This article was written by Penny Rowe, founder of St Roberts Atelier who also acts as Creative Advisor @ Re:Humanise
I’ve just had the pleasure of leading a six-week art project with twenty, 10 year olds from schools in Leeds.
The project focussed on the work of British Artist Tony Cragg and involved adapting the methods used by Tony so they could be experienced by the Children in the classroom.
The project was going well until I reached week five where we tackled Tony’s work from 2010 to 2015. During this period, his work looked like it had been squeezed through things (imagine icing through a piping bag),the forms that this produced were both dynamic and organic.
I wanted the kids to experience this ‘squeezing’ process, so I purchased different shaped tools along with some clay for them to squeeze. In my minds-eye I saw how I could adapt Cragg’s process, but when I tried it myself I realised that the clay wasn’t soft enough to be pushed through, I knew immediately it wasn’t going to work.
As I considered how to solve the problem, I sat at my computer and watched a Youtube video of Tony in his studio, as I watched I found some of his thoughts particularly inspiring, he said this:
‘If you take a big pile of clay and model it, you will find out that there are infinite possibilities to model that piece of clay. So from these billions of possibilities that are there, there are some that don’t make sense to you. Maybe the practice of an artist is to move the material around and be aware of the moments and the forms that have a meaning for oneself’.
When it came to week five, I tried to explain the lesson I’d learned from Tony to the kids, I spoke about how Tony had earned the right to produce his sculptures through dedication and practice, and because of that he’d developed an understanding of his materials in a way I hadn’t. I shared Tony’s thoughts on the infinite possibilities of sculpture, and I asked them if they understood what I was explaining…they said NO! At that point I resigned myself to thinking the lessons were only for me.
Following the six week project, I took the children to the Yorkshire Sculpture park to see Tony’s retrospective of five decades of work. I was nervous as I didn’t know how the kids would respond, I needn’t have worried. The kids spent an hour and a half sat on the floor sketching and appreciating the work. They were open and engaged and they were willing to explore and interact with what they saw. This was because they were empowered by the six weeks we’d spent together trying to contextualise Tony’s work – they understood what they saw and they appreciated it.
As we were nearing the end of the visit, we all sat in the activity room and one child tried to explain how he felt to his teacher, he said spontaneously:
‘It’s just the infinite possibilities, there is no right or wrong’.
I was taken back by what he had remembered. I was floored by how he’d clung onto what I was trying to say and he’d adapted it to his own level of understanding.
This experience confirmed to me the important part Art should play in schools: Art enlightens and encourages, it inspires and it empowers – we all need to experience the liberation of exploring infinite possibilities.