Transcript of Episode 3

Music

Julia Brennan:
Hi, I'm Julia Brennan and I'm Creative Arts Advisor for K-6 for the NSW Department of Education and today I'm with Leanne Carr who is the Education Manager at the Art Gallery of NSW. Welcome Leanne.

Leanne Carr:
Hello, how are you?

Julia:
Really nice to have you here and we'll talk a little bit more about you in just a second. But everybody out there if you're enjoying this podcast series and you'd like to subscribe make sure you go to soundcloud.com/primarycurriculum all one word and log in with your @education.nsw.gov.au account. You can also join via Facebook or else create your own SoundCloud account. So, I've invited Leanne here today because Leanne and I have been working together over the last couple of years in her capacity as Education Manager at the Art Gallery of NSW and it's just been fantastic for me. I came in for my very first tour around the art gallery with Leanne a couple of years ago and was just so inspired by hearing about her story and all of the things that she had to tell me and all the inspiring ways that she looked at the amazing artworks that are in the art gallery. You know she's been at the art gallery for twelve years now, an Education Manager for four years of that which is fantastic. And one of the exciting things that I discovered when I went there was that most of the artworks that I saw were actually up online. And how great is that for our teachers who can't necessarily get into the art gallery, let's say they're in a rural and remote setting and all of those artworks are up online that they can access freely, so that's fantastic. But, look I do go on and I'd love to hear more about your story Leanne and I'm sure everybody out there would like to hear that too. So, Leanne do you think you could share with us a little bit about how your arts education journey started?

Leanne Carr:
It's an interesting one I've always felt like art was part of my life. I used to really love art at school, it was one of those situations. I think you've heard these stories many times with people that live in the art world or work in the art world. It came naturally to me, it was something that I didn't think of not having in my life but then I did become a visual arts teacher for ten years. So, I was working in high schools for that amount of time and I think that was a really wonderful way to start any career because you really see the world in one classroom, you see so many diverse personalities and ways of looking at the world. And I used to love debating with kids about art and thinking about you know how we could approach making and talking about art and studying history etcetera. And then I started working at the art gallery, I did a few things in between that were in the creative arts field but then I worked at the gallery and it was really something that I was really attracted to because even in my teaching I knew the importance of looking at the original work of art and I would constantly have arguments with maths teachers, geography teachers about art excursions and I'd be you know putting my hand up and saying I have to take my Year 11s to the art gallery four times a year because they just have to see art all the time. And I was one of those teachers that also used to put up the scale of artworks, I used to get masking tape and say this is exactly how big artworks were. It was really important to me that they were connecting with an original piece of art. So, when I got a job at the gallery I was like, this was just so natural, this is something where I should have really been at. And I still love seeing kids being inspired by what we can offer. The difference I found too at the gallery is I don't have the world of art in my classroom, I have a collection to look at but I can get a really deep engagement with that collection. And as the exhibitions change you know we have to look at how we can best inspire students. And then it just sort of kicked from there and I've always been in arts education, I've always loved it, I still love it, it still inspires me because I see being in the arts as something where you're never just sort of sitting idle, you're always learning every day and if you have that open mind as many great teachers are they're learning every day with their students not just for their students.

Julia:
Leanne, you've sort of talked to us a little bit about how much the arts means to you but you know how has it influenced your life both professionally and personally?

Leanne:
I feel like I don't work like in a job, it's actually part of my life because if I'm doing a lot of creative thinking I work with a team of really talented people.

Julia:
Team work is so important isn't it?

Leanne:
It's fantastic. So, there's nothing that comes out of the gallery that hasn't been a team effort. So, we love working together and trying to pull things together in a creative way and trying to push the boundaries. There's never a day where we think 'Oh, we've done everything now'. It's always something to do, something that we can aim for. And I think when you're in the creative arts you are really trying to find, there is no end game but you're always aiming for it and that process, a process of building and discovering the world differently with your team or your colleagues is the most inspiring part. So, even with my own kids I'll say I'm not saying I'm going to work today I say I'm going to the gallery today. So, I never feel like I've ever had a job. I feel like I just work here.

Julia:
What I really picked up on just in that statement was the importance of process, it doesn't always have to be a product and we see that so often that people think I've got to create this incredible artwork by the end of my lesson. That's not about that is it?

