Art Homework Questions Answered

‘Art Homework Questions Answered’ (AHQA) developed as a project during the ‘at-home’ Leeds Art Gallery engagement work in the last week of March, and has carried on to a natural hiatus with the start of the school summer holiday period.

Initially a call out to home-schoolers viaFacebook, it received very little response. Meanwhile, in a similar vein, Carr Manor Community School had taken its art teaching and learning online via its website and was to an extent struggling to reach its pupils. Emerging from a positive and developing relationship, the two institutions joined forces and embarked on a collaboration aiming to reach out and enrich ‘home learning’ experience of pupils. And, to explore a way for the gallery to continue its established formal learning workshop ‘Be An Art Detective’ virtually. Our prior confidence in each other, and particularly in an approach to process-led practise, enabled the different institutions to synthesise their ‘current-time’ objectives, and add a tentative enquiry — could the endeavour offer a platform to support young people to share ideas and feelings (as art has a habit of doing), and ambitiously reach out to others to generate an online community interested in art within a ‘blended learning’ model.

AHQA compliments the KS3 and 4 Art curriculum in many aspects. The KS3 National Curriculum, states that a good Art and Design education should equip pupils with the tools to ‘be able to think critically and develop a more rigorous understanding of art and design’, and ‘to analyse and evaluate their own work, and that of others, in order to strengthen the visual impact or applications of their work.’ At KS4 level, to attain higher levels, students must demonstrate their ability to critically analyse the work of artists, and their own. They are expected to demonstrate independence, and an ability to problem solve, think, question, develop original ideas, and make their own creative decisions.

Charlotte Owen, Carr Manor Community School Teacher

Amanda: We have been working together as opportunities have arisen for a couple of years and have become increasingly confident in our different skills as educators and project managers. We were in the middle of one such project when our institutions closed as part of Covid 19 management. AHQA is not related to this project but now some weeks on, we are looking for a way to pick it up the postponed project through this new mechanism in the next academic year. I think what has been especially interesting is how we have used different access routes within the virtual to bring young people and gallery staff together, and to explore questions which co-exist within our working and personal lives.

Amanda Phillips, Leeds Art Gallery

The resources for this project are available on the e-learning section of the school’s website and/or on a project-linked and school managed Instagram account, alongside the Leeds Art Gallery Facebook page. It could sound complicated, but it is not. The virtual routes act as mechanisms to bring school and gallery together, navigating some of the challenges they were both facing. Recognising that pupils were to a degree unresponsive to the school-learning routes and to the gallery’s Facebook invitation. Charlotte identified Instagram as a mutually beneficial and strategic route for communication ‘from my knowledge of teenagers at the time being, this seems to be the app of choice’. Website resources and Instagram posts were used to present to pupils the main aims and opportunities of the project.

Students had a clear understanding that they could send photographs of an artwork they had completed at home (either in response to a set brief or not) to their art teacher, and that in return they would receive personalised, specific feedback to help understand how they could make progress with the visual quality/concepts of the work. They were further asked to carefully consider a question to accompany their artwork. Students are given previous examples to support them with this higher-level thinking process. Artworks and questions are sent to the gallery for answering by gallery staff via a post on its Facebook page. Their artworks are showcased and their questions answered by gallery staff publically.

Many of the questions ensuing questions have been very personal and relevant to the life experience of the young people who were asking them. They also connected strongly to the artwork they have sent. Both in turn challenged gallery staff who were replying, it was necessary to answer from within the art institution as well as a human being — ‘are the eyes a window to the soul’ stands out as one such question. The artworks and questions within a more public than usual fora incited responses from others; school staff (on one occasion as a parent and their three-year-old), gallery Facebook users, four members of one pupil asked questions about his artwork. Furthermore, parents have signed up to the @artatcarrmanor Instagram account to enjoy the project in action. Potentially next steps are to programme the interaction by using gallery collection artworks as inspiration for thinking and making, and to potentially use it to complete the ‘Natural Encounters project connected to a forthcoming exhibition that hat to be abandoned at the start of home working. Child safety and safeguarding has been an important consideration in AHQA and was assured by obtaining parental consent for the use of pupil artwork and questions alongside first names on Instagram and Facebook. Additionally, both the @artatcarrmanor Instagram and the Leeds Art Gallery Facebook page are monitored closely to ensure any inappropriate comments made on posts are removed immediately.

AHQA demonstrates the positive impact of collaboration, for both the gallery and the school. Carr Manor pupils have had the opportunity to see their artwork ‘exhibited’ online through the Leeds Art Gallery Facebook page. They have had their questions answered by a range of gallery staff, from curators to front of house. It has allowed the students to glimpse into and have a taste of a world, in which their creativity, vision and thinking is celebrated. School and gallery learning staff have been able to support each other’s work in a mutually beneficial and creative way (we have needed this also). It has further: met the needs of the art curriculum; developed enquiry skills, widened understanding of learning within the gallery itself, and touched on the role art plays within everyday life.

The project has been sufficiently meaningful to be continued outside of COVID-19 home teaching and learning. Already it has invited other groups of young people to participate, hopes to work with a primary school collaborator, and could become a strand within the gallery’s formal learning delivery (possibly as pre or post-visit activity, as a blended/hybrid learning offer or as an on-going strand through targeted collaboration with different settings). For the school the strategic use of Instagram frame presented an additional way opportunity to to reach out to home learners within its pupil constituency, and also to widen the reach of its work via in-school collaborators.

It is evident from our collaboration that for projects such as AHQA to be successful and sustainable, it is important for schools and galleries to have opportunities to develop and build strong and confident relationships.

Creative departments in schools are seeking authentic and organic opportunities (such as this project), with the underpinning aim always being children’s engagement and enjoyment of the subject. Art education does have an important place within the classroom, where skilled teachers can share their visual knowledge with young people, in a rigorous and structured manner. We all know discipline and routine is important to effectively teach the core principles of Art. However, Art education cannot solely take place in the classroom. Students need to experience how once you have mastered the skills, you must then seek ways to communicate your work. Students need to see and experience galleries and museums, to grasp an understanding of what a thinking, breathing, living, questioning, creative, visual artist can do to share their work. Schools, therefore, are looking for enthusiastic, personable and innovative education officers, exhibition guides, curators, who can develop resources, host workshops, lead tours, and offer CPD opportunities which support this endeavour.

Charlotte Owen, Carr Manor Community School Teacher

For both of us this project, albeit driven by necessity, has met this need in a mutually beneficial way and along the way has tested a way of working that can be continued within ‘new normal’ teaching and learning strategies within the school and gallery as blended/hybrid learning in and outside of the virtual realm, in the home, and through first-hand experience of artworks in a gallery.

Amanda Phillips
Learning and Access Officer
Leeds Art Gallery

Leeds Art Gallery Instagram

Charlotte Owen
Teacher i/c KS3 Art
Carr Manor Community School

Art at Carr Manor Instagram