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Issue No.15 - Opening the Doors to Ideas

I never know when I sit down, just what I am going to write.
I make no plan; it just comes, and I don’t know where it comes from.

D. H. Lawrence



Projecting form on nature
Investigating nature photography

Remnants of War
Bullet holes and film

Auctioning a character
Selling an idea

Letter from stick insect
Answering unusual letters

A Set of Instructions
Creating instructional charts

Stories within design
An extra dimension to design

Artistically Tracing the Land
Environmental artists at work

Draughting the Past
Alternative forms of biographing

Sailing a Metaphor
Comparing two songs

A Strange Case for Research
A humorous spin on titles of research

Seeds and War
Our devastation of crops

When Art Meets War
How art follows in the trail of war

Challenging the Date
Exploring the construction of time

The Building of a Poem
Investigating the drafting process

Subterranean Poems
Poems in public spaces

Welcome to Edition # 15 of The Creative Teaching Space.

Enjoy the ideas presented here and feel free to adapt them across subject areas.

Every time I write this magazine I feel as if I am struggling for ideas. They tend to walk in the door though and once the door is open even more arrive.

There are innumerable possibilities that teachers and students can explore. Concepts often lie buried within the work of artists. From these deep perspectives we experience new associations and possibilities for student work e.g. inspiration for assessment tasks/culminating performances. Possibilities are endless: metaphor allows ideas to merge while the mixing of materials allows ideas to be explored on a practical level.

Projecting form on nature

One thing that tires me about amateur photographic groups is a tendency for people to take photos that look like calendar shots. It is as if by imitating ‘stock’ photography that many photographers feel that they are doing well. I would much rather see a focus on art photography and a questioning of the values implicit within such societies: why is there such a focus on creating certain photographs? Why is there such a technical focus? What criteria is used for judging photographs? Is this ever questioned?

An excellent article Love, Death and Wilderness Photography by Peter Timms – published in Art Monthly 167, The Best Australian Essays 2004 and Island Magazine 97 – raises some pertinent questions about photography:

Very little has been written about wilderness photography, in fact, other than descriptive accounts by the photographers themselves and environmental polemic that uses their subject matter as illustration. This paucity of critical commentary can be put down not just to a lofty lack of interest from critics and art theorists, but also an innate distrust of analysis on the part of practitioners.

While there are magnificent wilderness photographers at work in places like Tasmania – see Dombrovskis and Chris Bell – there are also many imitators. To what extent do these photographers question the tradition that they work in? To what extent do they question their choices and their technical decisions?

Clearly in the art of photographing a location are a range of factors e.g. choice of location, choice in framing and an awareness – however subconscious – of the aesthetic of wilderness photography: just how do we see the natural world and what decisions are we choosing to make within it.

Timms’ article challenges naïve perceptions of the natural world. When looking at a website of a photographic society – see the Hobart Photographic Society (where a couple of my photos are represented) we need to ask questions: why are people taking photographs in these ways? What decisions are driving their technical and aesthetic decisions? Why are some photographs seen as better than others?

When I look at a stock photographic calendar I wonder why certain photographs have been included. Are these upholding certain images of landscape? Are these appealing to a romantic tradition originally established by landscape painting?

Ask students to look at photography and ask questions. Why are some photos more culturally powerful than others?

Timms refers to the powerful re-appropriation of Dombrovskis’ photo Rock Island Bend by the environmental movement, at the same time as comparing it to the painting Landscape with Hagar and the Angel by Claude Lorraine.

Surely our students can ask such questions and find such comparisons. Photography doesn’t operate in isolation – a ‘realistic’ art separated from other artistic forms. It deserves to be questioned and connections found to other traditions and ideas.

Remnants of War

Sarajevo, 1997 by Masaki Hirano

At the Richmond Town Hall in Melbourne, Victoria, bullet holes can still be seen following a shoot out with the early twentieth century gangster Squizzy Taylor. Many churches in Britain still carry the vandalized marks of Cromwell’s men. No doubt there are many buildings in European cities that still show the effects of World War Two. This is without doubt echoed in cities across Asia.