Leanne:
Not at all, not at all. I think the process is where you really see those inspiring moments. And just recently we've had some school groups coming in from Western Sydney public schools and they were inspired by an artist called Christo and Jeanne-Claude and the wrapped coast and at the moment we have the Kaldor Public Art Projects fiftieth anniversary exhibition on making it public. The students are being inspired by the Christo work and I'm seeing these groups of Year 7 girls and boys depending on the school and they're creating these massive Christo works with easels and furniture and themselves, they're wrapping themselves and they're so into it, it's like they're in another world, they're not mucking around, they're not thinking or being distracted, they're so focused on creating these amazing pieces and they're so different and vast and then they're so proud of it when they talk about it to everybody else. So, I mean...

Julia:
So, they're sort of critically unpacking it afterwards and discussing it.

Leanne:
They own it. So, because of this collaboration or because of the process, the process is what's helping them to connect with their artwork so they're not just being told how to paint or draw which feels like someone's telling them how to be artistic, they become artistic themselves. So, then they own it and they're proud of it and then they want to show it to everybody. And it might not look perfect, it might have some rough edges but that's not about that, it's about building a self-esteem, thinking creatively because you want our kids from primary school to be creative thinkers. You want them to not be afraid of going out into the world and trying to fix or solve problems in anyway, it doesn't matter what career they go into.

Julia:
So, I think you've actually almost answered the next question. What is the power of the visual arts to you?

Leanne:
The power of the visual arts, well it inspires too, it doesn't have to be always something that you have to always learn from or with. We see many students that come in the gallery and just want to look at art and just enjoy looking at it. So, it has this great depth of understanding of art and you can really get something out of it by really understanding it but you can also just love it just by looking at it. And you can have a personal connection with it.

Julia:
Absolutely. The few times that I've gone into the gallery to meet you and I've sort of stood around afterwards and looked around and I just get lost, it's just mesmerising, you're sort of transported into it.

Leanne:
Yeah. And I have to say if I've got a block upstairs at my desk I'll walk around the gallery and that's where I find my answers. And I usually look at other kids too doing their thing and I realise 'Oh, okay I can see where we can make things better or things differently. Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.'

Julia:
So, do you think that's a theme that is with all of the arts. I mean obviously we don't have that visual impact of looking at an artwork in the other art forms but I guess we can look at performances and things like that in the other art forms. What's the common sort of general theme in the arts?

Leanne:
I suppose it's just about using your senses, all the senses is what an artist thinks about when they're creating visual arts but they're also doing that with music, with drama, they're not just blocking one sense out for another. It's all about how you encompass yourself as a whole and it's not just what you see, it's what you hear, what you even taste sometimes with art. Yeah and move and it's all about bringing all of those senses together and stimulating your brain in so many ways.

Julia:
Which is so important too because I think we do live in such a visually driven world with our devices and all that sort of stuff, we're constantly looking at all of that. So, to use those other senses is so important.

Leanne:
Absolutely, absolutely. And now with art too there's so many artists that work performative practice or they're looking at installation art. You know there's so many different art forms now that kids can really get into and get excited about.

Julia:
3D and textures.

Leanne:
Yeah, everything, absolutely.

Julia:
Fantastic. Look, in talking about all this though I mean you've obviously got a background in the arts and particularly visual arts, is it possible for a teacher who has got limited experience in the arts to you know make some headway in teaching the visual arts?

Leanne:
Yeah, of course, of course.

Julia:
How do you go about it?

Leanne:
Well, I suppose from my job too I've had the opportunity to meet so many different teachers that have come from all sorts of places from around the state, right across the state, even interstate and internationally. And you will always find there's a hesitation out of teachers that haven't had that sort of experience of art that I've had. And I've always been very respectful that they've come from a different journey. And I think if we just make sure as teachers that we keep an open mind and we just make little steps and it could just be coming to a professional learning day and just getting inspired maybe by one session of that day. Just going and keeping your mind open and thinking alright, I'm not into art, I'm really into sport or I'm really into maths but there could be something from this art professional learning day that could help me in my whole career.

Julia:
And what's great is you're really aware we're creating an online introduction to visual arts course so that's going to really help people out there too and we've been working hand in hand on that. Lots of lovely links to the gallery in there.

Leanne:
But I think it's like never just sort of disregard any experience. I used to always go into a professional learning program going okay, I'm going to learn something and I'm going to implement something from that day regardless of what it is, it could be a tiny thing, it could be the whole day into my practice when I go back into the classroom. And if you keep that open mind you will be able to take in a lot more influence from people around you.

