Saturday, 8 June 2013

#artmooc week 2: Fantastic Art... and the classroom

This week we explored Fantastic Art – Bosch, Rousseau, Chagall, Chirico, Man Ray, Duchamp, Arp, Ernst, Miro and Dali. After reading about them and observing videos upon them (this is more of an xMOOC (content-driven) than a cMOOC (connectivist)), we had to choose a topic and an influence and produce an art work of our own. We had to justify our process and our product – and the intended impact upon our audience. I chose to produce a collage – channelling the unconscious to see what would appear. Here's my picture-making - and then some thoughts on how we might use this in teaching. 

My picture-making process:
My approach was to weave the Surreal and the DaDa together – to explore a deep emotion through chance and a lack of control – to create a picture with rhythm perhaps – but not in a controlled way.

I drew on the Surreal because I wanted to channel the unconscious – I wanted to see what would emerge when I explored a deep emotion, when I let my unconscious out.

I chimed with DaDa because of the destructiveness and chaos of their art; their reaction to the World War. There could be no beauty in a time of such horror – no controlled and controlling art to soothe the senses - for this would be a lie. Their anti-art was designed to confound and challenge the immensity of total war. I wanted to explore the immensity of betrayal; when it happens this is a personal atrocity. I was heavily influenced by Miro and the automatic – the sense of bringing forth deep emotion to see how it would look when it revealed itself. I wanted to harness something like Arp’s approach to collage – that if you do not control the process too much, the picture will reveal itself. Like Duchamp, I wanted to ‘find’ the picture in the newspapers that I chose randomly – and the random words and pictures that I cut out. And like the Hannah Hoch example we saw, I was using dull newspaper and newsprint, not the shiny glamorous material that is the magazine picture. This was partly because the newspaper was to hand – and mostly to reject the shiny shiny happy of magazine paper.

The pictures below show final draft - first draft - sketching the first draft - building on to plywood - adding paint details... 







 How we might use in practice:

# 3: We can model reflection to develop voice and power
How many times have you seen a reflective assignment – and how many times do you see students not energised but deadened by the process? With our task – we had to reflect on what we had learned – apply that to a new challenge – and then we had to discuss what we had done and why. This seems a more challenging way to tackle reflection. Specifically we had to consider:

1.  Explain your process (medium and technique).  How was it made?  Which art materials and approaches did you use and why?
2.  Describe the idea behind your artwork.  What story or message does it get across?  What does it mean to you?
3.  Why did you create it?  What are your reasons for creating that specific art piece?  What do you want your audience to feel and think while observing it?


Even as I copy and paste these instructions here, I think you can see how applicable they can be to an academic context. How different these words are to the implicit instructions behind so many of our assignments: shut up, I’m not interested in what you have to say or in what you think and feel. I want to know whether you have understood the importance of what I have told you – and whether you can cough it back up to me in a way that shows me you are a good and proper student.

I love that these #artmooc instructions assume that the student has something to say – and that they can engage with theoretical ideas and concepts – and be trusted to bring all this together in a meaningful task. I definitely want to use instructions like these in my teaching in future – something like:

‘Okay – we’ve looked at [insert ideas theories or concepts relevant to your subject] – now design an art work or teaching/learning resource to bring one or all of these concepts alive to another group of people:

1.  Explain your art or teaching/learning process.  How was the resource made?  Which activities, materials and approaches did you use and why?
2.  Describe the idea behind your resource.  What story or message does it get across?  What does it mean to you?
3.  Why did you create it?  What are your reasons for creating that specific resource?  What do you want your audience to feel and think while observing it or engaging with it?’

Here the student is both in the task and over the task – their voice is heard – not in empty reflective gestures – but in a way that invites them to powerfully engage.

If not art – think poetry and prose
In a recent Jiscmail exchange (www.jiscmail.ac.uk/ldhen) I was talking about an early exercise I used to do with students to introduce them to academia – its processes, practices and genres. Each week we would read and analyse poetry and prose – interesting and engaging poetry and prose (!) – and then I would ask them to write about something that they wanted to write about – using the genre or style that we had just explored. At the end of the course, I collected and published their work.

We modelled good academic practice as we discussed, criticised and argued our case - and each time they wrote they mastered a new genre – as later they would have to master the essay, report and presentation. But most importantly, they were interested and engaged – and when they wrote, I respected that they would have something of value to say. 


