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My first completed painting in a while

The painting I shared in my last post is now completed, and I’m quite pleased with the results. It still needs varnishing and framing but I feel it’s a successful painting. Here it is:

I haven’t got a title for my new painting yet… suggestions are welcome!

I apologise for the quality of the photograph I’m waiting for the second painting to be finished before taking both to be professionally photographed.

It’s been an interesting time completing the painting. Having to remember old techniques and skills has been a challenge, as is finding time, but I’m glad I did it. I seem to have relighted a passion in me for oil painting.

Beautiful lush close up of that gorgeous impasto oil paint!

Yummy yummy oil paint

The more I painted the more in love with the surface I became. I think it’s why I took so many cliched pictures of the surface. Trying to capture that beautiful thick texture that’s unique to canvas and oil became a driving force.

Sharing images on Instagram

If you follow me on Instagram you’ll have seen that I shared plenty of photographs. Sharing as I went was a strange experience. Showing each individual stage, rework and layer, warts and all, is a level of exposure that promotes more honesty than if you just show a final piece.

The future

If you do follow me on Instagram then you’ll have already seen that I’ve started my next painting in the series (I do love a series), unfortunately balancing work/ life/ painting has slowed me down a little but hopefully it’ll be complete sooner rather than later. I’m going for a slightly different look this time with a more gradual change in tones and washes.Hopefully creating a richer, deeper image.

I hope you’ve enjoyed what you’ve seen of this painting. Please, if you have anything you want to ask (or a suggestion for a title) either leave a comment below or contact me, and we’ll have a nice chat!

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For the first time in a while I am…

For the first time in a while I am painting. I am painting with oils, filling the air with that beautiful and unmistakeable smell of linseed and turps.

The need to paint

I want to make things, specifically I want to make images. These can be drawn, printed, digital or painted. Ultimately I have a need to create and there is something very special about painting, from it’s intoxicating smells to the stubborn dark colour trapped under your nails for days. I love painting, I always have. The tactile nature of the paint, the way it can flow like water across surfaces whilst at the same time be stubborn and need to be pushed and chiselled fascinates me. I never felt a need to have a subject for a painting beyond the exploration of paint.

Paint is powerful, it has the ability to convey beauty, stillness and peacefulness before instantly turning to be violent, aggressive and abhorrent. It allows for a flatness exposing sleek surfaces and the jaggedness of the deepest caverns. Paint can be brighter than the sun or darker than the midnight sky. Paint can do it all.

I think I put off returning to painting, fearing that what I produced wouldn’t be very good. I have been using the excuses of a lack of space or the lack of cash to invest in materials. It’s a shame really as now I am painting again I can feel it beginning to dominate my thoughts. The need to play, the need to explore and manipulate the surface are all at the forefront of my mind.

Paint seeps and moves around the canvas like water into rock pools.

Finding a subject

In the past when I was painting having a specific narrative or illustrative subject was never too important to me. The exploration of paint and the act of painting was enough. During my MA much of my work was focussed on the need to paint and documented turning the artist from creator to autonomous machine. Returning to painting after this amount of time, and having built up a more illustrative and narrative portfolio, I felt uncomfortable returning to these ideas.

I honestly did not think I’d ever really return to serious painting as it suited me to work with other mediums. Then one day I found myself playing with a kaleidoscope and I found my self enthralled with the way the light reflected off the cheap plastic beads to create the most amazing imagery with a myriad of colours. Each turn was creating a new image with areas that had deep pooling shadows and incredible bright spots. Whilst I was playing with the toy I began to wonder if I could take photographs through the lenses to document each turn. You may have seen some of those photographs on my Instagram account.

Whilst I was looking at the photographs and snapping more and more of them I began to feel that they would make for amazing paintings, or at least an interesting starting point. The strong imagery, the warmness of the random pattern had all the markings of what a good painting should be. It should draw you in deeper and deeper, holding your attention, forcing you to find all those little details. You should be hunting for the hidden, being drawn into the paintings story.

Beginning to paint

I knew once I had decided that I wanted to make these paintings as real paintings, not digital pieces that time would be crucial. Digital work tends to be relatively quick. You can work in blocks completing set tasks and stages, thanks mainly to the way in which software organises itself.

‘Real’ painting doesn’t work like that for me, I find that I have to work with a flow. Give the painting my undivided attention, clearing all other work and headspace. Walking away for too long and working on other things mean I risk producing a lacklustre piece of work.  With that in mind I decided that the only time to work on the paintings would be Summer. I would have some clear time to work, allowing my mind can be focussed on creating and without distractions. By the time other distractions would emerge I would be so deep in the process that they would not derail my painting.

Progress made on day one

The painting evolves

When I first planned these paintings I had notions of moving towards photorealism, really highlighting the glistening light of the plastic beads but as I’ve continued to paint the focus has changed. The original composition is still important and being referred to but I’ve found examining how the paint interacts with the surface and how it compositionally makes sense have begun to take over. Capturing the light and overall feel of the composition has become more important than accurately recreating the imagery. As the painting developed in my thoughts it changed to being about creating an image that draws you in. I want to create a feeling that you could fall forever through the painting.

Beautiful, lush brush strokes and that unmistakable gloss of oil paint

Opening up about the creative process

Opening up about my process and work when it’s not finished incredibly daunting. What if it’s rubbish? What if I never finish it? What if I become disillusioned with it and throw it out? All these questions whizz through my head.

I thought that on this occasion I would begin to share the work earlier. Take the viewer on a journey, with regular social media updates documenting progress on Instagram. I hope that you will join me on this journey and enjoy the paintings and their developments.

Progress to date of my first painting in years

 

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Playing with VR and the infinite possibilities

Recently I was lucky enough to be invited to a Friend’s Studio to play with a HTC Vive VR kit!

What we all think of when we think about VR.

I hadn’t been convinced by what I’d seen of VR until this point. It seemed, like 3D TV before it, expensive and gimmicky, ultimately destined to be abandoned long before it’s potential is realised. We’ve yet to see if VR proves to be a fad or not but the technology is incredible!

The wow factor!

After playing with the settings for the Vive, setting the lenses to the right distance and calibrating the positioning of the controllers it was play time. The immersion was absolute. During one of the demonstrations the floor fell away and I jumped back. the sense of immediate danger from that was stunning. The amazing thing about VR, particularly the demonstrations we were using (mainly games…) was the way in which you modified your behaviour when playing.