Julia:
Let's say we don't have the opportunity to do some professional learning, how can we go about starting our journey in our own classrooms. Can you give us an example perhaps drawing on particular artworks?

Leanne:
Yeah, I mean looking at art is a nice, fantastic way to do it and I always encourage, I mean I am biased but I encourage that all teachers, primary teachers especially at Australian art collections. Sometimes you will go to the favourites like Van Gogh or Matisse or Monet, Picasso. And we've got some of those in the collection by the way but I always encourage that you should be looking at art that kids can see. So, even if you can't get to an excursion, to any of those state galleries that you look at, you can at least get a resource that you know is up to date on our website. All our collection has web pages like you mentioned before and curators are constantly updating that information to make sure it's all very accurate but also kids can also come with their families which they constantly do into the gallery.

Julia:
They can go to their local gallery if they're in a regional area.

Leanne:
Absolutely and I've always even encouraged if you don't have a local gallery close, if you don't have a state gallery close you can do things online but try and see original art and there's always a public sculpture somewhere in the town or the area, even town halls have art. There's art somewhere where you can see it but there's also touring shows, so we do a lot of touring shows.

Julia:
There's community members within our school.

Leanne:
Yeah, absolutely. You can have your own exhibition, have a competition for kids you know and that will bring artists that are in the community to the school, get in touch with what's going on in your own place.

Julia:
Australian artists can you give us a few names that perhaps we really should be looking at.

Leanne:
Yeah, I mean I always like encouraging female artists too, so you could look at Grace Cossington Smith, that's a nice, fantastic artist who worked in the early 20th century and Margaret Preston. There's a whole lot of information on those artists but also just their work is very interesting. One of my favourite artists is Rosalie Gascoigne and Rosalie Gascoigne is a bit later in the 20th century and she started her art making much later in life. I think she was in her late fifties in fact but she said that her training to become an artist by the time she got to fifty seven say when she started was that she was always looking, always looking at the world and that was her inspiration. And one of the things she said that she always had restless hands. And I always like thinking about Rosalie Gascoigne when I think about kids because they're always quite restless, they're jumping out of their skin sometimes when they come to the gallery because they're so excited about what they're seeing and they want to be part of the conversation. But she always had restless hands and her work is all about looking at the found object. So, she finds these pieces that have been discarded in the environment or in the community and then she recreates them into art. And what I love about that is you can see where the history of that object came from but now it's become new and there's a new history with that artwork and then it reminds us of things that we see every day. So, for example there's a work that she's created called 'Metropolis' she created in the late nineties and it's made of old road signs. So, it's just yellow and black letters and the letters have now been reformed to look like new words or even abstract. So, now all of a sudden a functional symbol or shape which always makes art a spelling or a word has now been rearranged and you have to sort of try and figure out what it says and then it becomes abstract. So, now they've just become forms. And then you start thinking about what is literacy and how you pull literacy together. And we create some activities for primary kids with that work where they have to find letters and recreate words out of those letters and then also think about what it means and so how do the words in the artwork respond to what they think it's talking about. Everyone's looking at the same artwork and everyone's got the same ambition. So, if you all say 'Right, everyone write a sentence that has to do with the letters in that work'. They're all the same instruction but they'll all be different outcomes.

Julia:
Okay, now let's talk about that with artworks because that's a bit of a bug bear with me. It makes me upset when I see artworks that are all identical hanging in a classroom.

Leanne:
Yeah.

Julia:
How do we go about this? Like we're giving the same instructions as you said, how do we go about getting different artworks? Talk us through that.

Leanne:
You have to not try and offer the outcome to the students. So, if you have a printout and you say 'I want you just to do your own thing in the printout'. The printout has already gone too far, what you need to say in fact is you have to think about the material you use, you can use the same materials, you could use the same amount of materials. It could just be use three colours or use five colours, you could still go through maybe the colour wheel or something that you feel you want to have some foundational knowledge in. But the outcome could be but you know paint a picture of spring or summer or autumn or winter, it doesn't have to be everyone draw the same picture but use you know different colours in variations. Just think, I always tend to think for especially with primary when you feel like you really need to have some sort of foundational understanding, you think about why you're doing it, you think about why am I making this artwork'Is it just to tick a box or is it to inspire? Is it to make us feel connected with art'And if it is to connect with art, every student should be creating a different outcome. And it doesn't have to be neat. And I know that can be difficult sometimes in a primary classroom when you're doing so many different subjects in that same room. You might not be going to an art specialist room, you're just working in your own classroom so you want something to look nice on the wall but you can also create things that are collaborative. You could have pieces that are created by each student and then put them up as a huge mural work. You don't have to have them all identical. And also don't be afraid of sculpture and don't be afraid of performance or sound art and that's where you might have to do a bit more reading, look at resources online. We've got heaps of resources online.

