life. This is not an exaggeration; take away those songs those poems, paintings and music and leave citizens bereft of expression. Art offers a quality of life and of experience, a fundamental power of art is to articulate. If aliens visited us, they would get a truer representation of the human being through art than through anything else. Art is as close to the environment as human beings can get. What art can do is what it does. I have seen homeless men and women speak, who have not spoken before, due to some unspeakable trauma. I have seen poems bring the invisible into focus on national radio. I have seen crying children smile. I have seen poems change lives. It’s why poems are read at weddings, funerals, births, on royal occasions and personal occasions, when soldiers are at war, and in peacetime. We turn to art because it is the greatest expression of humanity available to all.’

(Sissay, L., 2010)

The essence of good art teaching is to harness the creative ability, which is already part of every child. We are catalyst, enquirer, developer and delegator to the creative young minds we try to teach.

(Barnes, R., 2002, p.180)

This art assignment will analyse a piece of work by chosen artist Judy Pfaff and her role in my project called ‘Dancing at the edge of chaos’, aimed at KS2 children, which consists of four developmental workshops, with the theme of ‘installation art’. (Appendix A-D)

Judy Pfaff was born in 1946 in London, England. Her impressive career spans more than thirty-three years of making art across the globe. She began as a painter at Yale, but soon became recognised for her highly original sculptures laden with emotional impact. Pfaff explores space and matter and all that lies between painting and sculpture, two dimensions and three dimensions. Her work is laced with an intense physicality and exhilarating sense of chaos that continues to evolve throughout her art. Besides the ambitious sculpture installations for which Pfaff is renowned, she is a talented engineer, builder, welder and fabricator who tackles huge projects hands-on from start to finish.

Her repertoire includes drawings, collages, prints and mixed media constructions, as well as highly complex multi-layered prints. Her prints incorporate collage elements and cut papers. She employs a variety of media including photogravure (a method of printing high quality images in large editions, using photographic and etching techniques) encaustic (hot wax painting), lithography (a method of printing that used from a flat stone or metal plate with grease and water) silkscreen, woodcuts and more. (The College of Saint Rose, 2009)

The artist has presented more than one hundred and fifty solo exhibitions and has participated in more than two hundred and fifty group and traveling exhibitions in the United States, Europe and South America. Pfaff has influenced younger artists either whom she has taught over the years or who have seen her work in hundreds of venues throughout the world. Pfaff sums it up: ‘…you should be allowed to test murky, unclear, unsure territory or all you have left are substitutes that signify these positions. Having it all together is the least interesting thing in art, in being alive.’ (Prince, S. E., 2008)

The piece of art I have chosen as a starting point for four-lesson scheme of artwork is Judy Pfaff’s “N.Y.C- B.Q.E”. (Appendix E) Judy says,

I think there’s always a melancholy in the work, though everyone has always thought of my work as being very happy, or jaunty, or- what’s that word I get- an explosion in a glitter factory. There’s always something that seemed carefree, easy-going. I can hardly remember that. I mean I can have a good time and I can be light-hearted. But there’s another quality that will get in, especially with the latest works.

(Art 21, 2001)

I found artist Judy Pfaff extremely inspiring because she has created huge amounts of diverse artwork throughout her career. She is a very ambitious artist with vigorous vision, which is echoed through her highly intense sculptures. Her work is never just about a particular element such as abstract form, rather an environment to be explored and experienced. Her style of work links well with the project because the idea was to encourage the children to be spontaneous and to develop a skilful, yet sensitive use of materials, rather than just filling the space without a narrative. This element of extemporaneity and walking into a space and not knowing what will happen is exactly how Pfaff likes to work.

Her installations are not simply just about scale and even though they appear to be quite chaotic, Judy plans with her assistants to figure out what they want to do with materials they haven’t worked with before. Assistant Ryan Muller at Judy Pfaff’s studio in Tivoli, New York talks about what he has learnt by working with Judy, As an artist myself, she has taught me a lot just about working on scales and persevering. She is in the studio constantly. She said a lot of her work gets done after we all leave. A lot of us will always be making theses images for her to work with; twisting the steal and giving her imagery to use and then when everybody has gone she has processed it all. She is in love with her work and that is inspiring.