In Budget Cuts I’m playing the role of a secret agent climbing through air ducts. I naturally duck and lean around corners checking for enemies. There is no need for me to duck, there is no need for me to lean around corners – the game even accepts this. If you stand up your head poke up out of the map. If you lean forward you can put your head through a wall to check what’s there. The beautiful thing about the quality of the experience is you don’t want to – you want to go along with the game, you want to duck down in air ducts, you want to cower behind desks waiting to move.

If Budget Cuts doesn’t convince you of the fun you can have with VR then you only need to look to Valve Robot Repair demonstration. Graphically it’s the most impressive and because of this creates a greater sense of immersion, plus you get to come face to face with GlaDOS! The demo is largely scripted offering limited interactivity with the world but the level of detail is incredible. Every little decal and texture looks real and builds towards that final moment with the floor falling away. It was at this point that I jumped back feeling as though I would fall where the floor was coming away.

More than just games

The games blew me away! But the most mind blowing application that we played with was Google’s Tilt Brush. The app is an intuitive Art program, allowing you to quickly sketch out ideas with the VR controllers. So what? You ask, you can already do that on pretty much any device or computer and you’d be right. There are some excellent Art and Design programs out there that allow for quick sketches and more refined digital Art work. But Tilt Brush allows for complete 3D modelling! Using Tilt Brush is amazing, intuitive and frustrating (at least to start with) all at once. The addition of the 3rd dimension forces you to think in a new way, drawing as though you are working on a piece of paper will result in uneven and disjointed imagery as you move around your work. From the start you need to consider the whole of the model, you can’t just rely on drawing it from different angles and pasting it on to a rudimentary model. Your drawing is the model!

The possibilities for this are amazing. Not only the amount of time it could save for 3D modelling in a variety of settings. For example imagine you have employed an Architect to design your new home, rather than going to their office to see plans and a card model they simply hand you a head set, you strap it on and see a fully rendered version of your home in front of you. Imagine that you visit a gallery and rather than standing in front of a painting, you strap on a head set and can walk through the painting, around the painting viewing it from any position you wish, and as an Artist imagine creating work that caters for this!

Enough of my rambling about it! This video demonstrates it far better than I ever could explain it:

Blown away and ready for more

I’ve been hugely impressed with VR and cannot wait to see the future developments of it, I know Google are working on a physics led animation package which looks incredible. If it’s more than a fad or a gimmick for consumers we’ll have to wait and see, but from an Art and Design industry perspective this technology has limitless potential and I can’t wait to see what talented people do with it. Now all I have to do is convince the wife to let me invest the £2000 plus needed to set it all up at home…

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Google is making me motivated…

As I’m sat here completing a certificate in digital marketing with Google (https://digitalgarage.withgoogle.com) I’m thinking about making best use of my website to raise my profile. One message it keeps pushing at me is the need to up date with new content, and unfortunately I’ve not been doing a very good job of that!

Since posting in March, about the fact I’ve not been posting much I have successfully completed one new print that has been uploaded to the website and released for sale. Admittedly this is not the volume of new work that I thought was coming. So I thought maybe this time rather than saying work is coming I’d share what I have been up to and what I will be up to over the next couple of months. (If I write about it here I have to follow through with it, don’t I?)

So what have I been up to?

I’ve expanded the places you can purchase my Art, Prints and Cards from to include The Bristol Shop (www.thebristolshop.co.uk). The Bristol Shop is a wonderful online store selling all sorts of fabulous Arts and Crafts from Bristol based Artists. It would be well worth going and checking out some of the great Art on their site. My Artwork launching on The Bristol Shop also coincides with the release of the Cut and Stick series being produced as smaller prints at A5 size making them perfect for gifts! If you’d like to see the prints and cards they are also available from Craftisan, Niche Frames and my own online store.

OK that’s work, what about the Art?

I guess that’s the ‘work’ side of what I’ve been up to and thought I should share and I’ll be writing some more posts about my creative process and the amount of work that get’s thrown out because I’m not happy with it over the next few weeks. I’m planning to return to actual ‘real’ painting over the summer and will be setting myself up to complete two (at least) very different paintings that I’ve been playing with the ideas for, for a while. I intend to share updates on their progression frequently. The journey from conception to end and seeing the work mature is far more interesting than just being presented with a static image at the end.

What else have I been up to?

We’ve covered what I’ve been up to as far as selling myself goes. We’ve covered that I’ve been planning and trying out various things and that I’ll be posting more and laying bare some of my thought processes for work over the near future I guess that only leaves what I’ve been up to outside of my own little Arty world. In January I started training in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu at Gracie Barra Bristol and whilst it has arguably slowed me down creatively the benefits it have given are great. The picture at the top of the post is a group shot of the club with Roger Gracie at a recent choke seminar. If you are looking for something to eat in to your ‘spare’ time, I’d recommend going giving it a go! I guarantee you will not be disappointed and you’ll come away bruised, achy but thrilled!

 

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A busy few months and the start of the…

I can’t believe it’s already March… the year seems to have barely started and we’re nearly a quarter of the way through it!

I’ve been so busy recently and unfortunately haven’t got around to completing much new Artwork (it’s coming I promise) or updating the website. It just seems to have been non stop and whilst I have made various twitter, facebook and instagram posts, I haven’t been updating the website despite so much happening.

There is new Artwork on the way and I am considering and planning a series of kaleidoscope inspired paintings, returning to my love of painting and geometric abstraction, to go along with continuing of the Cut and Stick series and the completion of the Give / Take sequence from the Stereoscopic Anatomy. Unfortunately at the moment time is not my friend at the moment…

So that’s a little bit about what I’m planning to get up to over the next few months (or at this rate – years) and I still haven’t said what I have been up to. Since my last update, way back when, I’ve had three exhibitions and developed a greetings card range.

Up until the New Year my Artwork was on display at Craftisan, a wonderful little craft emporium and cafe and in November I took part in the annual Front Room Art Trail, which is always a busy event (and was the final convincing I needed to replace the carpets). Both of these exhibits can be seen in the photographs with this post. The New Year started with an exhibition at the popular Tobacco Factory. I’m not big on reviewing myself but I think it is fair to say all the exhibitions have been well received. I am now looking at ways of filling my calendar moving forward, hopefully with lots of new and exciting pieces of work to exhibit. If anyone has any opportunities please let me know.

