Transcript of Visual arts topics

This transcript has been edited slightly for clarity. Listen to the podcast (30:18).

Jackie – The following podcast is brought to you by the Creative Arts Curriculum Team from 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 around New South Wales. Their art, storytelling, music and dance along with all First Nations people hold the memories, the traditions, the culture and hopes of Aboriginal Australia. 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 – Welcome to the Creative Cast Podcast series. My name is Alex Papasavvas and I'm a creative arts curriculum officer with the New South Wales Department of Education. The area for discussion today is 'let's talk topics' and I'll be speaking to two visual art teachers from opposite ends of the state to hear about their approaches to programming - what activities and artists they like to use, especially early on in the stage 4 mandatory course.

My first guest is Alison Jones from Willyama High School in the remote western New South Wales town of Broken Hill. Hello, Alison. Could I get you to start by telling us a little bit about yourself and your teaching background?

Alison – Hi, Alex. I am the head teacher of Creative and Performing Arts here at Willyama High School. I've been at Willyama High School for 22 - 23 years now. I originally came out west to visit a friend, and I was planning on staying for three weeks, and there must have been something about the place. I really enjoyed doing casual work at the school, so I stuck with it, and it was a great way to get a permanent job in visual arts. If anyone is interested in finding out how to fast track your way into a permanent visual arts job, it would be to definitely go beyond the Blue Mountains. So I teach visual arts and photography at Stage 4 and Stage 5 and Stage 6 levels.

Alex – Great. Thank you for that. So, we're part way through term one at the moment, and I always find the start of term one to be pretty exciting when we get to meet our new classes for the year, especially when they come into Stage 4 visual arts for the first time. For a lot of students, that might be the first time they think of or experience visual arts as a standalone subject. Alison, do you have a particular unit or activities or an artist study that you find to be really effective in that first term of the mandatory course?

Alison – We get our mandatory art students in Year 8, and we have all of their mandatory hours within Year 8, so we get to see them quite often. So we get six 53 minute periods with them in a fortnight, and we spend the first half of the term looking at learning about the frames, and we do a lot of little exercises using the elements of art so that they can start to understand how they will go together to make artworks.

Alex – So you have a lot of different, sort of smaller activities that you like to string together for the term to get them used to the studio, working with materials for the first time?

Alison – We just spend one or two lessons on an element. So, for example, the first thing we get to do is we introduce the elements of art to students and then we have them create a title page in their visual arts diaries that utilizes all of the elements to the best of their ability and then after that, we focus on one element at a time. So, we'll do an exercise with line in a black fine liner pen, where they'll be designing a page where all the hair on the face is made up of intricate lines and a variety of lines. Thick lines, thin lines, wavy lines, curvy lines just to fill up an entire page. We'll do an exercise on colour, where we do some basic colour theory with the primary, secondary colours. So, they learn about complementary colours and how complementary colours act against each other and with each other. We'll do a shape exercise where we look at Matisse's paper cutouts from later in Matisse's life, and they'll work with geometric shapes and organic shapes and all different coloured pieces of paper to create a collage. And obviously we do things with value and form and just get them to just explore all those kind of things, and that takes about half of the term. We're introducing something new for our year 8s this year that we're actually in the process of putting together and writing at the moment for the second half of the term, which we will start week after next. We're going to look at Indigenous art and the students will be producing a basketry piece where we're actually going to utilize the idea of yarning circles, we're going to get rid of the tables and chairs, and hopefully it'll be nice weather and we're able to take the kids outside, and teach them techniques of basketry.

Alex – Yeah, that sounds really exciting. So that would be the first kind of bigger project that they do at the start of that course.

Alison – Yes, it will be. So, we've not done it with them before. We've done some basketry exercises in the past when we've had Naidoc Week and other identified celebrations and things, but we've never tried it with the whole year, so it's going to be an interesting one, so we'll find out which kids have got really good fine motor skills and which ones don't. So, it'll probably be as much a learning experience for the three visual arts teachers as it will before the kids.

Alex – Yeah, that sounds really exciting. I've always really enjoyed the freedom that we have in the syllabus to just build programs out of particular artmaking techniques or artists like that, and that one sounds really exciting. This is a new artmaking sequence for you - how often do you find you refresh those early stage 4 programs?