(Art 21, 2011)

Despite Judy Pfaff’s set of diverse skills, to create one of her impressive installations involves a team of very skilled individuals. I was able to adapt some of the processes Judy Pfaff uses to create her installations, to be suitable for KS2 children, by planning activities which are accessible to them, so they could do the cutting, constructing, building, gluing, joining and engage with materials they had not used before, in a safe and stimulating environment. Once the children had been introduced to Judy Pfaff and some of the methods used in installation art, they were able to start straight away with experimenting with materials and creating their own installations.

It was important to pitch the activities at the right level in each workshop, including starting small and building up to working on a large scale, all the time building their confidence and skills with the materials. All the materials I chose were easy to get hold of such as the cardboard boxes and wooden blocks, safe to use and stimulating enough for the children to engage with. The installation “N.Y.C – B.Q.E” is so complex with so much to see; I found it enabled me to plan for many different art activities because it has so much scope. Pfaff’s dynamic, energetic, large-scale works incorporate many different media. However, I chose to gear the project to the handling materials aspect and getting the children involved in very hands on activities using their senses. Viktor Lowenfield, one of the great innovators in the field of art education, said, in his book Creativity, Education’s Stepchild: A Sourcebook for Creative Thinking:

Creative persons, we find, are among other things unusually sensitive to what they see, hear, touch, etc. They respond rapidly to the “feel” and grain of a piece of wood, the texture and flexibility of clay, things often hidden.

On the 28th October 1988 Angela Rumbold presented a speech to the ‘National Association for Education in the Arts’ whereby she said,

Art, especially the teaching of it to young children, can enrich life by bringing to our attention the quality of such enlivening experiences. Through art, children can retain that sense of wonder and delight which all too easily becomes lost as later concerns of adult life take over. Without art and design, we lose the freedom to express out innermost thoughts and fears. Children’s knowledge and understanding of artistic and historical moments would be limited to the gamut to which their home life exposes them.

(Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, 1989)

I wanted the children to experience some hands on building and constructing using a range of three-dimensional objects. “N.Y.C – B.Q.E” gives you a strong feel of being on the beach and by the sea, with light and life moving all around you which was my inspiration for the 30ft sandpit, which the children explored and created installations using more natural materials in the third workshop. Pfaff’s work is full of life and inspired me to be quite ambitious with the planning, as I wanted to include a wide range of activities, which involved the children being actively engaged with materials and taking responsibility for decisions.

My aims involved developing the children’s knowledge and understanding of colour, texture, space and composition by providing them with first hand experiences of experimenting with materials, investigating how it can be used and challenges where the child’s thinking and planning can clearly be seen. According to Margaret Morgan, County Art Adviser for Suffolk, ‘Experience and discussion of natural and manmade stimuli is crucial if the children’s awareness of form, feel, texture, pattern, weight and temperature qualities is to develop.’ (Morgan, M., 1988, p.82)

Planning: central to all effective teaching, whatever the subject, is planning, asking the important questions such as, ‘What do I want the children to learn in this session? How can that learning be best achieved?’ Clear, appropriate learning intentions, setting yourself and the children challenging, engaging and achievable targets, reliant on an understanding of the children’s needs and abilities and the resources available, is essentially what teaching is all about.

(Skelton, T., & Joy, E, 2001)

While I was planning I drew inspiration from the key elements inherent to art education, which Margaret Morgan recommended in her book, ‘Art 4-11’:

* Sensory experience: during the four workshops, the children used their senses to explore different types of materials and build installations in different environments. They carried out activities concerned with ‘feel’ and ‘touch’, which together will raise their visual awareness and the exploration of form, space and texture. * Ability to work independently and develop ideas, isolate problems and deal with them: In the last workshop the children were in charge of a particular area to set up ready for the final exhibition. They had the responsibility of arranging an installation to make it fit with another in the setting. During all four of the workshops, the children were continuously developing ideas through practical handling of materials. * Practical experience and awareness of the potential line, shape, colour, pattern, texture, tone and form; of tools and materials and media; and of communication by graphic means:

This was one of the most important outcomes for the children to achieve by the end of the project, as throughout they were handling a range of tools and materials in order to raise their awareness of their qualities and how they can be used in art. * Ability to enjoy and respond critically and intelligently to art and design forms, past and present: The children were introduced to the notion of installation art in the first workshop, where they were asked to share their immediate responses to it and explored how it was made and what it was made from etc. They also engaged with the work of Judy Pfaff and were asked some questions about their reaction to it and how it made them feel, what it made them think about and what it represents to them. The children also kept sketchbooks throughout and were asked to make comments about anything to do with the project, to encourage them to reflect on their own work and any particular skills they learnt.

