Transcript of visual arts
This transcript has been edited slightly for clarity. Listen to the Visual arts podcast (31:35).
Jackie – The following podcast is brought to you by the Creative Arts Curriculum Team from Curriculum Secondary Learners, Educational Standards Directorate of the New South Wales Department of Education.
As we commence this podcast today, let us acknowledge the traditional custodians of all the lands on which this podcast will be played, for they have performed age old ceremonies of storytelling, music, dance and renewal, and along with all Aboriginal people hold the memories, the traditions, the culture and the hopes of Aboriginal Australia. Let us also acknowledge this living culture and its unique role in the life of Australia today. Let us acknowledge with honour and respect our elders, past, present and future, especially those Aboriginal people in our presence today who have and still do guide us with their wisdom.
Alex – Hello and welcome to Creative Cast, the official podcast of the New South Wales Department of Education's Creative Arts Curriculum Team. My name is Alex Papasavvas and I'm a visual artist teacher and Creative Arts Curriculum Officer. Today I'll be speaking with two other visual arts teachers Tamara Laurie of Dubbo School of Distance Education and Jessica McCarthy of Mosman High School. I’ll be asking them to reflect on their experiences in the classroom in 2021 and consider the question where to from here.
Tamara, by way of introduction, could you tell us a little about your teaching background and your school context, particularly for listeners who might not be aware of how things work at the Dubbo School of Distance Education.
Tamara – I teach in Dubbo School of Distance Education and I predominantly teach across rule and remote New South Wales. Recently I actually calculated that I teach across 28 different or I have taught across 28 different rule and remote schools delivering primarily Stage 6 visual arts programs. But I also teach P. D. M, P. V. D. I, visual design and across 7 to 12. We have students that have medical issues that prevent them from attending school. We have students from the national school for the traveling shows. We have extraordinary circumstance enrolments, we have students with significant support needs, we have transition students with significant support needs and students that are temporarily traveling overseas and residing overseas. We have pregnant and young parents, students and we have geographically isolated students and travellers. I thought that was interesting to see our enrolment.
Alex – That's such an incredible diversity of student enrolments. How interesting!
Tamara – It is very interesting. Part of my job that I particularly enjoy is going out and actually working with the students, which is one of the joys of face to face.
Alex – Thank you so much. and Jess. What can you tell us about your teaching career and the art department at Mosman High School which I understand is located in an enviable location in a heritage listed building.
Jessica – Yes, so Mossman High School is a pretty fantastic place to work out. I've been here for 16 years. I have this incredible classroom with amazingly high ceilings and this massive, massive space. We're very lucky. We have students that come into year seven and eight for a selective gifted visual arts program. So, they get extra lessons in visual arts in year seven and eight and we run an extension class for them where they get experiences that are different to the mandatory course. I teach visual arts, I have taught year 12 however, at the moment, because I'm Head Teacher Teaching and Learning and I have a really massive focus on teaching stem and cross curricular courses, my focus is a lot more on Stage 5. So, I have shifted away from teaching Stage 6 at this point in time, however, definitely collaborate within my faculty. So yeah, I have access to such incredible resources. I've got 3D printers, laser cutters in my classroom, digital technologies, we've got a dark room. Yes, it is a fantastic, fantastic school with some really amazing facilities and I definitely am very lucky here.
Alex – That all sounds very exciting. I'd love to have access to a lot of that stuff. Now, in preparation for this podcast, I asked you both to provide a quick account of one of your favourite artists or artworks and in the interest of fairness, I thought I should go first. I've chosen Jonathan Jones and one of his artworks from 2015 called naa, which is an Eora word meaning to see or look. This artwork occupied a large wall at the MCA in Sydney and is comprised of a large number of white fluorescent light tubes arranged onto the wall in a way that resembles a long exposure photograph of star trails. And I think this is a great example of the way that Jonathan Jones connects his conceptual and material practice to his investigations of site, culture and history. The star trails represented here reflect those seen from the site of Warrane or Sydney Cove where the MCA is located. But Jones asks us to take a step further and consider the narrative of Lieutenant William Dawes, the first fleet astronomer who worked from this site and who also engaged in a number of cultural exchanges with Eora people including a woman named Patyegarang from whom he learned language. A great example of Jonathan Jones’ practice of using materials in a way that echo the minimalism of the 1960s. And I'm referring to those fluorescent light tubes while also embedding deep conceptual layers that invite audiences to learn more about history and culture. So, staying in the Sydney region, Jess, what artwork have you chosen to share with us today?