Alison – Previously, what we had been doing and probably for about the last five years as the term 1 introductory art piece we taught the kids bookbinding. So, after the kids have made their book, we get them to research a variety of Australian artists through different time periods. We were having them find a 19th century artist, a female artist, an Indigenous artist, an artist who had originally come from Asia. So, they had to find artists that you know that they really like the work of and look into those artists' practice and make a small watercolour reproduction of the artist's work. So, we did that, and it was working really, really well, we just got to the point where we thought it was time to change it up. So, we didn't have a big emphasis on Indigenous art with our mandatory art students, and we thought that it would be about time we did that. Willyama High School has got a population of 21% Aboriginal students, so it's fairly significant and one of our CAPA teachers - she's a music teacher, but she teaches visual arts mandatory because there's only two other visual arts teachers - she's actually Indigenous as well, so definitely about time to start doing that.

Alex – Yeah, it sounds very exciting, although I have to confess that I do have a little bit of a soft spot for getting Stage 4 students to make little reproductions of famous artworks. I find that it's always a bit interesting to see what they do with it. I know this was an older program, I'm just curious. If you noticed over the years that you had quite a spread of categories there, did you find that they were often finding the same artists year to year?

Alison – There were students who needed a lot more direction, and we provided artworks for them. But the students that were much more independent were able to find a huge variety of artworks, particularly the Indigenous artwork that they chose, there was a huge amount of difference in what people were actually finding and were really interested in. For the art history and art criticism side of the course, while our main art students are learning the techniques of weaving and making some small baskets and things like that, we're going to have a look at the Tjanpi Desert Weavers. I particularly like them because I actually majored in textiles when I did my visual arts degree at the University of Wollongong, so I've always had a big interest in textiles, and I think that's probably another reason why we want to bring this into the course, because it's something that I'm good at and passionate about, and I always find it easier to teach things if you're actually passionate about them. So, the fact that it's an all women group of weavers is also great, but at the same time we'll also tie in some printmaking from the region, and we will look at Badger Bates as a fairly local artist.

Alex – One of my personal favourites Badger Bates.

Alison – Yes, I know that! And it also gives us a chance to talk a lot about the structural frame and the cultural frame with Badger Bates' printmaking especially.

Alex – One of the big things in visual arts as a subject is the use of the art diary, do you have any particular things that you've been doing with your visual art diaries in Stage 4?

Alison – Previously, we had just included in their book packs that they were getting from the office supply store, just a basic visual arts diary with the black cover and the spiral bound white pages. We still encourage students to have a physical visual art diary, but Willyama High School this year has implemented a 1 to 1 student to device ratio, and students have all been allocated lockers, and they've all got their laptops and they're responsible for picking them up in the morning and putting them away in the afternoon and charging them. So, teachers spent a lot of time last year with Covid learning to go online and teach online. We didn't spend our professional learning budget because we couldn't go anywhere, so the school decided to put the professional learning budget towards teacher professional learning with technology which we did here based at school, and teachers were all issued with Surface Pros, I think that's what they're called, I'm not sure, and we all started using Teams. We had originally in the past used Google Classroom, it was a bit of a mishmash, teachers were using all kinds of things, but it's a school thing now that we use Teams from Microsoft 365. So, we set up our class notebooks where we can keep digital copies of all the class learning activities. And all of the students have their own class notebook for each class that they have.

Alex – Ah, great!

Alison – So my students are encouraged to photograph all of the artworks that they're making on paper or in their diaries, and to upload them into a digital visual arts diary, which means that I can access what they've done and know what they're up to from anywhere. They don't actually physically have to bring a diary to school if they want to keep it at home to work in, and just work on paper at school. That was also an issue we had in the past that not all kids would remember their diaries, not all kids even went and bought diaries. So, this gives us a way of being able to make sure that each kid is on track with their learning that we're doing across the year. So that's our plan anyway, so we'll see how it goes, and so far it's been well received. The kids like having the laptops. I think they feel that they're being trusted with this device, and a lot of them are really learning a great deal of responsibility with it. There were a few hiccups at first where people were forgetting where their locker was and what their code to get into their locker was. But now we've been at it for a few weeks it's all starting to smooth out, and we get to see how it goes. It also is going to give me a chance to set up a whole lot of forms and other things that we can do through Microsoft 365 so that we can track the kids' understanding and learning so we can do quick quizzes at the end of the class, just revisiting the frames and just checking their understanding of things like that. So obviously being visual arts we can't go fully online, we still need to be able to teach the skills processes of making art, but it gives us a whole heap of tools that we didn't have before. So that's the exciting part about what we're doing.

Alex – That sounds really interesting. Are you finding that you're splitting your activities between concrete work in the diary to be recorded online and activities that start online and finish there?

