Yesterday Talk About Art associate artists Simon Purins and Salina Jane started working with James Wolfe Primary School’s year 6 pupils. Sessions were delivered via zoom to four bubbles each comprising 25 pupils, the class teacher and support staff. The nine session project is being delivered intensively over five weeks. Let’s see what happens!
Week One; Christo and Jeanne-Claude
We had a great start to the Talk About Art and our Environment with James Woolfe School. Classes are working together, so a really big, but also hugely enthusiastic group who really love to draw. We started out by discussing what Envionrmental art is, with the children describing it as drawing from nature, using natural materials and resources from the environment, re-using and re-cycling materials and considering the environment in mind when we create art.
We looked at the art work of Christo and Jeanne-Claude and some interesting questions came up, such as where did the huge piece of material come from and what did they do with it afterwards. Some thought the art was vandalism and found it made the shapes of the buildings more interesting. We discovered later that the fabric was either sold or given away after the projects were dismantled. Here’s what the children said:
“looks amazing but I think it’s vandalising”
“appreciate the scale but a bit bland – it hides the colour”
“I like the meaning behind it but a bit blank – could have had more of a message”
“the tiny details are missing – I like to see the colours and textures”
“I like the message and the scale but I feel it is a bit wasteful using all the fabric”
The drawings the children did were great, with lots of attention to details and there was real concentration and a great flow.
Some more comments:
- I found it interesting as I thought I would be able to remember objects better than I did and it made me realise my memory isn’t what I thought it was! Lula
- I found it inclusive because we are focusing on other people’s work and not just our own- Ned
Teacher: This was a lovely starter lesson. The children were fascinated by the artists we were introduced to and are already seeing the art world as more accessible, more interesting and more exciting than ever before!
In week two of our project we looked at two artists, created drawings and worked 3D in sculpture.
The children discovered the art of Senga Nengudi who really made us all think and we had some interesting discussions considering what it might be like to really walk a mile in someone else’s shoes. They liked how she used found materials and the link to politics using the newspapers. They felt it was important that materials were being re-used this way. Although some said her work was not aesthetically pleasing to look at it was interesting and made them question things.
We drew found objects that have an impact on the environment both negatively and positively and then considered how we could change their use, to extend their life or so they could impact the environment in a different way. One of the student said of the activity that it was good to draw and the whole process can be such fun, when she is stressed or angry drawing helps her. Others commented that iw as easy to draw by really hard to transform the object into something else. They liked working with others and the collaborative process.
- I liked this session because we pushed our imagination to our limits when we turned an object into an animal- Sienna
- I liked this session because I thought I was never good at art, BUT as we could put anything from our imagination this made me more confident- Hiyab
Teacher: The class really enjoyed using their imagination today! We saw some fantastic, detailed work as the children slowed down to pay attention to objects found in the classroom, before going wild and transforming them into animals.
For the second workshop of the week we looked at the art of Agnes Dene. The students particularly liked how her works used living things and the scale of it with pyramids that you could see from the air. They felt inspired by her work and the impact it had on others. One student commented on how she found a way to express herself in a different way, not just drawing. She was also really open and outward looking embracing technology during older years. We were inspired to create some sculptures using paper, and creating shapes and structures that represented nature and the environment. They were lots of dead creatures and paper flowers and some beautiful shapes. The children were really absorbed in the project and there was so much positive energy in creating.
- I really enjoyed the most recent session because I expected sculpture to be clay and paper Mache but I realised you can make scultpures out of anything- even paper!- Lula
- I like this session because we found lots of interesting and fun ways of making cool paper sculptures
- I expected sculpture to be clay but it was much more fun than that! I liked learning different folding techniques
- I didn’t think there would be so many ways to fold paper!
Teacher: This session was fantastic in helping children understand that we could make art from anything! Lots of children told me they thought only drawing and painting could be art, and they were excited by the opportunities to create from an everyday object.
Benjamin Von Wong was a big hit with both classes this week. They liked the colours and materials he used and how accessible it was. Quite a few of the children talked about how the work was pretty and beautiful to look at but also have a message.
The Mermaid piece was a favourite of site a few children, they liked how he used lots of plastic bottles to depict the ocean.
One child said ‘It is art, but you can also take more from it if you wish. You have a choice to enjoy it just as art or to take away the environmental message as well if you wish’.
‘I like the absurdity of it, that he is using soooo many bottles to create an art work. The numbers of plastic straws and plastic bags and plastic bottles is so big!’
The children agreed ‘it looks nice but is also environmentally friendly in that the Artist thought about the message he wants to send about the environment and thought about the materials he will use to create the art’.
We worked with collage today to show the impact on pollution and plastic waste on sea creatures. The class used waste from their own food packaging to create the art works. They enjoyed making the work and using lots of different mediums, including wool and they layered the collage around their own drawings.
Quote from teacher:
‘This was a really lovely session.. Children honed their sketching skills as they created sea creatures, and then they really enjoyed working with a range of materials to build on their drawings.’
