Why Art?

Posted on: 22/09/2023

Many of you may not be aware that Mrs. Pruce, our subject co-ordinator for art across the school, is also the national lead for art for the Independent Association of Prep Schools (IAPS), an association of which we are members. 

IAPS has 663 schools in membership (of which 47 can be found outside of the UK). The schools must reach a very high standard to be eligible for membership of IAPS, with strict criteria on teaching a broad curriculum, maintaining excellent standards of pastoral care and keeping staff members’ professional development training up to date.

Mrs. Pruce supports art teachers in IAPS schools as part of her role and has run several professional development days for other teachers at St. Helen’s College, when she has invited inspiring artists into school to run workshops for the staff. These include Darrell Wakelam and Emma Collins.

Mrs. Pruce’s ‘Why Art?’ blog appears on the IAPS website and I would like to share it with you (below). We pride ourselves on nurturing all of the arts and our enriched curriculum is a testament to the expertise of our staff at St. Helen’s College.

If you do not already follow the St. Helen's College instagram page for art then please do - it may inspire you to be a budding artist with your children!

Why Art? by Mrs. Nadine Pruce

“Every child is an artist,” said Pablo Picasso, and he’s right.

This September begins my fourth year at St. Helens College, Hillingdon, and what a few years it has been! Yet throughout, and since, the turmoil of Covid, our art has held classes together, united us in our joy for the subject and had us chuckling during online lessons, especially when dressed as royalty in crowns and tiaras with Year 2.

Art is all around us, not just in galleries but on TV, packaging, book covers, graphic design, the restaurant industry and stage and film to name a few. The career options are numerous, and it is a subject to be taken seriously.

The subject of art dates back thousands of years from all around the world. It adds to what we now know about history, from cave paintings to Henry Moore’s chalk work on the shelters during the war and Banksy’s political graffiti. Without these we can only guess at what really happened.

In itself, art can be a way of communication to express ourselves, heal our souls when troubled, tell a story or be an experience to share our thoughts and feelings or just to while away time.

For me personally, art has been something that I have only had the courage to embrace in the last 17 years or so. I say courage as I was the child at school who was too tall, stuck out like a sore thumb, and went easily red-faced when the art teacher told me that it wasn’t my best subject. That crushed all creativity I had for many, many years.

I promised myself that no child I teach would be made to feel this way about their own talents. The introduction of new skills at St. Helens College has proven that Picasso was definitely right. The child who can draw superbly may not be the best painter; the painter may not be the best sculptor, who in turn may not be the best print maker. But they are all good at something and seeing that realisation dawn on pupils' faces is what drives me on.

As teachers we have a role to play in encouraging our students, focussing on the good and inspiring the confidence to try. FAIL is the 'First Attempt In Learning' and even as adults we are still always learning.

We adults have a lot to learn from our children, in school and at home. The artistic response to the pandemic blew my mind. The explanations given as to why pupils drew what they drew were clear, simplistic and openly honest. Arya in Year 2 with her “Rainbow Tree” and Riya, in Year 6, with “Breakout” were stunning examples that gave me goosebumps and tears in my eyes.  Arya won her age group for the IAPS Online Art Competition in my first year here. Have you ever been reduced to tears by art in any form? Poetry, music or a piece of writing? My first glimpse of the Taj Mahal, from far away, actually made me cry, not an emotion I expected over the sight of a building.

The use of sketch pads at St. Helen's College has been changing and is changing further this school year. The desire to scribble out something not liked is natural but also pointless; we need to see our failures to perfect our abilities. In the book "The Dot" Peter H Reynolds shows us the power of one single adult's actions to change a child's life. “The book shows the importance of teacher-student relationships, and our connections as human beings. It shows how creative thinking on the part of a teacher can unlock a child's own creativity, confidence, and growth.”

So, however old you are, I encourage you all to go and enjoy whatever art form you would love to explore the most, and remember… in art you are never wrong.