Alison – Yes. Uh, when we're doing any theory work, uh, the kids can access images and questions in the class notebook. They can keep their own record of their answers. Uh, it's interesting, however, and it's a bit concerning that if we make them do all of their written work as a typed piece, that they're going to get to their HSC exam and have forgotten how to write. So, we need to find that balance between getting them to do stuff that we know they're going to have to do if they're going to go as far as the HSC in visual arts, we don't want them to forget about how to structure writing in the way that they need to be actually physically writing it down.

Alex – Yeah, really interesting. Thank you for that. Look, thank you, Alison. It's been a pleasure conversing with you today.

Alison – It's been lovely. Thanks, Alex.

Alex – So my second guest today is Sophia Kintominas - Sophia, I know you've just moved schools. Could you tell me a little about your background in art education?

Sophia – Yeah. So I started teaching at East Hills Girls Technology High School, permanently appointed there in 2013. This year, I am working with the writing in secondary team, part of the Department of Education, on a secondment, and I'll be returning to my home school East Hills Girls in 2022.

Alex – Great. That sounds really exciting! I'll ask you to talk about some of your experiences in your substantive appointment since you were there for a few years. What I'm really interested in hearing about today is how you like to approach that first term of the mandatory course in visual arts. Now we know it can be such a great and exciting opportunity to get new Year 7 classes every year. I know I find they often come into visual arts for the first time, brimming with energy, so let me ask you what your favourite first term topics are. Is there a particular project or a set of pracs or an artist study that you found effective in harnessing that first term energy in your junior classes?

Sophia – Yeah, as you sort of point out there, you do really get a plethora of experiences that come to you in Year 7. Many students do come with that verve and energy, and some of them come with less practical experiences from their primary school education. So, we actually at East Hills Girls, we start with a unit of work, which is quite wide ranging and engaging as an introductory unit for Stage 4, which looks at the place and power of colour in art. It really harnesses, applicative and theoretical workshop, where we really start by getting the students to create a series of colour wheels and it's very much about exploring colour relativity, obviously our primary secondary tertiary colours. And we bridge that in learning about the emotionally charged Fauvist movement. We look at Henri Matisse's cut outs all the way through to sort of contemporary illustration, and in doing that in looking at those big questions about what visual art is all about and this kind of very highly visual domain that we exist within. We look at that complex, I guess, phenomenon of colour and its treatment across various perspectives. So, we look at colour not just from an art historical perspective. We also look at the way that it intersects with colour psychology, and so we get the kids to create a colour psychology wheel, if you will, made up of text. And we look at the impact of, say, various scientific innovations or discoveries of colour and how that influenced the Impressionists and all the way to Van Gogh. And then from there we really find that in that very first unit of work, where the students are creating their own digital collage which bridges together painted grounds that they produce from those introductory workshops, they produce digital painted grounds as well, using various iPad applications and manipulating paper itself to produce this really, really cool self-portrait. But within that, the way that I suppose the theoretical and the kind of practical workshops come together is that they go beyond integrating colour into their composition but they're really considering it as a means of expression. So that's how we kind of launch straight into Year 7 visual arts.

Alex – Yeah, that's really interesting and I love the way you've described using this combination of physical concrete materials as well as digital materials and then bringing those into a unified project as a portrait. That sounds really interesting. I also love that you've got the Matisse reference there because my previous guest, Alison, also referenced the Matisse cutouts as their colour activity up at Willyama which I think is quite exciting. I'm a real sucker for a collage myself, I've got quite a stash of old National Geographic magazines in my classroom that are in various states of disrepair now, having been thoroughly dissected over the years for reuse in artmaking projects. I'd like to ask, particularly with juniors, when you're blending this hands-on physical materials, visual diary work, and digital stuff, what's your approach to, I guess, the documentation of those processes in the visual diary - like we know we're all very familiar with the spiral bound visual diaries, we're very excited by the possibilities of digital work. What's your approach to keeping things sort of organised and consistent across those two spaces?

Sophia – So I would say that we very much treat them in tandem. We're quite fortunate being a technology high school that is quite a predominant feature in the way that we have students document their own practice. We don't abandon the visual diary, the visual diary is still very central to the way that we have students record their discoveries, the way that they produce their - we call it practice makes perfect annotations. We use Google Classroom as a way to get them to put together a digitization as well of their work in progress at various points. And that's really integral to the way that we sort of informally look at their work and offer strategies and that sort of thing as well.

Alex – Sure, what kind of applications do you like to use in Year 7? I mean, maybe this is a bit over the top, I like to dive straight into Photoshop, but do you have another approach?

Sophia – So the students in Year 7 they come in with ipads, so we tend to use sketchbook, which emulates most functions of Photoshop. It's also a free app, which is really quite important to our ethos as public educators in that stage 4 unit, giving them that accessibility. They learn about those ways that you approach creating a work using layers, that sort of thing, which I think is a nice way, that sort of stepping stone, if you will to, um, Photoshop and such.