At my various exhibitions I had been selling a range of greetings cards taken from the Cut and Stick range.. These proved to be very popular, and whilst picking up a batch of prints Niche Frames (they really are the best for printing!) I was asked if I could supply them with my greeting cards. Cards are also still available from Craftisan. Finally retail partners!  If anyone from Clintons, Paper Chase or other high street retailers are reading this then please don’t hesitate to get in touch with me!

Rather comically the ability to finish writing this post has been hindered by, once again, a lack of time (I started writing on 8th March!). Making and sharing Art needs to take a higher priority again and I am sure it will as things begin to settle again. With Easter fast approaching I am hoping to be able set some time aside to create some new and exciting work.

 

 

 

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Robin print available for a limited time only

Joining the popular Cut and Stick series for Christmas is a beautiful and stylish Robin design. The Robin is produced as a small print measuring 210mm x 148mm and is printed on high quality Fine Art Somerset 255 gsm paper. The print is available for just £10 and can be purchased here. Robin is available for a limited time only and makes the perfect stocking filler.

Robin
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Another old essay – this time about kids and…

I came across another old essay that I thought I would share.

I wrote this as I was doing my teacher training and had a real issue with attitudes towards drawing that I was coming across in classrooms. I still have an issue with it and some of the work in the essay is still highly relevant.

I’ll apologise now for any strange syntax errors in the essay as I’m presenting it as originally submitted, minus results tables and appendixes.

Anyway here’s some light Friday afternoon reading for you:

A case study of attitudes towards representational drawing in a year nine (Children aged 13-14) class:

How do attitudes towards representational drawing effect motivation within the art class?

Abstract

Drawing is an activity that is common place in many art classrooms, yet despite this pupils can develop attitudes that they are no good at drawing. This case study looks at the attitudes towards drawing within a year nine class (ages 13 -14), examining their motivation, confidence and their belief of if they are good at the subject. This is achieved through using two questionnaires and a series of observations as to how the class responded to set tasks. Further to this the study questions if pupils would prefer other activities to drawing and examines the reasons given.

Introduction

Drawing is an activity that is common place within many art classrooms, and often forms the basis of many projects regardless of the medium the project’s final piece will be created in (Coutts and Dougall, 2005). Despite this emphasis on drawing in the classroom pupils, at times, develop negative attitudes to drawing and adopt an attitude that they are ‘no good at drawing’ (Anning, 1999) and become unmotivated. Through this study I intend to explore the relationship between representational drawing and motivation within the art class.

For the purpose of this study representational drawing will be defined as a model of drawing which focuses on the recreation of an object on the page in a photographic like manner, an ideal which many young people strive for (Anning, 1999 and Lowenfeld, 7th Edition, 1982).

Literature review

Drawing, traditionally, plays a central role within Art curriculum (Coutts and Dougall, 2005 and Petherbridge, 2008), this is reflected in the examination criteria at GCSE (QCA, 2007). The current assessment criteria for GCSE examination places an emphasis on the ability to record from primary sourced material, with a quarter of all marks available for the ‘recording’ and research of sources under current criteria (QCA, 2007), this is often interpreted as drawing from a still life or from life by teachers, despite that criteria does not specifically mention the need for these observations and recordings to be produced through a drawing medium. Due to this interpretation of assessment criteria the ‘ability’ to draw is central to school art, and within school art departments is often seen as the starting point for many projects (Coutts and Dougall, 2005, p.139).

Drawing is an intrinsic activity that all children partake in (Matthews, 1994) and is an important meaning making activity which children use to express ideas and develop understanding (Kress and van Leeuwen, 1996 and Kress, 1997, 2003). Matthews argues that from the initial moment children make marks, perhaps with food or other nearby materials, these made marks are deliberate. This may be initially for the kinaesthetic joy of mark making (Anning, 1999), but over time this will become more and more deliberate and eventually come to display expressive and representational modes of thought (Matthews, 1999, p. 21). Eisner (1997) echoes these thoughts as he places drawing as an important way in which young children learn to communicate.

Kellog (1970) devised a series of stages which illustrate the artistic development of the individual, starting at scribble (ages 2 – 3 years) through to pictures (seven onwards) at this latter stage we can see the continued development of the child in age based stages through Burt’s (1921) research. Gardner et al. (1975) and Lowenfeld (7th Edition, 1982) also place artistic development within age related models. However it is dangerous to approach artistic development within children as being defined by age as other factors can hinder or speed up development. One such other factor is the use of additional tuition or the formality of the art lesson. Cox et al.’s (1999) comparison of drawings produced in China and the UK would appear to support this. The Chinese art curriculum, as reported by Winner (1989) heavily consists of copying from two dimensional sources to transfer skills. Also in Chinese urban areas weekend art schools offering further tuition are common. It was only the Chinese pupils that had extra tuition in the art schools that produced higher quality work than UK students. This would appear to give some further credit that at a base level artistic development does happen uniformly unless further social factors (such as additional lessons) are permitted.

In the United Kingdom it is expected, by teachers, that children will conform to producing drawings that are based in western traditions of realism and photographic like reproduction. Children are expected to conform to ‘Western conventions of base-line, occlusion, perspective and a single viewpoint’ (Anning, 1999, p.170). Despite this children receive very little instruction in how to conform to these conventions (Anning, 1999) – as teacher’s at primary level often put ‘errors’ in tasks (usually an error in observation or recreation from memory) down to ‘artistic licence’ (Anning and Ring, 2004). Whilst instruction on how to draw is scarce, being told what to draw and detailed instruction of how to draw can improve drawing performance (Barret et al., 1985, Davis, 1983, Davis and Bentley, 1984). Due to a hierarchy of forms of communication, art is often marginalised in the school time table (Anning, 2008) and therefore children receive little instruction on the technical aspects of drawing to which they are expected to conform. The lack of instruction can cause a decrease in engagement with the activity (Gardner, 1989).

Those struggling without precise instruction of how to draw can develop feelings of inadequacy towards the task and the attitude that they are ‘no good at drawing’ can begin to emerge (Anning, 1999). Pupils begin to doubt their abilities in art at ages 11 -12 years old (Pavlou, 2006). Children, at this age, become more self conscious and aware of their own shortcomings in art (Lowenfeld, 7th edition, 1982). The development of negative feelings towards art and the ‘no good at drawing’ attitude is likely to limit learning within art and cause indifference towards the subject of art (Pavlou, 2006). As these feelings emerge children can abandon mark making in favour of other communication techniques (Anning, 1999).

