Saturday, December 29, 2012

Curiouser and curiouser

I like to tell my new Year 7 students that artists know stuff. This, of course, extends to teachers of art, art critics and historians. We know stuff. And that is why being an artist/art student/critic/historian/art teacher is so fascinating.

I love art theory. Art tells us about the world in so many ways. However, I'm yet to work out the exact equation that will make my students love theory as much as I do. For the time being I try to make my content and examples as interesting and current as possible. Art theory is not easy for students, I know. I love the following quote by Stuart Hall from Cultural Studies and Its Theoretical Legacies (1992). The quote begins Anne D'Alleva's Methods & Theories of Art History (2005).

I want to suggest a different metaphor for theoretical work: the metaphor of struggle, of wrestling with the angels. The only theory worth having is that which you have to fight off, not that which you speak with profound fluency.

A reassuring quote also, as it indicates that having my head in the books during christmas break in anticipation of teaching HSC art historical and critical studies for 2013 is OK. I do feel I am wrestling at the moment - I'm not sure it is with angels, however. I'll keep you informed.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Glossary of Key Words from the Board of Studies

A Glossary of Key Words

Account for: state reasons for, report on. Give an account of: narrate a series of events or transactions

Identify components and the relationship between them; draw out and relate implications

Use, utilise, employ in a particular situation

Make a judgement about the value of

Make a judgement of value, quality, outcomes, results or size

Ascertain/determine from given facts, figures or information

Make clear or plain

Arrange or include in classes/categories

Show how things are similar or different

Make; build; put together items or arguments

Show how things are different or opposite

Critically (analyse/evaluate)
Add a degree or level of accuracy depth, knowledge and understanding, logic, questioning, reflection and quality to (analyse/evaluate)

Draw conclusions

State meaning and identify essential qualities

Show by example

Provide characteristics and features

Identify issues and provide points for and/or against

Recognise or note/indicate as being distinct or different from; to note differences between

Make a judgement based on criteria; determine the value of

Inquire into

Relate cause and effect; make the relationships between things evident; provide why and/or how

Choose relevant and/or appropriate details

Infer from what is known

Recognise and name

Draw meaning from

Plan, inquire into and draw conclusions about

Support an argument or conclusion

Sketch in general terms; indicate the main features of

Suggest what may happen based on available information

Put forward (for example a point of view, idea, argument, suggestion) for consideration or action

Present remembered ideas, facts or experiences

Provide reasons in favour

Retell a series of events

Express, concisely, the relevant details

Putting together various elements to make a whole

Wednesday, November 7, 2012


I believe a little 'teacher therapy' goes a long way!

In the leadup to examinations, reports and marking, sometimes I need to pull out a little gratitude, and to get a little help with positive thinking.

"Students need a classroom where they feel welcomed, safe, respected, challenged. Make your classroom that space".

I love this book that I found at a new age bookstore in the city. Today the quote above will be my focus for the day :-)   Have a great day fellow teachers.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The Pre-Service Teacher

It's definitely been a bittersweet couple of weeks at school. While the stresses of exams, reporting and marking have been significant, being in a really great faculty has made all the difference. I'm lucky to work with a great bunch of really smart, friendly, energetic people. I've also been lucky to have a great prac student on board. I've been really lucky all round really.

I remember being in Uni and ringing around schools asking if they would take me for a prac. God I remember. It was a hard thing to do, and I am so grateful to the wonderful teachers who took me on. It's why I always try to say yes to having a prac student. My first prac student has become my best friend and my closest colleague. I love telling the kids how I went to her wedding. Another prac student regularly emails me to let me know how she is going. She always tells me how much she enjoyed being at our school. My current prac student has kept me sane in the last two weeks. She's as new as can be and only 19 but very enthusiastic and very good. She will be a great teacher. She has helped me no end - not by doing my work for me but by doing what I do with me. That includes co-marking, playground duty, team teaching. She even joined us for end of term faculty dinner tonight. It never crossed my mind that this time of year might be too busy to have a prac student and thank goodness it didn't. I have enjoyed every minute of it.

Having a prac student helps me as much as I think it helps them. I gain a realisation of how far I have come in my own teaching - I guide them with confidence (mostly) and I become a mentor and a friend. I gain an awareness that I have actually come a long way as a teacher.

I also learn from the prac student. I gain new ideas -I take more risks, I implement new content and teaching approaches.

And I always have more to learn.

Images: my own photos from the Lego forest in Martin Place, Sydney as part of the 2012 Lego Festival of Play

Saturday, March 31, 2012

The Archibald Prize 2012 in the classroom

I am excited about the announcement of this year's Archibald Prize winner. Completely.