Alex – Yeah, because I know Photoshop can sometimes be a bit intimidating. It's quite complex, I've had a lot of lessons where I've tried to just sort of go step by step in Photoshop in a class setting, and it works - if everyone can stay on the same step at the same time.

Sophia – Yeah, absolutely.

Alex – Yeah, so I think that's really valuable, particularly with stuff like even just knowing what layers are and how to use them to then jump up to a full, bigger, more complex program. Very interesting. Do you have any other particular favourite activities that you like doing with juniors?

Sophia – Yeah, a whole heap actually. I think integral to year 7 we're all about building upon prior knowledge and really building a kind of fundamental vocabulary and technical workshops, if you will, that focus on the elements of art. So, after we look at self-portraiture through the lens of colour, we sort of then move on to looking at line and tone and texture and material handling. And this helps us launch into, I guess, an investigation into practice of artists who use line in ways that, that I guess go kind of beyond, say, typical academic convention, but we kind of get the kids to see that it's used in so many different ways across art. So, what we do is we get them to create like an acrylic painted portrait of a sitter in a domestic setting, a domestic interior, and it really focuses on that application of tonal value and kind of energetic line really inspired by Van Gogh's kind of iconic sanctuary versus asylum sort of bedroom painting. And that's all building upon their prior knowledge of the expressive and emotionally charged Fauvist movement. And we also look at the idea of the kind of like indelible line and how line has kind of taken this like revolutionary departure from sort of naturalistic drawing, but that it can be used to make some really hard-edged mark making. And so, we get the students to do kind of like a range of mixed media portraiture as well using watercolour ink, fine line pigment markers really kind of like Egon Schiele meets Del Katherine Barton stuff as well, which they love. And, yeah, I guess in Year 8 we do things a little bit differently because of the constraints of the time table, as it were. But in Semester 1 - we have a Places and Spaces Australia focus, and we look at a variety of artists from our kind of local milieu. We look at Mechelle Bounpraseuth, artists who are part of that scene, if you will, that they make beautiful ceramic work. We also do a unit called Our Imprint, where we create monotypes and collagraphs and lino with a focus on the environment and sustainability. Looking at key artists who deal with those ideas as well.

Alex – Great. This is all really interesting. Thank you. I might just ask quickly. I mean, you referenced when you're talking about the start of the Year 7 course doing all these different little activities, including cutups and things like that, Do you find that kind of work helpful to get them out of that head space of like a drawing has to be perfect, otherwise it will be destroyed by making them do unfamiliar things you know to build skills before you actually get them to try and tackle a project?

Sophia – Yeah, absolutely. I think I think it is important to work incrementally, to work iteratively in those ways. I think it's so good if you can get them to kind of work in in technical workshops, where they get to really experiment with the material devoid of any kind of extrinsic factors like assessment, so to speak. It's really nice to give students those opportunities and almost get them to sort of see it as stepping stones that will support them in artmaking that ensues later in that particular unit of work. I love what you just sort of said before about, you know, drawing and stuff. I think I've always found in teaching drawing that students can get so fixated on the idea of like if I'm not a prodigious drawer like I can't I can't do it. And I think training observation in drawing as a science as much as an art is so helpful in getting kids to sort of see that if you break down your assumption of what you're drawing, you get less overwhelmed you know, 'Oh, my gosh, I can't draw that nose' and' I can't draw that eye', but you get them to speak to it in a very different way and say, okay, just don't think of it as drawing an eye but think of it as these two kind of elliptical lines that join each other and these concentric circles in the centre. And then they start to realize that that they can actually draw what they see. And then that gives them the I suppose impetus to them be able to draw in a way that is, um I suppose, more, um fluid or experimental. When they feel like that, they can take observations from the kind of 3D plane and translate them in the 2D. So, when you do a lot of sort of have a big emphasis on not making assumptions when we're drawing, that's a big part of what we sort of instil. I think it's important for their self esteem.

Alex – Yeah. And that 'draw what you can see', I think, is such a popular refrain in classrooms as well. So, thank you so much. Sophia for sharing your interest and enthusiasm for art education with us. It's been a pleasure chatting to you.

Sophia – Thank you very much for having me.

Alex – Thank you for tuning into Creative Cast and we will see you next time.

Jackie – This podcast was brought to you by the Creative Arts Curriculum Team of 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 creativearts7-12@det.nsw.edu.au. The music for this podcast was composed by Alex Manton and audio production by Jason King.

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