Indifference and self consciousness often appear simultaneously; or rather indifference is used as an excuse for self consciousness and fear of failure (Pavlou, 2006). As Pavlou (2006) reports children often respond that activities are boring before offering that actually they weren’t sure how well they would be able to do the activity (pp. 196 – 197). These pupils often had many unfinished works – they felt that the works produced were not up to the necessary standard, illustrating that the level of engagement with the task, i.e. how quickly boredom sets in, relates to perceptions of ability.

Due to lack of instruction children must teach themselves the graphic modes of communication that we expect and model their artistic development through their social environment – starting with modelling family members before moving to peer group modelling (Hopperstad, 2008). Anning (1999) elaborates, it is through the encouragement of others that children develop an accepted ‘graphical behaviour’ (p.164) or visual language. This graphical behaviour is also enhanced by the child’s natural observation of behaviours – an adult doodling, an explanation for how to put together a book shelf or the rules of a game. However it is important to note that as television has increased its role in the family life, this too has had an effect on the artistic development of the child (Marsh and Millard, 2000, and Pahl, 2002).

If artistic development, particularly mark making and the development of meaning within those marks, is achieved through social mimicking then parallels between mark making and written and spoken language begin to appear. As drawing skill increases children learn increasingly complex rules of technique and creation, as they do with other forms of language in building vocabulary (Wilats, 1995). These forms of communication are given hierarchy once the child enters the academic environment, where they are led to perceive that it is the written word that is the dominant mode of communication (Gardner and Perkins, 1989), this leads to children reducing their engagement with drawing and mark making.

Garner (2008) suggests that there may be another reason than the hierarchy of communication methods. Through the reproduction of emails sent between members of the Drawing Research Network it is implied that this lack of instruction may be due to a shift in attitude towards the worth of drawing. Tom McGurik (p.20) expresses feelings that fine art education has ‘abandoned many of its traditions… in order to come under the university umbrella’ and that as such must defend its actions in terms of research and funding, which do not necessarily suit the schooling of fine art (p. 20). This would suggest that the traditional skills which art education was concerned with have given way to an academic approach of reason and research. With a shift in university art education (i.e. a move to a theoretical, rather than skill based education), it is possible that these sentiments towards the worth of drawing have filtered down through our educational system towards primary and secondary level education.

Hopperstad (2008) asses the development of meaning making through mark making and the subsequent peer interaction that comes with the activity. A child’s drawing is always meaningful to them (Atkinson, 1993 and Kress, 1997) and the intended meaning can either easily accessed or cryptically hidden depending on the sophistication of the visual language used (Hodge and Kress, 1988). Hopperstad (2008) notes the importance of interaction through observations of children critiquing each others work. Hopperstad reports further than seeing positive judgement from other pupils, that they question each others use of visual signifiers and their appropriateness (p. 145 – 147). Hopperstad also observes that Children turn to each other readily for help and instruction, such as the drawing of a necklace or a dog (p.143). As well as relying on each other for instruction and help it is observed that it is important for children to be able to share feelings of struggling and inadequacy, illustrating that the peer group attempt to work at a similar level as each other (Dyson, 1989). Pavlou (2006) however reports a negative side to these peer interactions, as Children begin question their own ability, those with low confidence will compare themselves to their peers negatively, noting that their pictures ‘suck’ (p. 197) compared to their classmates.

When searching for literature suitable for this project it was difficult to find any that specifically related to the age group being investigated (year nine, ages 13 – 14). Whilst much of the literature reviewed here can give us a general picture of the art class it is important to note that the research presented here applies to pre adolescent (Pavlou, 2006) and primary school aged children (Anning, 1999, 2008, Anning and Ring, 2004, Barret et al., 1985, Davis, 1983, Dyson, 1989, Davis and Bentley, 1984, Hopperstad ,2008, Kress, 1997, 2003, Kress and van Leeuwen, 1996, Marsh and Millard, 2000, Matthew, 1999 and Pahl, 2002). The papers examined here may give us a good background picture of where these participants have come from but they will be more developed and further in their development on Burt’s (1921), Gardner et al. (1975) and Lowenfeld’s (7th Editon, 1982) development of artistic ability scales. Further to this Anning (1999) says it is possible that by this point some of the participants could have abandoned mark making altogether as they have developed a ‘no good at drawing attitude’ already, possibly due to lack of instruction or guidance, which could have cause a stagnation in development along developmental scales or possible regression.

Methodology

Design

This study is a case study as defined by Cohen et al (6th Edition, 2007), with elements of action research as defined by Cohen et al. (6th Edition, 2007, pp. 297 – 302), and Kemmis and McTaggert’s (1992, p.10) view that action research allows planning, acting, observation and reflection on a rigorous level. This study acknowledges and utilises Winter’s (1996, pp. 13 -14) principles of action research such as awareness of perceptual bias on behalf of the researcher. The pupils own initial responses to the research question have directed the course of research and ways in which issues raised have been addressed.

Participants

The sample used within the study was one art class at a school in Cambridgeshire. The school, serving pupils from central Cambridge and the surrounding villages is a large school with in excess of 1400 pupils on roll. The schools achievement levels are above national averages with statistics reporting 85% achieve five GCSEs or more at A* – C (including English and Mathematics) (DCSF, 2008) and the art department has a 100% pass rate A* – C at GCSE. The class sample was an opportunity sampling. The teaching class sampled is a year 9 class (ages 13 – 14) of mixed ability. The class size on the day the initial questionnaire sample was taken was seventeen (usual class size is 24, 7 were absent due to a variety of reasons such as illness and expulsion from class by their regular class teacher). The sample of pupils taken for the initial questionnaire were also the only pupils to be observed, although others were present within the classroom, and to answer the second questionnaire. Pupils within the sample size have a variety of special needs including one SEN statemented pupil, with a long medical history which has resulted in difficulties with motor skills, cognitive abilities and visual and auditory problems. This pupil also has a below average reading age of 6.03 and can be slow to process information and finds it difficult to organise and problem solve.

Materials

Preliminary questionnaire

The questionnaire contained eight questions designed to measure attitudes and motivation in the art class. The questionnaire was produced using a Likert scale (Likert, 1932) providing a range of responses to the questions and statements presented to the sample, to measure only one aspect of attitude and motivation at a time (Oppenheim, 1992, pp. 187 – 188). This was done for ease of comparison between respondents as this would be difficult to do with open ended questions (Cohen et al., 6th edition, 2007, pp. 330 – 331). The order of the questionnaire took Sellitz et al (1976) design for a questionnaire into consideration. At the end of the questionnaire there was space for pupils to write any other comments that they felt were necessary on the topic of art and drawing.

