I use an exercise called ‘Learning to see’ with S3 pupils to try and open them up to critical evaluations. Using their own work, pupils lay out a display across numerous tables, allocating a box to each piece for criticism. Then each pupil moves around the display from piece to piece, in a clockwise direction, writing in as many points about the artwork as possible in 30 second bouts. This task gets increasingly tough as previous pupils have already stated the obvious on each piece. It gets harder and harder to find elements to write about.
It is important that these exercises remain visual. It is Art after all. I only wish that pupils could answer critical questions with drawings, though that’s not the way the system works. The most important thing for the pupil is that it still feels like Art & Design. Getting handed a badly photocopied, black and white page, filled with type does not feel like Art. If pupils feel that their Art period has been stolen away from them for some English or Maths exercise, they will not enjoy the task. They will approach it with resentment and will not get the most from it.
I feel it’s important to keep the subject visual. Coloured pens, working on large areas, notes with doodles, diagrams, drawings, mind mapping, they’re all important to form and record the thoughts of artists. Da Vinci didn’t record his thoughts in endless type, working artists today do not plan artworks by word processing, so why should we expect our youth to suddenly change that? We can only learn to evaluate and criticise by bridging the gap between the drawn and the written. This does develop over time, but it can be pushed forward by merging the written with the drawn when learning.
We are born with a knowledge of what looks ‘good’ and ‘bad’. Even those who feel they are not good at art seem to know the difference between well and badly drawn. We have that skill of classifying and labeling, but we don’t know why we make those assumptions until we learn why that is. We need to learn about the qualities of line, the importance of shape, of different styles. We need to gain the words to describe why we feel something works and something doesn’t. So although we can see, we need to learn what we see and that is the greatest challenge in Art. Drawing is easy, it’s seeing that’s the challenge.