Jessica – I think particularly since lockdown has occurred and I've probably spent way too much time on social media, I have become a lot more involved in and really enjoying watching artists’ practice from behind the scenes. So, I've been on Tik Tok a lot more, on Instagram and I've fallen in love with the work of CJ Hendry. C. J. Henry is this young female artists in America who works in coloured pencil photo realistic drawing. I think the reason I love her work is that it amazes me every time I look at it. But the beautiful thing is she allows us to come on this journey with her on social media to reveal how she creates the works as well as entering into a dialogue about why or her themes. And even like at the moment she's creating a new exhibition called Blonde and it's all wigs and they're all drawn in coloured pencil and her exhibition invite is a laser cut comb. So, she's sending out combs to people to come to the exhibition. And I just love that idea of being able to be somewhere so involved in the artist practice. And I guess in learning about her work, she just had this act or a performance that she just did about copyright infringement. So, I didn't realise it was her who had done this. But I had heard this story and I've linked two and two together. She did a photo realistic drawing of I think Andy Warhol and Basquiat and I think, I don't know who told her to, but somebody said you need to destroy that work. Your copyright infringement, it's not appropriate. And so, she did a video of herself spray painting over the top of that work. And so, she's developed this as a response to that, a body of work called copyright infringement. And she's made like cups and T shirts and she makes little red boxes or different installation things and she places them all around the world and through her Instagram and Tik Tok, she tells you where she's put them. So, she's got a video showing the location and even videos of people coming and like grabbing the box and taking them away. So, they essentially own a piece of her artwork. So, it's this great dialogue for students. Not only is her artistic practice just incredible in her ability to manipulate materials, but she also creates this amazing dialogue about why we make art, who's the owner of art, what's originality, what's technique, how do we view work change? Because if you look at her work on the screen, you just go, oh yeah, that's a paint blob. And then when you look at her drawing her work, the scale of it is massive and you really become involved and impacted by how has she actually created that. So, I just, I love that. And I love the behind the scenes and I love the social media. I think it's really accessible for students as well as just being.
Alex – I have heard of these as hyper realistic drawings, but I hadn't heard about some of these other things that you said she's been doing out there in the real world. I also really like the idea of receiving a comb in the mail. Yeah, just as an aside. Very interesting. Thanks Jess. How about you Tamara? What particular artists have you brought for us today?
Tamara – Thank you Jess. I did think that was quite amazing. And I also really appreciate the work of Jonathan Jones, Alex. I've been quite enthralled by Australian sculptors, particularly women sculptors. Karla Dickens, Meghan Cope and Caroline Rothwell. And today I thought I'd talk about Caroline Rothwell. She's quite a significant sculptor on the Australian art scene. Her work's been at Martin Place, the little bronze children. So, people may not realize that this is her work. She's been in the Wynne Prize and the Sulman Prize as a sculptor, which is a little unusual. They're mainly painting prizes. In 2020 she had to work on the M. C. A terrace called Composer in 2016 from memory. And I don't have a picture of it in front of me. It was a beautiful silver, almost sort of woven, not woven but a stitch sort of cult like sculpture that was commenting on climate change. And it was like a weathervane that moved around the harbour. Her early work, I was really quite enthralled with her early work where she was collecting carbon emissions and OHS wise perhaps not the safest thing to do, which you know, she's embedded more into her practice more recently, but using carbon emissions and mixing them with binders to create these beautiful detailed drawings of plants. She's really interested in that connection between art and science. So, she's looked at also pervasive weeds and strict stitching weeds. I think she was talking about being friends with Ben Quilty one time and having him take photos of weeds in Afghanistan when he was on a trip over there to do his commissioned work. So, he would send pictures of the weeds back to her. And she was interested in that invasion of borders and how weeds may represent that. Going to the Univsersity of Arts in London had a big influence on her. And Cornelia Parker was one of her lecturers. I'm also really interested in the way she creates these inflatable sculptures. So, you know, the big inflatables that you can blow up and then you can fold them up at the end of an exhibition, interesting artist to have a look at.
Alex – Great, thank you Tamara. And I think one of the best things we can do is visual art teachers is just tell each other about our favourite artists sometimes, because that's often where I learn about new practitioners that I might not have heard before, or ones that I had heard of, but not really taken in certain aspects of their practice. That as an art teacher, sometimes, I just really zero in on stuff that I think would be interesting or useful in my classroom. But now let's shift the tone to something a little bit more serious. So, we know that 2020 to 2021 was unprecedented in terms of disruptions to our usual teaching practices and that's really affected everything from everyday classroom practice, to the kind of activities we program for, all the way through to their body of work being marked internally for two consecutive years. So, I want to know what this has looked like in your settings. How did you cope, what changes did you make and what was successful? What were you able to do differently in 2021 versus 2020? I'd love to hear about one big challenge and one big success from the remote learning period. Jess, you're in Sydney and I know you've had an extended period of remote learning through that long Sydney lockdown. What can you tell us about the way you manage that change?