Second questionnaire

The second questionnaire contained sixteen questions (including a space for any additional comments from the respondent) designed to further measure and discover additional details about attitudes and motivation in the art class. As before many of the questions were produced using a Likert scale (Likert, 1932), measuring one aspect of attitude and motivation at a time (Oppenheim, 1992, pp. 187 – 188). The questions from the preliminary questionnaire were included to measure if responses had changed over the scheme of work the pupils had been following as well as new questions based on findings of the preliminary questionnaire and observations of the class of which four questions were open ended to allow a more personalised response from the respondent. The addition of open ended questions was not to limit responses to questions which could have a variety of responses because it would be incorrect to presume a range of responses (Bailey, 1994, p. 120). However the open ended questions do give examples of responses and guidance for the respondent to attempt to ensure useful information is given (Choen et al., 2007, Sixth Edition, p.330).

Procedure

The class was given an initial questionnaire about their attitudes towards representational drawing and motivation within the art class room. During the distribution of the questionnaire the class was reminded that it was an investigation in to what their attitude and motivation was in the class room and they should be honest as this was not a test and would not be used to mark them in any way. A further reminder of this was placed at the top of the questionnaire.

After the class had completed filling in the initial questionnaire pupils were asked to complete two tasks over a 90 minute period. The class was asked to produce two drawings based on a composition of sea shells. Sea shells are regularly used at the school for still life drawing activities. The first drawing the class was asked to produce would focus on line and shape of the composition whilst the second would focus on tonal properties of the composition.

The results of the initial questionnaire and the drawings produced by the class were then collected and examined from which a scheme of work to address motivation and attitudes towards drawing in the art class room was devised, drawing on elements of action research. The pupils own initial responses to the research question have directed the course of research and ways in which issues raised have been addressed.

From the responses to the tasks and questionnaire a scheme of work was developed that would explore attitudes towards and motivation for drawing when combined with other tasks in the classroom, such as 3D construction and the creation of ‘op art’ patterns would influence attitude and motivation. Responses to these tasks have been recorded in observation notes.

Upon completion of the sequence of lessons the class were given a new questionnaire. The new questionnaire re-examined the same elements that the initial questionnaire addressed and requested that the participants give further detail through the addition of open ended questions, exploring how they measure their perceived ability and preference of activities.

Results

Initial Questionnaire results

From the initial questionnaire it can be seen that 81% of the class enjoy the subject but only 29% feel motivated within the classroom. 41% state that they enjoy representational drawing, whilst 29% believe they are good at it, however 41% stated they are confident in their drawing ability. One participant strongly agreed with the statement that they are confident in their ability despite none strongly agreeing that they are good at representational drawing. 71% stated that they prefer to do other activities in the art class other than drawing. At the stage of the year in which the questionnaire was distributed year nine pupils were considering options for their GCSE / KS4 subjects, at this point 29% stated that they were going to take the subject at this level whilst 35% remained undecided and a further 35% said they would not be taking the subject further. Participants offering an undecided (neutral) response to the statements vary from 47% (I enjoy representational drawing (for example drawing a still life, a ‘realistic’ drawing) to 12% (I prefer to do other activities in art other than drawing).

On the questionnaire there was space for the pupils to write what activities they would prefer to do other than drawing. Of the pupils that offered suggestions (11 in total) 5 offered more than one suggestion, one pupil wrote that they like to have a variety of activities and another stated that they wanted something easy and exciting to do. 64% stated that they would prefer to work in 3D making models and sculptures. Three (27%) responded that they would prefer to do Urban art/ spray paint, an activity that is popular within the school.

Pupils were also given the option to give any additional comments about what they thought of art and drawing. Seven (41%) of the original sample (17) offered additional comments. Two of these pupils stated that they would enjoy art more if they were given more freedom about what they could make or draw:

‘I would like art more if we got to choose more of what we draw, like making our own ideas.’

‘I would enjoy art and drawing more if I drew an image I choose and liked.’

One pupil went further, stating that whilst only liking drawing things that they like, they do not like the task to be too difficult:

‘I only really like drawing things I like or can draw easily.’

Contrary to this one pupil gave the insight that they found drawing ‘relaxing and satisfying’ and found other activities ‘stressful and tiring.’

Focus on the activity of drawing within the classroom was interpreted negatively as one pupil stated that they do not always like drawing and another expanded:

‘…I don’t like drawing or drawing the same thing and just sitting there drawing…’

Second Questionnaire Results

From the second questionnaire it can be seen 59% enjoy art, 29% are undecided and 11% do not enjoy art. 41% are motivated in the classroom, 35% are not and 24% are undecided. Only one (6%) of the sample strongly agreed that they are good at art with a further 35% saying that they agreed they are good. 35% disagreed that they were good at art, and one (6% of total sample) of this group stated that they strongly disagreed.

41% of the sample enjoys representational drawing, 35% do not enjoy representational drawing and 24% remained undecided. 35% felt that they were good at representational drawing, with one saying that they strongly agreed with the statement. 29% did not agree that they were good at representational drawing and 35% remained undecided. 53% are confident in their representational drawing ability, 29% disagreed with the statement and 17% were undecided. The pupils were asked how they measure how good they are at drawing as an open question; the responses can be seen in Table 5, along with the number of times pupils cited it as how they measure how good they are at drawing. One of the sample did not respond to the question and five (29%) gave multiple answers.

When pushed further than the previous questionnaire as to what they want to draw and were asked if they would prefer to draw what they personally like (for example objects they have an attachment with or people) the majority agreed with the statement, 82% agreed with 29% strongly agreeing. Only 1 of the sample (6%) disagreed with the statement and 12% remained undecided. Table 6 shows the individual responses that pupils gave, and the frequency with which they were cited. Five (29%) of the sample did not respond to the question the question and two (12%) gave multiple answers.

Pupils were asked if they would prefer to draw from their own imaginations as opposed to drawing from observation, or real life. 53% agreed that they would prefer to draw from their imaginations, 41% remained undecided and 1 (6%) disagreed.  Five (29%) of the sample did not respond to the question and two (12%) gave multiple answers and one appears to have misunderstood the question answering ‘sometimes’.