Quotes from students:
‘I really liked how it opened our eyes to different kinds of animals.’
‘I liked learning about new animals I didn’t know existed.’
‘I loved how imaginative we could be with the materials we chose’
Our artist for session 5 is Ana Mendieta, there were some strong responses from the children, who felt there was something ‘raw’ about her work. They said there was lots of meaning behind her work and it brought up lots of questions, like how she used the elements and how she was part of the picture. Some said that her use of animal blood make them feel ‘revolted’, and they didn’t like that. A couple of people said they didn’t feel her work was ‘art’. Others liked how it connected once they understood the stories and meanings around what she was saying. It definitely made an impact and provoked strong emotions and discussion, which they felt was also part of art.
For this session the students used themselves as the canvas, painting onto their own faces, hands and arms. There was huge energy and enthusiasm for this task, with students saying it felt ‘amazing’, ‘great’, ‘refreshing’ to be part of the canvas. One student said she like the lesson because it was really creative’, another said ‘it gives you freedom to use a different medium’ and another said the activity brought them joy.
Other students said:
‘It makes me remember I am part of nature’
‘I like how it allowed us to express ourselves’
‘I liked it and I didn’t like it. I didn’t like that I couldn’t see myself, but I liked that I could be creative and expressive.’
It was a really fun session for all.
In session 6 the class was inspired by Andy Goldsworthy. Goldsworthy is a very popular artist but there were vey mixed views about his work in the class with some finding it too simple and boring and some really liking the way he used nature and natural forms. Here’s what a few of the pupils said.
‘Some of his work was a bit simple and boring’
‘Some of it was cool and some didn’t have much to it’.
‘I liked the ice one it was interesting and attractive’.
‘I like the pine cone the textures were interesting, but some of the pieces were boring’.
‘I didn’t like it because I’ve seen other people do the same thing’
‘I thought it was remarkable that the make sculptures with his own hands’
‘I didn’t like that he used his own spit’
‘I do like the dry stone wall, and I found it cool that it sloped into the pond and gave the impression that it ran under the water and appeared back up again on the other side.’
‘I like the appealing look of the pine cone. The natural materials were aesthetically pleasing’.
The classes made their own leaf drawings and in small groups their challenge was to create an interesting piece of art work in collaboration, working together and using the materials they had created.
THE FINAL THREE SESSIONS !!
Before we started creating our own response to art in the environment we talked about what we had seen and done so far on this project.
The favourite artists the students had enjoyed were Benjamin Von Wong, because his art was enjoyable to look at and attractive as well as sending out a strong message. His mermaid piece was very memorable. One student said how impressed she was by Christo and Jean Claude and their large scale works in the environment. And a few students talked about how much they had been struck by the work of Andy Goldsworthy, particularly his pine cone and stone wall across a river and his dedication in sticking icicles together with his bare hands!
Hands down the favourite art activity was painting ourselves, students enjoyed being the canvas to their work. One student said they really liked building sculptures with paper and that they enjoyed seeing what others created.
We discussed how art makes us feel and how it can sometimes make us feel uncomfortable and that’s ok too. One student said they had been inspired by our classes to visit an art gallery in half term. There were lots of uncomfortable noises in the exhibition from radios and televisions, but he remembered what we had discussed, that art is not always about making you feel good, or just about looking attractive and he appreciated the work he saw.
Both classes were very focused on making as they created their own individual responses to pollution and the impact of waste in our environments all packaged in a plastic bag with their own messages.
Eco-Warrior Masks and final pieces
And some final feedback from the participants themselves…
How did the art you created influence your thoughts about the environment?
“It made me think more about how important the environment was and how much we effected it every day.”
“We need to start cleaning our earth and you don’t need paint and paper to make art. Anything is art!”
“I realised that we could reuse non recyclable materials and use them as art pieces to raise awareness”
“Well, in my mask it was bubble wrap (plastic) and sweet wrappers (plastic) then some card for support and other details. The main subject was a small world in its mouth and the story of the art piece was that plastic is basically eating away at our world.”
“It made me think that art could be made of anything in the environment and also influence me to take care of the environment.”
Was there a particular artist that you enjoyed? Tell us about them or their work.
“Christo and Jeanne Claude because I love how they wrapped famous sculptures to show their real point of view.”
“My favourite was Andy Goldsworsthy because of how he incorporated nature into his art by making it out of natural materials and doing it in nature. Also, I liked how his art changed with time. I also enjoyed how his art has a mystical feel to it.”
“The artist that I enjoyed the most was Ana Mendieta because liked her method of painting on herself so that she could blend herself into natural places.”
“Benjamin Von Wong.Because he showed me that theres a lot of plastic in the sea and it harms animals.”
“I enjoyed learning about Benjamin Von Wong a lot because his art had a message behind it as well as it was pleasing to the eye.”
An end of project collage display representing all the artists Simon and Salina explored during the project