Julia:
Well, that links really well with all the other art forms too, doesn't it?

Leanne:
Exactly and we've been talking a lot about STEAM too in the classroom and in the gallery especially and how do we incorporate looking at science and technology, engineering, maths and art you know together and how is it creative? So, you know it's all exciting if you just open your mind just be brave, a little bit brave.

Julia:
So, speaking of braveness, any examples leaping out at you of some incredible things that you've seen produced by primary school students?

Leanne:
Yeah, there's been some really interesting work like we do this program called art box and the art boxes have all these little devices in them and even like small things like for example we've got a microphone in there. And when you give a kid a microphone they just change, it's amazing and we get them to be like the person that has to be the expert on what they're seeing and they'never seen the work. But they're amazing at being the expert at it and they have turns in being that. Or I've seen them being wrapped up in butcher paper with you know the children's guides or the artist educators that we have on staff. And you have these like kids that are just pulling these artworks together and they're not questioning what art is and I think sometimes we think that our own definition of art as an older person when we have our own sort of understanding of the world in a different way. Kids are still open and still sponges. So, when we say you know oh this little sort of sculpture in the corner is an artwork and this painting is an artwork and this performance is an artwork, they're like yeah, okay I get that. It's sometimes our own limitations that slow us down but the kids don't need to slow down, they in fact can also help us to understand what it is, yeah. So, we see a lot of kids doing some amazing work in the gallery a lot in front of original artworks which is what we love.

Julia:
Leanne, I want to talk a little bit about Aboriginal art. So, we so often see and hear about dot paintings and very limited colour patterns and copying artworks. Some schools will avoid it altogether because they don't want to do the wrong thing. Now, I love those artworks that you see in some situations where they've drawn inspiration from Aboriginal artworks or Aboriginal experiences or stories and they tell those stories without copying. Can you give us some examples of some Aboriginal art that have really inspired you or Aboriginal inspired art that you may have seen from primary teachers or students?

Leanne:
We have seen some fantastic examples through our work with teachers from public schools across Sydney as part of the Koori art expressions project and that's part of the Department of Education and it's an annual exhibition of student artwork that is created in response to the theme from NAIDOC week. And since 2009 we've been running this professional learning day and we've had some fantastic examples come out of that program. And what these teachers do is they engage with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art from our collections and they have talks from our curators, educators, indigenous educators, key artists etcetera because it's really important to have that authentic voice in the process and then you start to see the rich learning experiences that teachers can engage with in the classroom and they're very doable ideas and activities. I think people sometimes are quite afraid to start, they're not quite sure where to start. And so this is a space where I really feel that teachers do need to either look at our online resources which have been created by our curators, by indigenous educators and by our specialists where we are really unpacking how to look at an Aboriginal artwork, how to engage with it in art making as well for primary teachers.

Julia:
It sounds like a really valuable resource.

Leanne:
Yeah and I think you shouldn't be afraid to not keep learning about it, this is where we really need to not just rely on a professional learning day or a resource you might have looked at ten years ago, you really need to keep your knowledge up and you really need to have more current and dynamic experiences and come to either learning days or look at resources all the time because it is evolving and changing like all art. You know when I started teaching I was teaching artists in my first year that by the ninth or tenth year I was teaching completely different artists. I was constantly relearning, relearning. And this is where in this space especially you should be really looking at that and engaging. But there's some fantastic resources and programs that are running through the department, through the gallery, you know through the home program.

Julia:
It is all about, you know there is a video, is online on the department page, our curriculum page which is called 'Beyond the dots' and it is about moving beyond the dots and really about thought and thinking and inspiration and those sort of things.

Leanne:
Exactly. The diversity of the practice of the art making runs across Australia, there's all different types of approaches and we shouldn't just be relying on one thing and we should be thinking in a more broad way, more contemporary way. So, that's really important. Yeah, just to keep your knowledge up. So, I expect you all to come to the gallery.