Pupils were asked if they preferred other activities than drawing in art. 70% agreed that they would rather do other activities with four (24%) strongly agreeing, 12% being undecided and 18% disagreeing. Pupils were then asked what sort of activity they would prefer to do; the results of this are shown in table 8. Seven participants did not respond to this question and five gave multiple answers.

At this time of the school year, Year 9 pupils have handed in their options for subjects KS4 subjects, when the previous questionnaire was handed out they were had only just begun the process of subject option selection. It was felt necessary to follow up on the previous question of whether they were considering taking Art as a GCSE / BTec option by asking who had opted to carry on studying Art to KS4. This was done to establish whether or not the discontinuing of the subject at this stage in the classes learning has effected motivation. Table 9 shows the results which show that 47% have opted to study art at KS4.

Further to this, with over half of the class ending their formal studying of art at the end of this year I felt it was relevant to ask whether or not pupils would carry on pursuing drawing activities regardless of whether or not they are continuing with their formal Art education. 64% of the sample agreed or strongly agreed that they would like to carry on with drawing activities, 18% said they would not and 12% remained undecided. One participant stated that they were undecided if they would continue with drawing despite saying that they would be continue studying Art in to KS4.

As on the initial questionnaire there was a space for pupils to leave any additional comments they may have about drawing or art. Four participants (24%) took the opportunity to leave additional comments. One of the comments was that a pupil didn’t like drawing:

‘I don’t like drawing.’

Another commented how they found the subject fun, but felt they would enjoy it more if they were good at it, whilst another also speaks of the subject’s relaxing qualities:

‘It’s very fun but I would enjoy it more if I was good at it.’

‘It is relaxing and it can become a focus over a number of weeks.’

One pupil, a confident, motivated and able pupil commented:

‘Yes, we should do more in clay work and a big project and spray painting –deffo!’

Changes in results between the initial questionnaire and the second questionnaire.

The two results tables have been compared to see if there has been a shift in pupils’ opinions caused by the scheme of work and their exploration of drawing.

It can be seen that overall 18% changed their opinion from enjoying art to either being undecided or disagreeing that they enjoy art. Two additional participants (12% of sample) have become motivated within the class. An additional 24% state that they do not enjoy representational drawing on the second questionnaire and the number of undecided participants between the two questionnaires has halfed, but the number of people who do not enjoy representational drawing has increased by four (24% of the sample and the same number that undecided participants has decreased by). Only one additional participant has strongly agreed that they are good at representational drawing on the second questionnaire, whilst two now strongly disagreed with the statement. One participant no longer strongly agrees that they would prefer to do other activities than drawing and one additional participant strongly disagrees.

The numbers of students that listed preferred activities has also been compared. The list now contains three additional preferred activities of outside activities, clay work and ‘big projects’. One less pupil offered suggestions for preferred activities on the second questionnaire than the first. Sculpture and making models has lost two pupils that would prefer these activities whilst spray paint and graffiti / urban art have gained two and photography has gained one.

Discussion

Discussion of results from initial questionnaire.

The results show that the majority of the class enjoy art but do not feel motivated within the classroom. Whilst many disagreed or remained neutral about the statement of their ability, whether they were good or not, in relation to representational drawing, 47% of the sample stated that they were confident in their ability to produce a representational drawing. A strong majority (71%) of the class stated that they preferred to do other activities than drawing in the classroom.

The class enjoys art but does not feel motivated in the classroom. This result seems odd and may actually highlight an error in the way the class was asked the question. The lack of motivation may be a result of self consciousness in the pupils as this is an age when pupils will be aware of their own shortcomings (Lowenfeld, 7th edition, 1982) and feelings of inadequacy have unmotivated the group, as has been observed in existing research (Anning, 1999 and Pavlou, 2006). The lack of motivation may come from the lack of detailed instruction given within the classroom. Detailed instruction can improve artistic performance (Barret et al., 1985, Davis, 1983 and Bentley, 1984), this may prevent the lack of motivation in the results from the questionnaire and as observed by Anning (1999) and Pavlou (2006). Interestingly, despite an apparent lack of motivation (35% stated they were unmotivated, and a further 35% responded undecided about their motivation) the majority of the class does enjoy art (76% said they agreed or strongly agreed with the statement and 18% remained undecided). This would imply the class does enjoy art, and that motivational issues may be related towards the task which the class has been asked to take part in and the clarity of instruction and ability to be successful within the task. The perceived lack of motivation as self protection strategy would be parallel to Pavlou (2006), where pupils often claim to be bored of tasks before offering that they are not interested because they do not know if they will succeed.

When the class was asked if they enjoy representational drawing 41% agreed or strongly agreed that they did and 47% remained undecided. A possible reason for the large percentage that remain undecided, and the perceived lack of motivation within the classroom, may be explained by pupil comments that imply the pupils do enjoy drawing, but they would prefer to have more freedom in what it is that they do. Giving further credit to the notion that enjoyment and motivation are task related. The pupils of this class seem to want to have freedom to draw what they want to draw, rather than things that are setup for them to draw by the class teacher. They want to be given the creative freedom to develop their own ideas.

Contrary to Pavlou’s (2006) findings a low confidence (on their initial observational drawing the pupil wrote ‘it’s rubbish’ below their name), unmotivated yet able pupil responded that they would prefer to do something simple. Pavlou found that tasks that appeal to low and high confidence pupils tend to be ‘complex and thus more challenging’ (p.198). This pupil also wanted something exciting but the emphasis was the desire for a simple task. Having observed this pupil throughout the scheme of work the class has been following, the statement of wanting something simple is not completely true. What is true with the pupil in question is that they want tasks and objectives explicitly explained with clear instruction and positive reinforcement of what the pupil can achieve. This pupil demonstrates that clear instruction can raise performance (Barret et al., 1985, Davis, 1983, Davis and Bentley, 1984), but also that clear instruction and direction can raise motivation. This would seem to agree with Anning (1999) who states that a lack of instruction, and the presumption that children will naturally learn to draw in the western style, can create disaffection and a lack of motivation towards drawing. With clear instruction and guidance this pupil is able and confident, which builds motivation. The ‘simple’ activity that the pupil wished for is nonexistent, the activities the pupil has been working with have been of increasing difficulty, conceptually and practically, yet clear instruction has made the task appear simple and achievable.