* Ability to use language in describing processes, developing discussion and evaluating ideas: Throughout the project the children were encouraged to discuss their ideas and what they were doing during the process of developing their work; by revisiting the element of space and composition, I hoped to expand the children’s vocabulary surrounding installation art and the features that were dominate in Judy Pfaff’s work. They also engaged in discussions within their groups when selecting materials and constructing their installations.

(Morgan, M., 1988, p.110)

Pfaff enters an exhibition space not knowing exactly what will happen. She must rely on her knowledge, skill, and experience to carry her through; this ethos was one I wanted the children to try and adopt, so when it came to the final exhibition they would feel confident enough to make a installation out of a new set of materials. The design of Pfaff’s ‘N.Y.C – B.Q.E’ opens the doors to many different possibilities for activities for KS2 children because there are many aspects that go into her installations; I was able to discuss the use of colour, texture, space, and arrangement in Judy Pfaff’s work and how the children incorporated these elements into their own work.

In every workshop I shared the image ‘N.Y.C – B.Q.E’ because I found it so cluttered and detailed; every time I looked at the image, I saw something different. Therefore I tried to encourage the children to study the image and stimulate fresh ideas and build up their language in art. Margaret Morgan states that the teacher should try to encourage children to look at, touch and feel items. (Morgan, M., 1988) This is exactly what I wanted the children to do throughout all the workshops to help build up skills and extend their experience of handling materials. As the workshops progressed, the aim was to try to build the children’s confidence and experience so more interest would build up during each activity.

In all of the workshops, it was important the children used all their senses to explore the range of materials, so they could experience the materials and gain insight into their qualities, which would impact their decisions of choosing particular materials and design choices for their installations in the later stages. Throughout the project, the children were faced with all sorts of challenges such as painting, drawing, modelling, construction and textiles. My approach was to section off part of the hall, ensuring adequate space for each group of children to work with a collection of acquired items with potential for construction such as bricks, wood blocks, rope, plastic, metal etc. The children were introduced to the materials and reminded about the need for safe handling and mutual sensitivity. I reminded the children to respect each other and the things they had.

The very nature of the range of materials continually triggered new ideas and associations such as creating homes in an imaginary environment, when the children were using the cardboard boxes and woodblocks. In addition, this approach provided the children with valuable experience of the potential usage of materials, an understanding of appropriate qualities and the importance of safe handling of tools and equipment. According to Rob Barnes, who presents many current and important issues in art education in his series of books called ‘Teaching art to young children’ states, ‘Expressing feelings and ideas in a visual way is a question of making judgements about things like colour, scale, texture, shape and drawing.’ Children need to experience using and handling materials in order for them to understand their qualities.’ (Barnes, R., 2002, p.160)

Some of the skills and tools involved in the project, such as joining using glue guns, cutting using Stanley knifes, experimenting with materials and their potential usage, arranging different types of metals and objects through trial, error and success which varied in weight and textures, taking responsibility for creating a sketch book, using the HD cameras and editing films using ‘I-movie’ on the MacBook pro’s and working in large scale groups meant it was more suitable for KS2 children. In comparison to the expectations in art and design of children in KS1, the activities seem to be a step higher in all areas.

The National Curriculum states, in ‘Investigating and making art, craft and design’ in KS1 the children are expected to represent observations and make artefacts whereas in KS2, this develops into using a variety of methods and approaches to communicate observations, ideas and feelings and as the children were developing their creativity through more complex activities, increasing their critical awareness of the purpose of installation art and evolving their confidence in using materials and processes to communicate what they see, feel and think, these learning objectives seemed more appropriate. (DfEE, 1999)

‘N.Y.C – B.Q.E’ is a perfect example of Judy Pfaff’s controlled chaos in her artwork. Judy Pfaff controls the chaotic look to her installations. However, the chaos of all the qualities in her installations look like they may have all just been arranged in an attention-grabbing way but there is a reason behind all the commotion. This concept inspired the title for the project: ‘Dancing at the edge of chaos’. I tired to emphasise this idea of ‘controlled chaos’ when I presented the children with a random box of materials to have a go at making an installation, in groups. The children’s starting point would have been quite chaotic because all objects and materials started in a heap on the floor; the challenge was to arrange them into a visually exciting installation, some of which they might not have worked with before. Rob Barnes highlights,

When children or teachers are involved in the process of making choices, they are inevitably manipulating thoughts and ideas. It takes little imagination to realize that one of the rewards of teaching art is to become just as interested in what children discover as they are.