Jessica – I think there are so many interesting things about that lockdown. So, I guess we sort of saw it coming and in that last week of term, in the executive, we had the directive to make sure there was at least a unit of work that could go online. We had already implemented some really great systems practice from the year before, and we replicated those and made sure we were still following those. So, we created this system, we were using google classroom at my school and I don't know if it's a system, but anyway, we made these slides on google slides that essentially became modules and we worked students through each step of a unit of work. So, in Stage four we have four periods of fortnight. So, a module was designed to be for four periods or four lessons and could be worked through. So, what we did was we distributed those modules as google slides on google classroom. They had interactive activities within those google slides and students had to upload their work into the google slides. It gave us the opportunity to give feedback interactively into those slides, it gave them content, it gave them examples of work to look at, it gave them youtube videos, podcasts, articles to read. So, it's sort of all encompassed our teaching practice into these google slides at my school. We had to log on for zoom roll call at the beginning of every lesson and it was I think the good part about it was I really liked working in this way where students actually got the work prior to the learning or they could work at their own pace. So, it was really nice to set a nice space for students. I thought that was really excellent. The resources we designed and created were so usable and we're definitely going to keep using them again, like we used them from last year to this year and then we've rebuilt upon that. We've also embedded into that like us making artworks and talking through them.
I think the biggest challenge that we found was, and you realize how much you appreciate being in your classroom or having this built into what we do, is that incidental feedback. When you say do a drawing, students felt like they had to do a complete drawing or something had to be finished before they shared the work. It was such a battle to get students to show me their progress. And I said, my job is to give you ongoing feedback to learn how to do this. Your work is not meant to be good every time you create it, it's not meant to be finished every lesson. I want to see that progress to give you feedback, advice, strategies, ideas, positive reinforcement. And it was like pulling teeth to get kids to show their work so that I found that the most challenging, and having that dialogue with students all the time, like or even realizing if one student struggling that you can stop the class and share a strategy across that whole class, it was ongoing online feedback where you're typing feedback and I felt like I ended up typing similar things all the time and you couldn't just collectively share that feedback because you weren't in that one, that collaborative space.
Alex – It must be hard to replicate those kind of moments that you have in the classroom where you walk past the desk and what that student is doing sparks up a feedback conversation, either just with them or as you say, a moment where you stop everyone and say, wow, I just thought of something great, this student has done it, we should all stop and think about this for a moment and then proceed with the rest of the art making.
Jessica – Yeah, and you just really appreciate that is so much about that direction and that students really need that because they don't know how to grow unless they have that dialogue. So that was definitely challenging. But I think some of the good parts was because we designed these slides, so we had students inserting their work and I tried to build in a place of progress image, I shared a lot more work. So I shared student, like shared the screen, so where kids would probably be working in isolation at their desk, I actively use that share screen function a lot and shared their work and students that may never have had a voice in the classroom, their work could be celebrated across that cohort and they didn't get the choice to share it or not, and I don't know if that's a good thing or a bad thing, but I mean, I always say art is meant to be seen, it's meant to be seen by an audience and it's meant to provoke a conversation. So, for those students that perhaps were afraid to show their work, I forcibly showed their work, I guess, and everybody when they did share their work, they really got that sense of achievement by realizing that they were on the right track or when other students said, wow, that's really good. So, you know, it had its pluses and minuses for sure and definitely it's challenges like limitations of materials. I had a kid and I said, okay, we're going to grab a piece of paper and a pencil, I don't have one, would you have something to draw with? And he came back and he's like, okay, I found something, I'm like, what are you drawing on? It was a beer carton with permanent marker. That was all he had was this ripped piece of cardboard and a permanent marker and he's drawing was phenomenal. So, you know, sometimes you work well with those limitations too.
Alex – That takes me back to, is it from a Banjo Paterson poem, the thumbnail dipped in tar. Sometimes I’ve thought, what would that look like in the art classroom? Probably very messy I think. So, Tamara, Dubbo had its own lockdown didn't it, that went for over a month, but of course you already do your own version of remote learning as a standard practice in distance education. So, I'm really curious about what aspects of your teaching were most affected by the various lockdowns across the state. Were those existing structures in distance education helpful in mitigating a challenging situation or where there still major hurdles that had to be overcome. What can you tell me about your particular challenges and successes in 2021?
