Infinite Possibilites

Sculpture Club 2017 - We completed a project on the British artist Tony Cragg. He was born in Liverpool in .... But lives in Germany and he has a retrospective currently being shown at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park. It is a positive reflection of 25 years of work. I spent six weeks adapting the concepts and methods of Tony Cragg to the classroom. It was not as easy as I had thought it would be. 


We explored the principles and elements of design and we explored what contour and figurative meant and related it to Cragg's work. But in week five I hit a problem. Tony Cragg's work from 2010 to 2015 looks like it's been squeezed through things to make the forms. These are very dynamic, organic forms and I had every intention for the kids to experience this so I purchased different shaped tools to facilitate these shapes. I could in - in my head - theoretically see how I could adapt this to the classroom but when I came to execute the theory, I realised I was grasping at straws. 


I was sat at my computer, looking at Craggs work, trying to figure how to do it so the kids could have a go and I realised that the clay I had purchased was not going to work. It was too stiff and when I tried to push it through the shapes, it wasn't soft enough and if I struggled to do it, ten year olds would struggle too. As I tried to work through the problem I watched a YouTube video of Tony Cragg talking in his studio about his work. He said this:


'If you take a big pile of clay and model it, you will find out that there are infinite possibilities to model that piece of clay. So from these billions of possibilities that are there, there are some that don't make sense to you. Maybe the practice of an artist is to move the material around and be aware of the moments and the forms that have a meaning for oneself'.


I realised very quickly that Cragg had earned the right to make his work. He had spent years working his materials to make the form that became his. He had earned the right as a sculptor to produce and the hour or so I had tried to work out his method to adapt it too the classroom was insufficient. He had earned the right to know and I hadn't. I realised I had to explain this to the children and I changed my plans and we made something else instead. 


I tried to explain the lesson I had learned to the kids as to why we were not doing what I had planned. I respectfully explained why Tony had earned the right as an artist to know how to work the materials he had chosen and how I hadn't. I asked them if they understood what I was explaining, they were honest and said 'no,' I knew that lesson was for me not them and I moved on. Later at the end of the project we visited the Yorkshire Sculpture Park to see Tony Craggs retrospective of five decades of work. I was nervous as I didn't know how the kids would respond, but all I can say was that it was amazing, our group of kids spent an hour and a half sat on the floor sketching and appreciating Craggs work. They were open and engaged and they were willing to grasp the concepts of his work. This was because they were empowered by experience and we had spent six weeks trying to contextualise the work, the kids were more appreciative. We were in the activity room and one child tried to explain how he felt to his teacher, he said spontaneously 'Its just the infinite possibilities, there is no right or wrong'. I was taken back by what he had remembered. I was flawed by how in time he understood what I was trying to say and he adapted to his own understanding. 

Art should be in schools, it enlightens and encourages, it inspires and it empowers. Why are schools not teaching art? We all need to experience the liberation of infinite possibilities, but children need to experience.


Tony Cragg in his studio.

Tony Cragg in his studio.

Penny Rowe