I loved school. Ok, so admittedly, I loved the social aspect probably more than I did the actual education part, but all in all I was quite a conscientious pupil and always tried my best.
Unsurprisingly, my favourite lesson of the week was art but interestingly, it wasn’t because my art teachers were an endless source of inspiration, techniques and know how. Looking back, I’m not entirely sure why I loved it so much because my secondary school art education was a pretty bad experience and an art department would not be allowed to get away with it nowadays, what with the likes of Ofsted, Academies and Governors breathing down their necks.
We had two art teachers at our school, one male and one female, who were both accomplished artists themselves. The male teacher was a keen rugby fan, so he spent any opportunity he could painting amazing oil portraits of local rugby players. Unfortunately for us, this just happened to be during our art lessons. The female teacher was a batik artist and she also liked to grab any chance she could to continue with her own work. I remember a stunning badger she produced in batik, which was a thing of beauty. We could all appreciate that she was a talented artist and obviously knew her stuff, however, it would’ve been nice if she’d not treated the art department as her own studio and actually taught us now and again! The more I look back, the more I feel a bit short changed by my art education but, despite this, I worked really hard and was delighted when I was predicted to get an A.
In 1988, my final year at secondary school, the government abolished O-levels and a brand new exam system was introduced, called GCSEs. We were the guinea pigs, the very first pupils to try them. I was expected to get a pretty good grade in Art, so you can imagine my absolute horror when I opened my result envelope to discover that I’d be awarded a ‘D’. I was devastated. And, to be honest, so was my art teacher. It turns out there had been a major cock-up at GCSE HQ and, after waiting several weeks, my work was remarked and I was awarded a B grade. Not quite the A I was hoping for but certainly better than the D I’d been given. However, I think it was a bit of a knock to my confidence though – the one subject I felt I’d excelled at – then the rug was pulled from beneath my feet.
The comprehensive school I’d attended had just got rid of their sixth form centre, so I had no other choice but to travel to the local college in order to study A-levels and in particular Art and Design. And thank goodness I did - what a difference!
We were introduced to two amazing tutors, one who specialised in graphics, who was precise, controlled and organised, then one who was the most lovable, hippy, dippy, colourful, quirky character I’ve ever met. It was an art marriage made in heaven. I lapped up all this brand new inspiration and loved their enthusiasm and passion for their subject. We were shown how to use a wide range of new materials like pen and ink, charcoal, sculpture, paper mache and gouache. We experimented with fresh techniques like etching, screen printing, dark room photography and computer graphics. We went to the amazing Ashmoleon museum in Oxford for sketching days and to Paris to visit the Lourvre and Pompidou Centre. It was the most exciting and inspiring time in my art education and it was thanks to these two fantastic tutors who finally opened my eyes to the world of art and the possibilities it presented. Up until that point I had no idea what an art education ‘could be’. I just settled with what I was given at school, but without my A-level tutor’s knowledge, encouragement and belief, I don’t think I would’ve gone on to art college and then to university. I owe them a lot for the journey I’ve embarked on to date.
That said, I can’t forget the teachers I had at school either, as they too have played a big part in mapping out my future. They are responsible for my aspiration to ‘do it better’ and definitely helped me on the road to train to be an art teacher and ultimately aim to ‘inspire creativity’. I do think experiences, even the not-so-positive ones, can shape you and make you the person you are today. It may not feel like it at the time, but the low points in your life can be just as valuable as the absolute highs and as they say, things happen for a reason.