Julia:
So, talking about the gallery, tell us what an average day in the gallery might look like because so many people want to know what you do all day, every day.

Leanne:
Well, the gallery doors actually open at ten o'clock. So, we have the pleasure of looking at behind the scenes for an hour before the doors open and that's usually when the curators have their specialist brushes and they're dusting all the sculptures or they're looking at the frames or they're doing all their you know touch ups etcetera, whatever they have to do. And then you've got installation crews moving artworks around with their big cherry pickers. And you've got exhibition managers and curators all sort of also there in the entourage. And then we'll start looking at, security will start turning up, they're there 24/7 by the way. But in terms of the day security they'll start having their meetings, front of house will do the same and then we'll start looking at when the school program is going to start and have welcome hosts start getting prepared at the front etcetera. So, all of that happens and then the doors open. And then my favourite time in the day is when the primary kids come in because it's always about how excited they look when they come in and they look up and they look around and they just can't believe where they are and it's really exciting that they still get a buzz out of coming to the gallery. So, I love that moment when the front doors open.

Julia:
Who are some of the amazing people you've worked with. I know when I went in every time I go into the gallery I get a bit star struck.

Leanne:
Well, yeah I mean yesterday I had a few star struck moments. I had while we were doing that big project I was mentioning I had John Kaldor was with me that day and he was part of the program, he wanted to talk to the students because he loves talking to kids and about Kaldor projects. And then Ben Quilty came down the escalators and Gretel Packer was there.

Julia:
Name dropping!

Leanne:
I'm sorry, you asked me, you asked me.

Julia:
Exactly.

Leanne:
But I mean you know my biggest inspiration is actually my team, my team is the most talented team in the whole gallery, I'm not biased, yes I am, I'm sure I am, but they are incredibly talented and they inspire me every day. So, it doesn't have to be a name but it is definitely, we do see the artists are walking around and it's really great to have conversations with them and they really love to know what we're doing in education. So, we are very connected to the arts.

Julia:
That's fantastic that they really are inspired by what you're doing in education, they're realising that's their future.

Leanne:
That's right, that's right, they're passionate about how kids respond to their work and if they're contemporary artists they just really want to know what's going on. So, it's fabulous, yeah.

Julia:
Yeah, great. Look, I'd like to sort of wrap up but before we do that you know very well that my favourite artist is Jeffrey Smart we've talked about ...

Leanne:
Yes.

Julia:
... on numerous occasions and I love his fascination with geometry and the Australian landscape but looking at it in such different and surreal sort of eyes. Who's your favourite artist and why?

Leanne:
People ask me this a lot, it's really hard because it moves and changes and shifts around but I do love the females I have to say, I'm going to stick with the female theme this time around. So Rosalie Gascoigne is on top of my list I think. I think Rosemary Laing, a photographer does some amazing work, I really love her work, it really explores environment and looking at the world a bit differently. I always seem to get attracted to artists who do that sort of thing. There's some little favourites in there like I suppose the Picasso, the Picasso is sort of cool, people always look for that and just to have a Picasso in the collection is pretty nice. The Australians, you know there's some really amazing Australian artists that I like, Frederick McCubbin or just I don't know there's so many, I don't know. I think Margaret Preston and Grace Cossington Smith are sort of like the female champions of the 20th century. So, I think that they're really something that everybody should be inspired by, so it's really good.

Julia:
Now, just before we close have you got any inspiring last words or messages that you would like to say to students or teachers mainly who will be out there listening to today's podcast.

Leanne:
That art is part of your life, it's not just a subject, it teaches you about who you are. Students would come and say you know in maths I learn about maths and that's great. You know I get a lot of knowledge out of that but when I do art I learn about myself. And when you know that art is so powerful that in fact can change or influence your personality and your character and how you see the world then I mean I think we're doing the right thing.

Julia:
Thank you again Leanne Carr for coming in from the Art Gallery of NSW. It's been absolutely lovely to have you here today and you're very wise and I've learnt so much through our conversations, not just today but in the past.

Leanne:
Well, you too darling you're very inspiring too and do some great work. Well done.

Julia:
Thanks. If you enjoyed listening to today's podcast and you'd like to subscribe remember you can go to soundcloud.com/primarycurriculum and sign in with your @education.nsw.gov.au account or go through Facebook or create your own SoundCloud account and make sure you press on the orange follow button. Look forward to talking to you again soon.

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