Imagine being able to give all pupils at Key Stage 3 the opportunity to create a reductive sculpture, to use stone, wood or soap and reduce it until only a piece of art is left. Sculpture is largely forgotten about in schools and shouldn’t be. Art teachers tend to shy away from 3-dimensional work, partly because of storage issues and partly because of the presumed expense.
I noticed, while taking pupils on weekly enrichment trips to art galleries around London, how amazed and excited they were by old marble carvings and started to think about how we might do sculpture in my small art room at school. Carrera marble was obviously off the list as a potential material. I decided on aerated concrete, a great tool for introducing carving – it is more soft and brittle, so outcomes come quicker, but learning (and the school’s budget) is not compromised.
I’ve been running my ‘Breeze Block Carving lunch club’ for a term now and the results are impressive. One of the things that surprised me was how quickly students learn the basics. I have been able to take a back seat in aspects of the club, such as setting up equipment and packing away, and already have one year nine pupil so advanced in her understanding of the process that she acts as my assistant, helping other pupils with their work.
With a substance like aerated concrete or breeze-block, reduction carving is fairly easy for the art and design teacher to learn. An impressive demonstration/example piece would take the teacher no more than a few hours to create. Tools can be acquired very easily too. A standard set of stone carving tools would cost a lot more than a set of builder’s chisels and mallets, which work well on aerated concrete. Art departments can work with what they have to hand: stone, wood, concrete, soap or polystyrene. Be sure to be health-and-safety savvy though – all of these materials come with potential hazards.
As an artist and as an art teacher I would be doing a disservice to my pupils not teach them, let them engage in, a form of art that is so crucial to art history. Just having the carving materials on display in my room (an invaluable example of resource-based learning), many other students have taken more of an interest in the work and my club. The weekly enrichment gallery visits have been enhanced further because pupils understand the process of turning a rock into a piece of art. They appreciate why sculpture was once seen as more distinguished than painting.
I came to stone carving fairly late, but I know that the year seven me would have revelled in the opportunity to help a breeze block reveal it’s inner piece of art, just as much as my current group of budding sculptors.
Danny Gardner is a practicing artist and art & photography teacher at East London Science School. He hopes to have some pupil’s sculptures ready to go on display at the Choosing Knowledge conference to be held at the Wellcome Collection, Euston Road, London on Saturday 17 February.