The 2012 Archibald Prize Winner
Tim Storrier's 'The Histrionic Wayfarer (After Bosch)'
There is just so much to say in the classroom about this work. On hearing that Tim Storrier had won the $75,000 prize I immediately Googled the announcement. Ah yes, I knew this work from showing my year 7s a sideshow from the Art Gallery of NSW a week or so before. Oh yes, I think this is a great choice for the winner! I remember Storrier's entry from last year. It was a key work for discussion with Year 10 - discussing how an absence of the physical figure can say so much. Most of the Year 10s really liked Storrier's magical treatment of landscape, of his whimsical explorations of memory and the self.

Like other years before, this year's winner had not been announced at the time that John McDonald had written his article on the prize (SMH March 32-Apr 1, Spectrum). I always enjoy reading his work however I almost feel sorry for someone who has to critique the entries (and possible winners) before they are announced. It must be awful to be in the position of writing so much that could be so wrong. And yet, what a fun game - to predict (from the informed point of view of the expert critic of course) the winners and losers, the 'good' and the 'bad' and then to see the outcome.

Next year I might play this game with my kids. What a great classroom exercise - look thought the slides of entries from the AGNSW website, discuss, critique, judge, then wait...

So, back to the announcement of the winner. John McDonald stated that 'Tim Storrier's The Histrionic Wayfarer (After Bosch) continues a series of self portraits as the invisible man, identifiable only by his clothes and possessions...One suspects even the trustees of the AGNSW would hesitate to give the prize to an invisible subject...'

I would have loved to know reasons why McDonald thought the absent figure would not win. Is it because, as one immediately assumes from his writing, that there is no face and is therefore a controversial choice and too unpredictable, even for the trustees who are open to the 'controversial choice'. Or is it because well, there is no face and of course, many of us know this approach to portraiture has been done numerous times before, and is a little 'old hat' and predictable?

And, back to the announcement (there are just so many diversions from the subject at hand when blogging). The day of the announcement, Tim Storrier's work made me feel an immediate excitement.

Rarely do I teach art theory on a Friday last period. The kids are just not in the headspace to retain in-depth information on the artworld. And who could blame them? Their heads are in the play they will have in only 50 minutes time! And yet, Friday afternoon's class was one of the best I have had with this group.

We discussed the winner - why this work could be seen as controversial due to the fact the man has no face. We looked at all the clothes and objects and the gestures that make up the figure, and how these say so much about the type of man Storrier is. Of course, we couldn't ignore the artist's dog who looks directly towards a floating piece of paper with a drawing of the artist's portrait.

We then looked at Bosch's work and compared the two. We looked at Storrier's entry from last year and compared the work to this year's winner.

              Tim Storrier's 2011 entry

Then we looked at Brett Whiteley's 1977 'Self Portrait in the Studio' - how could we not? The comparisons are lovely for Year 7s, particularly with Storrier's actual portrait on a piece of paper, and Whiteley's actual portrait in the small mirror, and all the objects and belongings that tell us so much about the artists themselves. Combined with previous investigations, students were able to gain a good understanding of the history of the prize and how approaches to portraiture have changed.

Brett Whiteley's 'Self-Portrait in the Studio (1977)
Finally, we looked at Brett Whiteley' self portrait 'Art, Life and The Other Thing' (1978) which includes a drawing of the artist drawing Dobell's painting of Joshua Smith - Dobell's work being a controversy students have investigated in-depth during a previous lesson.

Brett Whiteley's 'Art, Life and the Other Thing' (1978)

Therefore, during this lesson students gained an understanding of how artists have an informed knowledge of the artworld and how their artworks are often informed by this knowledge (we may also talk about appropriation here).

Links such as these lead me to the conclusion that this year's winner is an obvious choice, and a very strategic choice at that! John McDonald, surely you would agree! What a great catalogue discussion this would make.

Back again to the lesson: This may sound like a lot of content however it fit perfectly within the 50 minute allocation. I usually encourage note taking however during this lesson we just sat and talked. The responses I got from the kids were outstanding, and yes, our classes are graded, and yes, this was a 'less advanced' class. I often find the 'lower' classes have an outstanding ability to talk about the artworld during class discussion, even if their reading and writing skills are considered to be less advanced than the other kids.

What I also enjoyed about this lesson is that I 'Googled' all the content as I taught it. It means I have to be fairly fast and make sure (the Googling being projected on the Smart Board for all the see) that nothing inappropriate is included in the search, however this approach can be good modelling for how to look at relevant websites and content. It is also of use when there is no time to create a PowerPoint, worksheets, etc.

If anyone has any ideas or tales of teaching the Archibald Prize to students I would love to know here.

Storrier images:

Whiteley: (Self Portrait in the Studio, 1977):

Whiteley (Art, Life and the Other Thing, 1978):