When the class was asked of their confidence in their representational drawing ability and how ‘good’ they thought they were, I was expecting the answer to be the same, presuming that if you felt you were good at something that meant you were confident and if you were confident in your ability that meant that you thought you were good at the activity. The answers the class gave are interesting, 29% agreed that they were good at representational drawing (none strongly agreed), 41% remained undecided and 29% disagreed (only one of the participants strongly disagreed). When asked of their confidence in their representational drawing ability the levels of disagreement remained the same, however 47% stated that they were confident, with one participant stating that they strongly agreed with the statement and 23% remained undecided. A possible explanation for this could be social modelling (Hopperstad, 2008) whilst an individual may be confident in their ability, discussions with peers and observations of peers’ work may highlight inadequacies and prevent the pupil form considering themselves ‘good.’ Pavlou (2006) observed that pupils would compare their work to their nearby peers negatively, thinking that there’s was not as good as someone else’s work. Further to this, the lack of admitting that they are good at an activity, despite being confident, may be a reflection the peer group attempting to work at a uniform level (Dyson, 1989).

When the pupils were asked if they would prefer to do any other activities within the classroom seven out of eleven respondents (64%) answered that they would enjoy something more 3D based, such as model making or sculpture based work. This could be because of the joy of playing / experimenting with materials (Duncum, 2002) and kinaesthetic pleasure of making. The ability to work in 3D would be a departure form the typically 2D work produced within the department at the school making the activity attractive through being novel (Pavlou, 2006). The option of working in 3D would also allow pupils to break away from conforming methods and symbols of mark making harkening back to Matthews’ (1994) ideas of exploratory mark and meaning making in play. Pupils may prefer the idea of working in 3D as it is seen as less academically challenging and novel than producing a representational drawing (Pavlou, 2006).

Three pupils responded that they would prefer to work in spray paint producing urban art / graffiti. The use of spray paint is common within the school and popular, especially in years 10 and 11 where many pupils produce stencilled spray paint images for assessment. Pupils see this activity on a regular basis and wish to take part, however I would question how much this desire would be present if pupils did not regularly observe this activity. It is possible that the pupils wanting to take part in this project have a desire to take part in the same activities as there peers in the school as they feel as though they are missing out. This could be seen to relate to Hopperstad’s (2008) observations of peer groups wishing to work at the same level.

One pupil explicitly wrote that they would enjoy a variety of activities and a further five of the respondents (out of a total of eleven respondents) to the question of preferred activities offered more than one suggestion. The desire to do a variety of activities could imply that pupils wish to experiment with forms of art to further understand and develop their own visual language (Wilats, 1995) beyond drawing.

To my surprise only one of the respondents said that they would prefer to do photography. This surprised me as I have observed photography to be a popular activity with other pupils, largely due to its perceived instantaneous results. A possible explanation for this is that the class had just finished a photography project with their regular class teacher, which involved recreating portraits by other artists – including costumes, back drops and lighting. The class teacher is a fan of photography and had pursued the project with some vigour exposing the pupils to the need to take hundreds of photographs to obtain just one satisfactory result as is the case in a professional studio. This attitude put some of the pupils off the activity as it suddenly became ‘difficult’ to them making it not worthwhile (Pavlou, 2006), and could therefore potentially be a reason for the activities lack of popularity.

Discussion of second questionnaire and comparison of results

The second questionnaire saw a shift in results from the first. It would be difficult to surmise that there has been a general movement in one direction or another. Pupils have now generally expressed an opinion rather than remaining neutral. There may be external factors beyond the scheme of work that the class has been following that explain this shift. It is important to note when this questionnaire was distributed the class was being covered by a non-specialist teacher in a room not usually used for art due to the time tabling of the art GCSE exam. This could be a factor in the shifting of results as they were in an unfamiliar environment and the covering teacher may have been unable to answer any queries about the questionnaire.

Another factor which could explain why the pupil responses had changed could be the ordering of the questions. As well as examining opinions in more depth the second questionnaire altered the question order to attempt to stimulate more honest and thoughtful results. It was felt that the initial questionnaire proposed the questions in too abstract a manner and did not lead the respondent to think of their responses to the questions in a logical form. For example the first two statements, ‘I enjoy art’ and ‘I am motivated in the art class,’ were placed in this order on the second questionnaire but originally appeared in the opposite order. This was done because it was felt that the class would perhaps think more honestly about their motivational levels if they were thinking already about their enjoyment of the subject.

Once again it can be seen that the majority of the class (59%, illustrating a decrease of 22% between questionnaires) do actually enjoy art, and this time there has been an increase of 12% in the number of pupils which say that they feel motivated within the class (41%). Previously only one pupil stated that they did not enjoy art, but two do now. The results given when asked about confidence and motivation are now much more comparable than previously and would suggest that if a pupil enjoys the subject they are more likely to feel motivated within it. It is possible that this reflects the work of Lowenfeld (7th Edition, 1982), Anning (1999) and Pavlou (2006), suggesting that pupils require a sense of success and achievement, or at least need to feel as though they can obtain success, in order to enjoy the class and therefore be motivated within it. This is further evidenced by the responses given when asked how much they agreed with the statement ‘I am good at art.’ It can be seen in the results that the same number of participants agreed or strongly agreed with the statement (41%), were undecided (24%) and strongly disagreed or disagreed (35%). This would suggest that a belief in ability can fuel motivation (Pavlou, 2006).

The statements ‘I am good at representational drawing’ and ‘I am confident in my representational drawing ability’, which appear in this order on the first questionnaire, were also switched. When reviewing the results of the first questionnaire I thought it was odd that one strongly agreed that they were confident at representational drawing, seven agreed, four remained undecided whilst four disagreed and one strongly disagreed. Yet the pupils’ responses to if they thought they were good at representational drawing were somewhat different; none strongly agreed, five agreed, seven remained undecided, those that strongly disagreed and disagreed remained the same. It seemed odd that the pupils that responded that they were confident in their ability did not also answer that they felt they were good at the activity. To test whether or not the order of the statements on the questionnaire would affect the results they were switched. The change in order of the statements does not seem to have significantly affected results and only one participant has changed their opinion significantly from undecided to strongly agree when questioned about their ability, whilst three additional pupils now strongly disagree (having previously only disagreed). When the pupils were asked what they felt their strongest art activity was in the class, related to the question of if they thought they were good at art (not necessarily drawing), nine (53%) stated drawing which is 18% higher than those that were willing to state that they thought they were good at representational drawing. This could be due to a lack of belief in their ability at other activities and a feeling that drawing due to its common place within their curriculum is therefore their strongest.

