Genre by osmosis – Waddesdon

>Just visited Waddesdon Arts College to see their exhibition – actually been twice now. Some genuinely excellent work as always, but the quality of graphics, photography and illustration was extraordinary. Many of these students will go directly to degree courses at art school bypassing the normal foundation year. And why not, they have a really mature, deep and sophisticated sense of genre and style. This is complemented by strong underlying technical skills.

It was interesting to talk to Marc about how they do it. This is simplistic but seems to me to be quite telling. Marc explained that they had invested heavily in books and this is true large, mouthwateringly expensive contemporary books on illustration, photography and graphics are everywhere. These students do absorb the very best of contemporary work and it shows in their work and thinking. This constant exposure to the best practice in the field provides them with a real appreciation of style and genre informed by their access to this work. Marc explained that the last set of books cost £1,000 but money well spent I think. It is true that there are myriad examples of work on the web. But it occurs to me looking through these books that these are carefully presented examples of the very best. The web doesn’t select by quality and so does not provide that example of the very best that the books do.

Another interesting convention used by Marc and his colleagues relates to the evolution of project briefs. These tend to start, not with problem solving, but with a period of immersion in professional work. This takes the form of story boards with two focusses. One is about collections of practice (graphics, photography etc.) related to the brief. The other is about collections of inspirational graphics/illustration which may or may not be related but must be inspirational. It is the fusion of these two strands of investigation that leads to creative and high quality outcomes.

A third key feature it seems to me of practice in this school is in the dedicated commitment to visualising through drawing. These students are taught to use rendering/visualisation techniques which enable them to quickly and effectively develop their ideas. It means they don’t get seduced by photoshop filters and chance effects of the technology but they develop individual and purposeful ideas which they then have to realise using and applying their skills and understanding of technologies.

Other aspects of the conversation which intrigued me was the practice of usually using two or three teachers teaching on each course. The project briefs and course structure provides a secure spine for independent learning and each teacher can contribute as appropropriate. Thus students are exposed to a wider range of references than they might be otherwise.
PS and I really liked the way that a problem had been turned into an opportunity in KS 3 where 3 lessons a fortnight have to be taught by two teachers. Solution is to have every third lesson a self contained drawing lesson. This gives continuity and depth to developing drawing skills which the old QCDA units almost destroyed by presenting a single unit of work a term with drawing only happening in week 3.
PPS see more art from this years shows on Bucksart at Flickr

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About Dan

Senior Advisor, Art Inspector, Member of the Expert Advisory Group for Art, Consultant working with NSEAD, IOE, QCA, UCE, UOG. Currently lecturer at UCL working on a project in Kazakhstan to develop text books for a new art curriculum.
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