September is almost here and for me, for over twenty years, that has meant only one thing – back to school, back to work. I won’t pretend that I do not still get the same sense of trepidation the night before as I did when I was a child, but it honestly does melt away once I step in front of a class and use my go-to catchphrase, “Let’s get crackin’!” For me, teaching Visual Arts is hugely exciting and it’s something that I’m passionate about. My hope is that this passion for the Arts is infectious to my students. But in an age of sensory overload and instant gratification, how can a humble art teacher inspire and mentor their students? The challenge is to remain relevant and to impart an appreciation of the value of communication in the Arts.
As I prepare for another year as a driving force within the Art Department at Repton Dubai, I reflect on what inspired me to become as artist and educator, and I am struck by a number of influences. Firstly, a really cool art teacher (never underestimate the power of “cool” for teenagers) and an exceptionally well resourced department certainly helped. However, in my final year of high school, I happened upon an interview by Professor Noel Sheridan, the director of the National College of Art and Design, Ireland, at that time. I fixated upon the screen as this intriguing figure begged the question “Why be an artist?” His on-screen persona looked to me like a disheveled Gregory Peck type character, whose velvet lilt attempted to dissuade potential applicants from his university.
“Don’t be an artist if you can think of one other thing that in your heart you believe is better than being an artist. If you can think of another life - whether it’s lawyer, brain surgeon, jet pilot, baker - do that thing and don’t be an artist.”
In his slow, deep Dublin tones, he went on to discuss the overcrowding in the profession and the production of second rate art cluttering up the place.
He noted that the selection of an art career as a second choice only confirmed the public’s deepest suspicions; that Art was “a soft option for losers.” In a time when young people have so much to concern themselves about, one idea remains true. That is: “If what you want to say is better said as an editorial in a newspaper, don’t bring it to Art. Don’t indulge yourself, and if you do, don’t call it Art.” Rejecting the arrogance often associated with artists, he warned “Don’t think you’re just going to go out into the world and throw shapes and be difficult, there has to be more to it than just that.” As he spoke convincingly about all the reasons to not be an artist, he implored impressionable youngsters not to apply to his Art college. And then… a lightning bolt! “….I’ve tried to give you lots of ideas why not to be an artist, and if can’t make these work then there may be nothing else for it. You may just have to be an artist!” And that was the moment that I knew there was nothing else for me to do. It is so important not to get bogged down in the bureaucracy of education, whatever your subject. Remind yourself what lit your fire. Grab that lightning bolt and haul it into your classroom and make it ever present for the next generation of artists, designers, thinkers and creatives.
It is with this in mind, we at the Art department, Repton Dubai aim to create a vibrant and inspiring place for all Reptonians to come and enjoy creative processes. Aiming to stimulate creativity and imagination, the curriculum provides a foundation for visual perception and extends to the achievement of excellence at IGCSE and IB level. The Visual Arts are highly valued at Repton Dubai because we are keenly aware that creativity and innovation are what set academically brilliant students apart from their competitors. Senior artwork is an ever-present display of student led learning which shapes our school environment. The creative thinking skills fostered in this subject encourage fresh perspectives and ideas. I am hugely proud of the fact that all lessons are undertaken with highly trained subject specialists who also work as professional artists beyond the classroom. The very nature of the subject requires collaboration with teachers and peers to stimulate original thinking. This results in a very personalised form of instruction, which builds confidence and develops a love of learning.
Our focus is on encouraging our students to develop an exciting and stimulating relationship with Visual Arts, enabling them to express and discuss personal narratives within their work. By providing a wealth of visual, tactile and sensory experiences, we develop abstract thinking skills and cultivate a unique way of understanding and responding to the world in which our students live. Our students invest time exploring and recording their observations in great detail - in traditional and digital media. With the facilities to offer sculptural ceramics and glass, our priority is to ensure that there are no limits on our students’ use of expressive processes and to support them in achieving their artistic aspirations.
Visual Arts has the power to enrich the personal learning experience of each student here at Repton Dubai. Students leave our lessons with a sense of fulfillment, satisfaction and wellbeing, knowing that they have engaged meaningfully with creative processes. We hope that this joy of learning is the foundation for how they confront learning challenges. To think imaginatively takes confidence and we hope that within this subject, we foster the skills for our students to trust themselves to be brave and brilliant. International culture at Repton Dubai is diverse and rich, and our art programme reflects that. With our emphasis on expressing personal narratives and culture, we know that our students feel validated and valued.
We hope that when you view our students’ work in the forthcoming Index Exhibition in Dubai, you will get a sense of their passion for Art and Design. They are the future and we couldn’t be prouder of them.