(Barnes, R., 2002, p.194)

The main focus of the project was giving children the opportunity to handle and explore a wide range of materials, which they might not have used in a creative manner before. Michael Boyd, Artistic Director of the
Royal Shakespeare Company says,

No child can absorb a fine culture of art without seeing a great deal of it and doing enough of it to realise some of the processes involved. Art is one of the antidotes of life which becomes increasingly busy and exhausting, yet far less humanly productive or satisfying.

(Arts council England, 2010, p.7)

Introducing the children to installation art allowed for the materials to be used and handled in a more stimulating way just like artist Judy Pfaff. Judy Pfaff has worked with an eclectic and unusual range of materials and moves back and forth easily between two and three-dimensional work, creating art that is complex and unique.

These dynamic, energetic, large-scale works incorporate many different media. It was important to create opportunities for the children to see how Judy Pfaff might have constructed her work and manipulated materials and to raise their awareness of the different processes used in her work. Pfaff’s working process is spontaneous and highly physical. Throughout this project, the children have been encouraged to be very expressive with their thoughts and feelings, so they create work that is personal to them. Peggy Davison Jenkins, author of Art for the Fun of It, has said,

Creativity is not so much an aptitude as an attitude.  The meaning and significance of each stage of scribbling still needs to be further studied. One thing is clear: children need to produce their own art, and they don’t benefit at all from completing adult -made projects. When pushed to do something they are not ready to do, they suffer by stifling their own needs.

(Jenkins, D., P., 1980, p.70)

I have tried to emphasise that the development of the work is just as important as the final piece because the children are constantly evolving their skills and making the work is all part of the experience. According to writer and poet Blake Morrison,

Art can do many things: entertain, instruct, console, inspire, enrage, transform. It teaches us things we can’t be taught in any other way and makes us see things we wouldn’t otherwise see. It slows us the illusion of escaping our daily lives while simultaneously taking us deeper inside ourselves. (Arts council England, 2010, p.20)

Educators are aware that children have different learning styles, a concept which has had a profound impact on thinking and practice in education, developed from Howard Gardner’s theory of Multiple Intelligence. (Learning Styles Online, 2012) In art, the teacher will discuss concepts verbally, write information and draw illustrations on the board, and allow children to manipulate materials; therefore every kind of leaner should be able to access the concepts being presented. ‘The arts have an important role to play in refining our sensory system and cultivating our imaginative qualities.’ (Barone, T., & Eisner, W., E., 1988) In short, art enlarges the imagination and allows us to experience the qualities of sound, sight, taste, and touch increasing children’s perception in the arts, rather than simply recognising them.

Susan Striker has written an array of books, which discuss the positive influence of a child’s artistic growth on their intellectual and emotional development, and offering activities to facilitate artistic skills. She highlights that ‘Children are developing visual impressions when they read, and verbal and symbolic skills when they draw, paint and sculpt.’ And later argues, ‘A child who is exposed early to positive creative art activities, and who is allowed to develop freely and naturally, will take to writing very easily when the time comes.’ (Striker, S., 2001) Councilor Mick Henry, Leader of Gateshead Council speaks about why art is important to him: Art has the ability to change and improve lives.

This could be through taking part in a single art workshop session and making something for the first time, being at a concert by your favourite performer, or band, walking in the park and encountering a beautiful sculpture, or visiting a museum or gallery and seeing something precious or unexpected. Any of these simple activities can be transformational for the individual concerned. 
 (Arts council England, 2010, p.12)

Creative activities confront how we feel about things. Expressing a mood, emotion, or temperament through art becomes as valid as responding to another person, a moving sight, or a meaningful experience. Both responding and expressing through art puts us in touch with qualities which are part of what makes us human.


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