Tamara – I really enjoyed listening to Jess talking about the successes of individual students through learning remotely being able to share and getting that more personalised feedback. I think that's one of the beauties of teaching distance education is that, you know, students are their own person and they don't have that classroom context to negotiate. But we're very lucky that through lockdown announcement for about three months I think. So, we already deliver blended learning. We have courses on Canvas and I deliver lessons via Teams each week to groups of students and individually. I was quite pleased to see when all of my students from single course schools because I predominantly teach Stage 6 and the students are at single course schools and already have a timetable so I can't get them all in the one lesson but when they were at home I could get them all in the one lesson until their schools imposed a new timetable. But it's really lovely to get all of the students together. So that was a nice thing about being in lockdown, that we could actually all have a lesson together and you know, that's really important to talk about your bodies of work and get some peer feedback. Yeah, that was a lot easier. Even though, you know, we do do that sort of thing through shared documents and we do occasionally have our Teams meeting and we do have exhibitions online where we can see one another's work and provide feedback that way. One of the challenges that I had was in getting materials to the students. We usually send out packs, but we couldn't use the mail room and as it's blended learning as you can imagine it, some people find it a challenge to be learning online all the time, going through big case studies and lots of reading, so I do support my teaching through sending out written case study booklets as well, so that was not possible through lockdown. We also missed out on doing workshops. That was one of the difficulties, because one of the really important things that I do at distance ed that I value and students value is that I can go out and actually work one on one with students or in small groups in area workshops and deliver skills because that's not something that you can do online. Although today as I was telling you Alex before, I did my first online workshop for the full day, so I had a student on the tv screen that's behind me and I painted, she painted, and I tried to demonstrate, it was really successful. We worked together for the full day and I think she really got a lot out of that day and students do get a lot out of working one on one with a teacher for a full day, it's something that you would love to have in a classroom and that sometimes, you know, be that make or break for that student for the year, but I offer three workshops, probably a term that they can either come here or I go out there. And that was something that didn't happen through covid 19. So, those students in year 11 and 12 sort of missed out on those opportunities to build skills.
Alex – When you say you usually do around three workshops per term and the students choose which ones to come in for, does this mean that you're doing these centrally based around what you think the particular skills, material techniques, your students will need?
Tamara – Well, you have to organise it based on the workshops. The needs are supposed in the interests of students, particularly for HSC. And in my preliminary course, I go through a range of 2D and 3D art making workshops. So, I give the students those opportunities to develop skills in those different forms as per the syllabus, and then they build on from there and they make their own choices and the actual workshops, I do give them choices in what I deliver when I go out there, but often they don't know what they want to do until they have an experience in it. And then they grow from there as you know, you know, making is very intuitive and creative, it's offering those opportunities and also teaching them about material practices and what materials they can use because they don't have art shops out in the Western region. They don't have access to materials. They can't, you know, they don't know what good paper is or quality of materials and are quite limited in their experience materially.
Alex – Sure. And what about the HSC you had an HSC class this year, Tamara?
Tamara – Yes, I do have an HSC class this year. So, some of them were impacted and some of them were impacted and didn't realize that they were impacted. I think they felt a little bit disheartened, they got a bit disheartened when they couldn't have workshops and then they couldn't get the materials. And so, you know, they started to give up where, you know, you're constantly trying to build them up and build up their ideas and you know, towards the end, this HSC has sort of gone on forever and they still haven't finished and it's still impacting, you know, my students doing the compressed model who are starting next week. So, the student I taught today is actually sitting the HSC in a couple of weeks, but also continuing with visual arts and starting new compressed subjects. So, it's really impacting on them for the next year as well.
Alex – Very difficult. And I think a lot of teachers would have had the experience this year of their Year 12 class of 2021, still sort of dealing with the fact that they were also impacted as year 11s in 2020. Some big challenges there. So, let's come around now to the big philosophical question for this episode, where to from here? I want to know from both of you what your big plans are for 2022. What have you had to put on hold this year that you're looking forward to picking back up and what changes to your teaching practice from the last two years are you looking to maintain or improve on into the post lockdown period? Tamara, where to from here?