I can recall walking down a street in Cologne, in Germany, and coming upon a plaque that stated that hundreds of Jews had been shot in that area. Suddenly the past spoke to me.

The photography of Masaki Hirano includes an array of images taken in the previous Yugoslavia. Hirano captures the damage to buildings done by bullets and mortars. With his abstract eye we see a strange beauty.

Explore the many perspectives artists take when commenting on war. Hirano’s images remind us of the violence in war. His images are reflective spaces in which we can meditate on what has happened. His abstractions capture our eyes. We stop. We slow down. We think.

Auctioning a character

I was recently searching if any Bob Dylan bootlegs are auctioned on eBay. Following a google search I found the odd reference cited below.

It made me think. With the advent of online auctioning how can we re-appropriate a form such as this within the classroom? Imagine auctioning a character within a text, an idea, a mathematics formula, etc. Ask students to analyse the phenomenon of Ebay – this encourages cultural analysis – and then see how abstract concepts can be auctioned.

In reality odd things have been put up for auction on eBay and subsequently withdrawn. Students could investigate the sites’ rules.

December 19, 2002

Bob Dylan $57m richer after selling muse on eBay. Columbia recording artist Bob Dylan is believed to have retired from songwriting, it was revealed today. The 61 year old musician, composer of more than a thousand songs, has auctioned off his muse.

The mood in Dylan chat rooms was dejected. Most interpreted the news as "no more songs from Dylan." Others chose to see it as "no more good songs from Dylan," and likened the situation to his poor form in the eighties.

Dylan's muse was Calliope, the mother of Orpheus. She first sprang to public notice more than three thousand years ago when she inspired Homer, then a young, unknown poet. Their relationship lasted twenty years, and during their time together he wrote The Iliad and The Odyssey. Both are still in print.

After Homer died she moved on, and is believed to have worked with Shakespeare, Dante, Blake, and many other famous names.

Calliope first met Dylan in 1961 at the Brooklyn State Hospital, where she was tending the dying Woody Guthrie. A starry-eyed Dylan arrived to see his folk singing hero, but soon turned his attention to her. Within a year she'd moved in with Dylan, who then started writing the songs that made him famous: "Blowin' In The Wind" and "The Times They Are A Changin'."

Forty years later, for reasons that are still unclear, Dylan ended the relationship and contacted eBay.

"Our rules expressly forbid the sale or purchase of live humans," an official reported. "But Calliope has been around for such a long time that we doubt she is human. At any rate, she can certainly look after herself, and we were led to believe that the online auction was her idea. We looked at it as a test case."

After three weeks of intense bidding, Calliope was sold for $57m. The sale made eBay history, easily outstripping the previous high of $5m paid for a corporate jet.

Both eBay and Dylan have refused to reveal the identity of the buyer, but keen speculation has already begun.

Posted by Sean Hegarty at 02:15 AM

Sean get some sleep!

Letter from stick insect

The text by Dr Tatiana Dr. Tatiana's Sex Advice to All Creation has a very interesting concept for a text. Dr Tatiana, in the guise of a magazine columnist, responds to imaginary letters from creatures. As a sexual health expert Dr Tatiana educates us about the sexual manners of a range of creatures. What a great way to teach science!

Explore how this method can be used across the curriculum. Animals, characters, concepts, etc, write to an expert. Encourage students to devise the letters and the responses. Explore creative ways in which learning can be displayed. This activity can even serve as an assessment task. At the same time students will be investigating media language – a great opportunity for a transdisciplinary focus.

Here is an example of a letter from a stick insect.

A Set of Instructions

Yet again I have dipped into my Monty Python text The Brand New Monty Python Papperbok. I see things that made me laugh as a teenager, I pick up nuances that I missed at that age and I find references that are dated or are somewhat politically incorrect. I referred in a previous edition of the Creative Teaching Space to the odd map in the form of a London Underground map – ‘How to take your appendix out in the Piccadilly Line.’ At the front of this Python book is a set of instructions in the form of safety instructions for passengers on a plane. In this case it is a set of instructions for how to read the book itself e.g.’Reading Positions’ and ‘In the event of a reading emergency.’

