This week I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to take a group of teachers from local schools to the Tate Modern, at Southbank as a Professional Development day. The objective of the day was to provide staff with new and interesting ideas of activities that they can do with their pupils when visiting an art gallery and to provide ideas for projects that can be continued at school across the curriculum. Here is what we got up to....
Tate Modern, Southbank, London
As soon as we arrived I put the teachers straight to work. They were all tasked with drawing an outline of the building. This was used to document the day. Teachers were instructed to fill in their outline drawing with rubbings, drawings, words, artists names, quotes, collage receipts/pictures etc collected throughout the day, creating a visual documents of their day at Tate. These look great as an exciting and informative wall display back at school.
Our first activity actually inside the Tate was to select our favourite piece of work from the work in room 3, level 5 Energy and process. Participants were instructed to walk around the room, NOT to read the curators comments and respond to the piece. After each person had selected their piece, the curators comments were read to see if this changed our opinion or thoughts on a piece of work. Quite often we are daunted by "getting it wrong", when looking at art, but essentially art is about observing and responding. Some pieces will move you more than others and create a deeper connection for a whole range of reasons , you social upbringing, colour association, mood, what is going on in your life etc etc. This led onto the timeless discussion - What makes good art? This is a great discussion to have with children in a gallery space. You can observe how people look at art, do they stop, stare, walk by, stand at chat? Does everyone stop at the same pieces? How many people have the guide glued to their ear? Observing others observing art can be just as interesting and intriguing as the piece of art work itself.
A good discussion on this can be found at http://painting.about.com/cs/inspiration/a/goodart.htm
After our discussion, I asked each participant to draw their favourite piece from this room. We had now spent quite a bit of time in this room, looking at the works, discussing what we liked, what we didn't like and sharing viewpoints. We had spent time getting to know the works and taking time to look at them. I often see crowds of children dashing around the gallery trying to find a piece to draw and not actually spending any real time with the piece. This activity allows the group to focus on a specific room with limited pieces of work. It stops that overwhelming feeling that you can get when visiting a gallery such as the Tate with it's numerous floor, rooms and works. We seem to go into a state of panic, trying to view everything in one day - sometimes we should remember less is more. The objective of this activity was also to inform techers of how it feels to be that child tasked with drawing a piece of work in a public space. It can be unnerving and daunting as well as enjoyable and relaxing. Here the teachers are put in the position of the child.
Robert Morris born 1931Untitled
Susumu Koshimizu born 1944 From Surface to Surface
Giovanni Anselmo born 1934 Direction
Richard Tuttle born 19418th Paper Octagonal
Keith Sonnier born 1941 Red Flocked Wall
Gilberto Zorio born 1944 Terracotta Circle
Giuseppe Penone born 1947 Tree of 12 Metres
Mario Merz 1925-2003Lingotto
So what one was your Favourite? Why?
The next task was to incorporate the use of the senses when looking at art. This activity is a great way of engaging children in observing and discussing art within a gallery environment. It is also great fun for adults. Participants were instructed to work within groups, stand in front of a painting/sculpture and discuss what it tastes like or what it smells like. Not as bonkers as it sounds. Many a great artist has created work by what they hear, see, smell and taste when thinking about a subject. This is called Synesthesia - Which is a neurological based condition in which stimulation of one sensory or cognitive pathway leads to automatic, involuntary experiences in a second sensory or cognitive pathway e.g. seeing a letter or a number as a specific colour.
Have a go next time you visit a gallery, let your senses take over and see if you have a reaction. You could be stimulated by colours, images, a shape or a texture. It is a great way of spending time with a piece of art work and observing and discussing the piece with peers/friends.
Once we had smelt and tasted out pictures is was time to incorporate a bit of visual literacy. In groups, participants chose a picture and were tasked with creating a story using a simple storyboard format. Each group had to take into account what they could hear, smell, see, taste and touch within the piece as their starting point. Participants sketched their story working on the acronym S.P.I.C.E S=Setting, P=Plot, I=Ideas, C= Characters and E=Ending.
Only action words were allowed - no text just images. Once the groups completed their drawings I collected them in and swapped them around (I know how mean). Each group then had to interpret the drawings and write the story based on their interpretation of the pictures - Plus as a group they had to workout what picture they thought the story had been inspired by. This activity not only encourages creative writing, interpretation skills and active listening but creates a new dialogue around a piece of art work and once again presents an opportunity for participants to spend time with a piece of work, react, respond and record their viewpoints.
Drawing the story
"The Publisher" was a favourite amongst the group, with some of the ladies seeing him as a George Cloney-secret agent/assassin type of character. They smelt his aftershave, office aroma and even worked out he was wearing Calvin Klein's!
When visiting a gallery it is always worth doing a bit of research beforehand and to look at what activities and facilities the gallery has that you can utilise. A new activity that has recently be launched by Tate is Tate Trumps. Many of you will remember back to your childhood of spending many a fun afternoon playing top trumps, where the objective is to win all of your opponents cards by selecting a category and hoping your card has the best rating. Tate has launched an interactive version of this game that has three modes: Mood, Collection and Battle.
You can download it to your iPhone or iPod Touch for free, and then you're ready you roam the gallery looking for artworks you think will score highly in one of the three modes.
In Battle mode, you need to ask yourself the question, "If this artwork came to life, how good would it be in a fight?". In Mood mode, you're looking for artworks you think are menacing, exhilarating or absurd. Or, if you wish you had a gallery of your own, try Collector mode, and find pictures which are famous, recently produced or practical to house.
Once you've formed your collection, meet up with your friends, and play a fun game of trumps to see who did the best.
We played an adapted version of this game. Participants were given 30 minutes in room 2 level 3 Poetry and Dreams and asked to select 10 pieces of work that they think would win in their given mode. One group had battle and one group had collector. Children love this activity and it really works to spark their imagination. They have to consider all elements of the picture, the size and scale of the works, what materials they are made out of and in some cases the practicality of the piece. These may not be observations they would normally make when looking at a piece of work, but add in a bit of friendly competition and it is game on.
Why not have a go yourself - look at these two images - in a battle which one would win? Think about the paintings strength, size and agility of the image.
I hope that you have found this interesting and if you would like any more information of the activities discussed above and lesson plans please contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org . I hope that this has inspired you whether you are a teacher, student, art fan or blog reader to be a bit more inventive and interactive with art work the next tie you visit a gallery - have fun