As I look through my rose tinted spectacles, I think I remember that when I began going into schools in the mid eighties (before the National Curriculum) there was a need for artists to come in and do something polished. Schools, especially primary schools, seemed more relaxed in those days – even the teachers dressed in a more relaxed way. (The office clothing and power dressing didn’t really appear until the nineties).
It seemed that I was entering environments where the learning was slower than in the artistic world that I inhabited. The artist came in to the school and showed how to ‘raise the game’: to bring skills and to work with the skills in the school to create ‘wonderful’ performances. If you like, schools seemed places of process and the artist came in to demonstrate how to create a high quality product and within a short period of time.
For the recent Where Do Ideas Take Us? project that I was involved in for Creative Partnerships London North, the two artists that I was working with and myself took the concept of the title and applied it to our very process, allowing us to explore the question posed by the theme. That is, we didn’t go into the school to do a project that gave the answer to the project title. Instead, we allowed ourselves to be taken from one idea to the next by the flow of the moment. The sessions therefore had a wonderful gentle feel to them as activities morphed into other activities, and usually within a context of a few ideas (or activities) happening at the same time.
This got me thinking…. I wonder if we are in a time now when the role of the artist coming into school is different to how I have described my eighties’ experience. Very few schools are as relaxed as they used to be; very little of education seems to have as much time for play and experimentation. If you like, schools have become more product orientated, namely, in the meeting of targets, good grades and ultimately league table positions. If this indeed is the case, then perhaps there is a need for today’s artist to bring in the slower (and not so sexy) process skills into schools. Perhaps teachers now don’t need artists coming into schools to show how to quickly create quality product – after all, they can go on a course for that. Perhaps what is needed is for artists to bring their actual creative process into schools to show how they journey from one idea to the next, reflecting on what they have done and considering what they might do subsequently, as their art-piece gradually evolves. Perhaps teachers now are in more need to be shown how to slow down and to simply trust the moment and have faith in the natural evolution and progress of ideas. In short, perhaps every project should embed the concept of 'Where Do Ideas Take Us?' into their very process….
© Robert Jarvis (July 2005)