4. Before commencement of reading acquaint yourself fully with the location of the back cover (A) and the front cover (A), so that these can be quickly closed in time of emergency.

5. Always hold the book away from the face (A).

Imagine what fun students could have adopting this method. Students could include diagrams or translations into another language – a fun transdisciplinary opportunity. What sets of safety instructions could be explored? The Monty Python team was very good at sending up forms of writing e.g. a school report written by a range of teachers for a student called God. Have a look at the material of the Python team and see how the strategies that they employed can be reconfigured to tasks in a classroom. Have a lot of fun. It is often in the process of creating satire that we get a greater appreciation of form. Ask the team that created the Rutles – the satire on the Beatles. Their work is hilarious at the same time as revealing very considered and knowledgeable approaches.

Stories within design

The Tasmanian artist Patrick Hall creates cabinets with a wonderful three-dimensional quality. Incorporating a range of materials e.g. toy cars, records, or a skeleton made from pieces of broken crockery, he is able to incorporate into the finishing of his cabinets an extraordinary range of materials. As a result furnishings become objects at the same as being artworks in which surfaces evoke stories. Just the simple task of creating depth to a surface, and incorporating objects, allows Patrick Hall to extend the meaning of his designs.

Imagine what students can achieve if they take this approach. How can we add depth to a surface of an object? What can we incorporate into the spaces that we create? What new stories can we tell?

Artistically Tracing the Land

A funny tongue in cheek artwork by Isamu Noguchi involved the plan to construct a huge sculpture to be seen from Mars. The work was never completed yet the concept is still very interesting. Noguchi wanted to show any aliens who were watching Earth that there had once been intelligent life on the planet. I like this fun reversal. It is as much a comment on modern life – Noguchi was very aware of the effects of World War Two – as it is a comment on our fascination with looking outwards. What would our planet look like to aliens? What would the man made features on the planet suggest about us? Think about the desertification, the cutting down of trees, the massive industrialization and urban spread.

The face on Mars is a wacky example of theory in which many people claim that there had once been intelligent life on mars. And of course, I am part of the conspiracy covering this fact. Have you ever wondered why so many UFOs choose to be seen in the United States? What about all the other countries like China or Outer Mongolia?

Still, here are examples of the paranormal and skeptical perspectives. Students may like to compare the views. Recently a new face has appeared on Mars. What does this tell us about our capacity to project human form onto the outer world?

I guess Noguchi is categorized as a landscape artist. Another fascinating landscape artist is Walter De Maria. His intriguing designs combine a range of natural and man made elements that make us look at the world anew. These include the Earth room, the very famous lightning field and the Broken Kilometer.

Any students wishing to explore landscape art can look at the range of interesting artists at the Environmental Art Museum. I like the artist whose work is dedicated to the collection and web display of a piece of trash each day. Investigate the many ways in which artists are working. What are the key ideas underlying their artworks or installations? Look at the work of those artists associated with the influential art movement Fluxus. Art is meaningless! Watch the meaningless become meaningful.

I recently saw an exhibition by the Australian artist Harry Nankin whose works ask us to look at nature in new ways. Nankin at one stage built a large photographic structure that allowed him to photograph waves, and objects beneath them, at night. His works take on an eerie quality that asks us to consider a submarine world.

Draughting the Past

The New Zealand artist Trevor Moffit created a large series of drawings depicting the day to day life of his father.

The English illustrator Raymond Briggs created a graphic biography of his mother and father called Ethel and Ernest. It is a deeply rewarding read. Why should Briggs have written a conventional biography? After all he is an illustrator.

I noticed that the American writer Robert Cormier chose to write about his life in verse form.

Encourage students to investigate the many ways in which people can choose to express the details of their lives.

Sailing a Metaphor

Metaphor enables writers to express subtle ideas. How can we choose to define relationships?

In this example students can compare two singers who have chosen to use a shipping metaphor to define relationships. One is by Loudon Wainwright III – Little Ship – and the other – Voyage – is by Christy Moore.

You may even like to compare these two songs to Warren Zevon’s song Mutineer. Dylan also does an exceptional version of this song.

What other metaphors can be drawn upon to explain the ways in which we live with others: our relationship is like a…?

