Our Marion Richardson collection has inspired a research project exploring the material cultures and cultural politics of educational spaces. Marion trained at Birmingham School of Art (1908-1912) before embarking on a successful career as a highly influential art teacher who travelled internationally to promote her ideas. She developed experimental methods of teaching both art and handwriting that had a profound impact on schoolchildren in the UK for many decades. Marion’s revolutionary approach was to reject the prevailing idea that children should be taught to draw or paint an accurate copy of items in front of them. Instead, she sought to arouse children’s visual awareness, to encourage self-expression and to enable pupils to evaluate their own work. Her pupils would sit with closed eyes, perhaps listening to a description, and wait for images to appear in ‘the mind’s eye’.
Examples of pupils’ artwork from the collection inspired artist-in-residence Katarina Hruskova to create four recorded sound pieces that were then used in a series of workshops with children and young people in the East Midlands in April 2019. Led by Katarina and Dr Sarah Mills, there were two core components of these. First, children and young people were invited to create a 'mind picture' by shutting their eyes and then painting whatever ‘came spontaneously to the mind’s eye’. Second, they listened to one of Laura’s sound pieces and then created their own artwork inspired by the narrative, using a choice of different art materials. This is an approach favoured by Marion herself, whose descriptions of the ballet she enjoyed so much were particularly vivid.
The workshops sparked a number of creative and critical questions, including deeper philosophical ones about the ‘purpose’ or ‘value’ of educational activities and practices. Those held in less formal settings rather than in schools created a much-needed space of freedom, fun, and a playful creative break from wider structures of governance. This raised timely questions about the purpose, policies, politics and pressures of different educational spaces.
The final part of the project, an exhibition in Loughborough University’s Martin Hall Exhibition Space, is taking place this month. Its title is taken from a recurring line children taught by Marion Richardson used to describe their drawings and takes the form of an installation by Katarina inspired by the children’s and young people’s artworks. Katarina has selected and assembled elements and gestures from their paintings to create collages and patterns. These have been reproduced onto the surfaces of carpets, thereby inviting the viewer to sit down, listen to the stories behind the patterns and explore what is in their own 'mind's eye'. If you want to see the exhibition for yourself, it’s open from 3-25 October 2019.
I’d like to thank Dr Sarah Mills for her permission to use material from her own blog posts about this RADAR project.