#4: Use collage
I found the production of my own collage intensely absorbing – it was hard work – but oh was I engaged with it. When I wrote the reflection I managed to tease out many more ideas – and to craft an argument together about what I had done and why. More reflection on the piece that I had produced, generated further insights… and this really was writing to learn. I am looking forward to bringing collage into my practice. A colleague and friend, Pauline Ridley, recommends the use of collage to get students more engaged with potential dissertations and projects – see her website for many ways to get the visual into teaching and learning: http://www.brighton.ac.uk/visuallearning/.

With project planning, she suggests that we get resources and students together – and invite them to channel their feelings about a course as they create their collages. Once they have produced the collage – they can step back and analyse it – and choose an engaging topic to explore – instead of researching something because it vaguely seems like a good idea.

I also want to use collage to give students more power and control over their learning. My plan is to insert a collage day about week six of a long course. At the beginning of the course I will herald this as a day of fun and excitement – and ask students to prepare for it by cutting words and pictures out of newspapers and magazines. On the day itself, I might divide the class in two – one half to use the words and pictures to reflect back on the learning that has already occurred – to summarise this highlighting the ideas, theories and concepts of most interest and significance to them. The other half could be invited to refer to their Handbooks and speculate on the learning to come – or to think about the learning that had occurred and how it can be used in the assignment. 

I am exploring here – so this will evolve before the session itself... Meanwhile some resources and tips for those who want to try this for themselves.


Collage resources
White glue & glue spreaders
Words and pictures cut from newspapers and magazines
Scissors
Card or large paper
Possibly acrylic paint or ink to add detail
Paint brushes – large, small and minuscule
Rollers
Cloths

Approaches
My approach was to weave the Surreal and the Da Da together – to explore an idea through chance and a lack of control – to create a picture with rhythm perhaps – but not in a controlled way.

I would suggest that you introduce notions of the Surreal – allow students to see what emerges when conscious control is let go. Show some images from Chagall, Arps, Duchamp and Miro to loosen them up. Students may not be aware of all they are engaging with and learning and the complexity of the whole University experience; Surreal collage allows some of this out for further consideration.

Possibly introduce elements of DaDa. Dadaism was a reaction to the destructiveness of World War. There could be no beauty in a time of such horror – no controlled and controlling art to soothe the senses Their anti-art was designed to confound and challenge the immensity of total war. Students may be reacting against academia and its control – and may need to explore that.

Random poetry generator
On the way to making my collage I became fascinated by the words that I cut out from the newspaper and put them in a clear plastic folder to see what you could read from them when they moved about kaleidoscopically within the bag. You could get your students to do the same to see how this sparks thoughts about the course and their learning to harness when producing their collages.

Tips
I did not over-think the laying out of the pieces – I sat down and very quickly chose pictures from my collection of small to medium pictures and lay them together, initially on a towel on the floor. I moved them till they looked good. I picked small pictures that I liked and placed them …

When the first rush was over – I saw that I needed some framing pieces. I got my large pictures and squeezed some under the top of the picture; some I cut up and used to frame the bottom.

I sketched this rough draft to get a sense of the overall shape and placing of pictures – but I was not going to stick to it rigidly – if different placings emerged as I made the next draft – then that would be okay.

I then started trimming the newspaper pictures and placing them on plywood (I did not have paper or card large enough) …spreading the glue and placing the pictures – sometimes rolling them flat – sometimes padding them flat.

Encourage this process in your students – allow it to be fun. Encourage them to be absorbed and work in silence if that suits them - or encourage them to explain what they were doing, the pictures they had chosen and why… as they are gluing the final pieces down.

When the students have finished producing their collages, they can present them to the class – using the reflective questions if you wish:
Describe the idea behind your artwork.  What story or message does it get across?  What does it mean to you?

Why did you create it?  What are your reasons for creating that specific art piece?  What do you want your audience to feel and think while observing it?

But notice
What might have happened as they produced their works, is that conversations about the course were taking place. The collaborative process here provides an hermeneutic or reflective space in which learning can happen – within themselves and between each other. At the end of the session not only have you modelled interactive and connectivist and collaborative learning – and good notemaking – and positive reflection … you should have some wonderful pictures to put up – or to photograph and place in your VLE – and your students should have a new energy and enthusiasm about each other – and about the course itself.

Your turn...


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