A Strange Case for Research

The Ignobel Awards are an hilarious example in which the scientific community pokes fun at itself. Awards are given for very strange research.

One example from the Netherlands involved a researcher who chose to investigate the first scientifically recorded case of homosexual necrophilia in the mallard duck.

While research obviously has its serious side students may like to write their own comic examples of research questions. This has been done on a New Zealand literary site. Students can also investigate academic jargon. Can they construct research titles that on the one hand sound serious while also being satiric?

Seeds and War

A fascinating article in the magazine New Scientist reveals that war has had a profound impact upon nature as well as mankind. The concept of ‘diversity‘ is seen as very important in modern science as it is through diversity that new strains of seeds, etc, can be created to off-set the always present possibility of disease. Unfortunately there has been a diminution of seed variety due to factors such as war. Who would have thought that the supposedly dry Middle East is in fact the hub from which many of the staple foods that we eat, once evolved? An interesting example points to the case of Cambodia:

After the ousting of the Khmer Rouge, refugees returning from Vietnam brought back some of the old varieties. And scientists from Australia and the Philippines-based International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) repatriated a handful of varieties that had been collected from Cambodia months before the Khmer Rouge took over. But hundreds of varieties disappeared; some of, which almost certainly contained unique genetic traits that could have boosted future production of the world's most widely eaten grain.

Students can investigate other consequences of war/system change. How is the natural world affected by war? The Millennium Seed Bank is a major project in the United Kingdom dedicated to the collection and preservation of seed varieties from across the world.

When Art Meets War

Another consequence of war is its massive effect on the art world. Who will forget the act of vandalism in which the Taliban destroyed the huge Buddhas in Afghanistan?

Students can explore how war has affected the art world. This has resulted in much looting and contemporary cases in which people are still trying to recover seized art.

This has become significant in Australia in recent years in which Aboriginal communities have requested the return of cultural artifacts collected by a range of collectors and interned in museums across the globe. Imagine telling the story of an artwork from its perspective. I know of at least one book that follows the historical journeys of artworks: Peter Watson, Wisdom and Strength: The Biography of a Renaissance Masterpiece (NY: Doubleday & Co. New York, 1989).

Challenging the Date

The dates that we use every day have a mathematical background. They just didn’t simply appear. The focus on the use of a New Calendar and other types of reform can be researched.

A classic example is the attempt of the new Republic in revolutionary France to change the calendar. It failed dismally.

Imagine if the calendar was changed: how, why and what are the effects? What mathematical decisions underlie such change?

The Building of a Poem

There are many examples on the web of libraries displaying digitised images of manuscripts from famous writers. These show the progression or drafting of works. One can see words that are crossed out and new additions.

As in the above example one can also send up, like the Monty Python team, examples of famous literary works. So is this what T.S. Eliot really wanted in The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock?

A range of poetry drafts can be seen at the National Library in Canberra. One can also view, from America, drafts by Langston Hughes including the draft of Booker T. Compare it to the completed poem. There is an example of drafting from the Kiwi poet Mary Stanley, Sylvia Plath, as well as examples of famous English poems. One can also view the drafting of the very famous poem ‘Dulce et decorum est’ by Wilfred Owen including the source of the title:

DULCE ET DECORUM EST - the first words of a Latin saying (taken from an ode by Horace). The words were widely understood and often quoted at the start of the First World War. They mean "It is sweet and right." The full saying ends the poem: Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori - it is sweet and right to die for your country. In other words, it is a wonderful and great honour to fight and die for your country.

Subterranean Poems

Anyone who has seen the Jane Campion film In The Cut will be aware of how poems, viewed by the main character on the subway, serve as an important narrative device.

There is a strong tradition of displaying poems in subways and on trains and students can view examples of the practice from England as well as the New York Subway. In fact New York has also commissioned many artists to work within its subway spaces and these can be investigated. How can artists impose their art upon spaces? What methods are at work? What can be done to one's local transport system? Perhaps students can envisage possibilities. Perhaps ideas can even be take further into real projects. What poems would your students like to place in urban spaces? What specific places may add meaning to those poems?

Darron Davies

© Copyright In Clued - Ed 2009


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