Tamara – Well, I had a Stage 6 visual arts senior study day with exploring culture with Abdul Abdullah and Mervyn Bishop, booked for term three to inspire Stage 6 students starting the HSC course and that's been postponed until next year. So, I'm looking forward to having that term one. I'm looking forward to using Teams more interactively. We're very flexible with our delivery because you know, not everybody has access to the same thing. So, we sort of work across a lot of platforms. But I'm trying to direct all of my students into Teams and saving files and Canvas also, we deliver our programs on Canvas. I'm hoping the National Art School programs are running next year because my students love to go down there and worked intensively and I look forward to running more workshops here at distance education and also going out and visiting students face to face. And ultimately we're doing it online. But it's a little bit more challenging because I have to get them the materials to be able to do the work online. Yes, so hopefully we get to do more art making.
Alex – I think more art making is usually a good idea. And finally Jess, what are your big plans for 2021, and what changes from the last two years are you looking to keep?
Jessica – I found a really massive shift in I guess the creation and development of art works and how I deliver theory work. So previously definitely in year seven, like I am a massive tech guru, like I love using technology, I have virtual reality that I use in my classroom, I do 3D modeling and game design. So, I do a lot of digital work and I love it but I still always felt like the tactile nature of using a visual arts process diary and having students do their theory tasks in year 7/8 as a written task. Like getting them into the love of writing and we design really nice worksheets and assessment tasks that also look nice, that really helped them work through text and as you said, Tamara, about reading on papers of highlighting and learning how to do summary and note taking, you know, using Cornell note taking system and all those sort of things. The strategies that I put in place. However, working online, actually we developed new strategies and new approaches to that written component of the task that I actually think allows for a lot more flexibility and differentiation as much as they're reading, potentially on the screen. We still actually taught them how to highlight and read on a screen, had a note take and summarise on a screen, how to use those digital tools to still be able to accomplish those results. Some of our written tasks we did on google forms and they are really, really great to mark and give feedback and distribute back to students. So, there's aspects of that that I wouldn't take away. Also the ability to enter into, as I was saying about students that don't always speak up in the classroom, entering into a dialogue with students in an online forum. Sometimes students without a voice in the classroom actually ask questions and they feel more confident. They're really polite. I found it really nice, like you give them feedback and then they reply with a thank you and they don't, it's not that they're not polite, it's not that they're not polite in the classroom, but they do appreciate that one on one feedback. So, I think embedding that more is really important. I think planning still has to happen in the visual arts process diary, but I think having those key practitioners in interactive resources for students to work through in their ideation phase of art making is really going to be changed. I'm going to change that more. And I think for me, the process, I will become a little bit more fluid and a bit more of that digital tool as I said, I know we need drawing and paper and I think that's all part of it, but I don't now see the point in necessarily photocopying worksheets and getting students to glue them into their art diaries because I don't think that's going to facilitate learning. I think this flexibility is just so wonderful and timely. Like we can find a Youtube link and send it to the students and they can watch it and then be so much more engaged and involved. I think that's great. I'm really excited to have exhibitions back in our classroom. So, our art block usually gets transformed into an exhibition. As I said, I have a really big, we have really big spaces and we usually put artworks up on the wall and I felt like this year I've had so little resolved artworks that even the works that students have brought back from being online, I can't put up, there's not a lot of work to put up onto the wallet and have enough work to share. And I really like to start my year, usually with artworks up on the wall from the exhibition, for example, 2021 into 2022 and I miss having that. I miss being surrounded by the product of learning. So, I'm really excited to have that back because that tangibility for students to realize that this is not just something we talk about and think about, this is something you get to do and make. So that will be really nice. Although as I said once again we did create a virtual reality art exhibition, we did that in 2020 and I've done that again in 2021. So, we've had a special 360 degree camera come through our building with the Year 12 artworks up so that they can have a lasting memory of their works in situ, which is once again is pretty wonderful.
Alex – The 3D model of the Mossman High School art building block is pretty impressive. Very lucky. I wish I had one of my own. That brings us to the conclusion of this episode. So, I'd like to offer my deepest thanks to Tamara Lawry and Jess McCarthy for taking time out of their classrooms to speak with me today. It has been fascinating. Thank you both.
Jackie – This podcast was brought to you by the Creative Arts Curriculum Team of Curriculum Secondary Learners, Educational Standards Directorate of the New South Wales Department of Education. Get involved in the conversation by joining our statewide staff room through the link in the show notes or email our Creative Arts Curriculum Advisor, Cathryn Horvat at firstname.lastname@example.org. The music for this podcast was composed by Alexander McWhirter of Coonabarabran High School and the promotional tile designed by Kaitlyn Scott from Winmalee High School.
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