After analysing the first questionnaire and seeing that confidence could be high whilst a belief in ability could be different it was deemed necessary to ask them how the pupils measured how good they were at the activity. When asked how pupils measure how good they are at representational drawing a small number of participants (35%) stated internal factors, such as self belief and opinion, as their measuring device. The majority of pupils stated that they looked for confirmation from an external body, usually a person they perceive to be in a better position to make the judgement, such as a teacher or parent with a few also stating that their friends tell them. In total ten participants (59%) said that they looked to external bodies for measurement of ability, particularly teachers (35%), and one participant commented ‘no one tells me I’m good’, which would suggest this pupil also looks for confirmation of ability from an external body. When the answers to the questions of if they believe they are good at drawing and how they measure that ability are compared with the answers given for their confidence in the activity, the results would suggest that confidence is an internal factor and independent from feeling that you are good at the activity. For a pupil to believe they are good at an activity there must be external affirmation of this.

When the class was asked if they prefer to draw things they like, fourteen (82%) agreed or strongly agreed with the statement. When asked if they would rather draw from their imagination nine (53%) agreed or strongly agreed, whilst seven (41%) said they were undecided. This would imply that the class would prefer to draw from something based in reality, and the range of answers given for both what the pupils would prefer to draw and what they would prefer to draw from their imagination would appear to confirm this. The majority of answers to these questions are based on objects that the pupils would have readily available access to, including the use of photographs. However the design of the question here could be at fault. The pupils may not have totally understood the question, evidenced by a pupil that responded ‘sometimes’ to the question of what they would they like to draw from their imagination. Looking at the results it is possible to suggest that the pupils are not drawing from imagination but from memory.

It is possible that this is the case due to the development of what Anning (1999) calls a ‘catch-all, safe, representational style of drawing’ (p. 169) developed for approval. Pupils feel that their drawings must be based on reality rather than truly from their own imaginations. The use of drawing to tell stories, as is common in primary schools (Anning, 1999, 2008 and Hopperstad, 2008), demonstrating drawing from imagination, appears to have been lost by this age group as they cite that they would prefer to draw objects than narratives, evidencing that the class feels drawings must be based in reality. It is also perhaps possible that the sentiment of producing drawings of objects and not in an imaginative, narrative form, could be a reflection that pupils have learnt that in order to attain praise and recognition work must be produced to reflect the views and ideals of the person that they are hoping to obtain praise from (Anning, 1995, 1997)

When the pupils were asked if they would like to do other activities than drawing for a second time there has been little movement in the responses, overall between the categories of agreeing, disagreeing and undecided there has actually been no movement, the changes have been within the activities suggested by the class. The list of activities offered as alternatives has grown and the types of activity and frequency with which they are quoted now have changed. Working with 3D projects has lost participant across the three categories this covers (clay work, sculpture and model making), whilst urban art / graffiti / spray paint activities has two additional participants wanting to do it. With pupils commenting that they want an activity that is ‘easy’, ‘simple’ and Pavlou’s (2006) ideas of pupil investment relating to ability to succeed and effort needed, it is perhaps unsurprising that pupils want to do an activity which is seen as quick and giving a sleek finish that they appreciate, such as the stencil spray painting that is common in the school.

When the second questionnaire was distributed the pupils had just submitted their subject options for their GCSEs. The question was asked of the class to see if whether or not the lack of continuation in the study of the subject would increase the likelihood of an unmotivated pupil. The lack of continuation with the subject does not appear to have influenced the motivation of the individuals in the study. The answer to the question of continuing the subject into key stage four revealed that 47% (eight of the participants) were continuing the subject. When asked on the initial questionnaire if they were going to take the subject as a key stage four option only 29% (five participants) agreed or strongly agreed, 35% ( six participants) were undecided and 35% (six participants) disagreed. The subject within the school has a large take up and is an in demand subject, to the extent that the school runs additional classes after school for those wanting to take it as an additional subject, the number of pupils wishing to continue with the subject is not surprising given the culture of the school. What is perhaps of most interest is the number of participants that said they would continue to draw, regardless of whether or not they are taking art for at key stage four, eleven participants (65%) said that they would, two (12%) were undecided and four (24%) disagreed. Two of the pupils who said they would not be continuing drawing or remained undecided also stated that they would be continuing the subject at key stage four, although one of these pupils (the participant that said they would not continue drawing) also stated that they did not think they were good at art. This could illustrate that the pupil despite having a low level of self confidence still feels as though they can achieve in the subject area. The pupil that responded they were undecided about continuing to draw enjoys art and feels motivated in the class but does not feel confident within their drawing ability. Perhaps most interestingly from this question is that four participants that agreed with they would continue to draw (24% of the sample, and 36% of those that agreed) are not continuing the subject into key stage four. This would give credit to the notion that drawing is an intrinsic human activity (Matthews, 1994) and may just be carried out for pure kinaesthetic joy (Anning, 1999).

Concluding Remarks

The result of the second questionnaire would suggest that the class appears to enjoy art and is motivated in the subject, although more appear to enjoy the subject than feel motivated. The discrepancy of this result with the result from the same questions on the first questionnaire, which suggested the class enjoyed the subject but did not feel motivated, could be deemed to be because of a fault in the questionnaire design or a number of external factors, it was reported that on the day of the initial questionnaire being distributed some of the class had been in trouble with other teachers. When looking at the results of the questionnaires, the enjoyment and confidence levels in the class are higher than those of motivation and a belief that the pupil is ‘good’ at the subject. This would suggest that the enjoyment of a class does not come from feeling motivated or that they are ‘good’ in the subject but pupils having confidence that they can achieve. This could be related to the way in which the art class is viewed by the pupils; Eisner (2001) suggests that the art room is a safe area for pupils to experiment, without fear of failure. If this is the case then pupils should feel confident in the class as the failure they may encounter is considered part of the learning process.

Confidence is the main cause for motivation or lack of it within the classroom, Pavlou (2006) notes that pupils that found activities boring, often then elaborate to expressing concern over what was required of them in the activity. Motivation within a task would appear to come from the confidence that success is achievable, and that this judgement has to be made internally by the pupil rather than through positive affirmation from the teacher, although positive affirmation can only help raise confidence. The findings of the study would suggest that for a high confidence level to be translated into a pupil feeling that they are ‘good’ at the subject they must be told by someone, usually a person perceived to be in a position of authority such as a teacher or parent.

Representational drawing is not the most popular activity within the art classroom; it is difficult to say which single activity will be accepted by the majority as the most popular. This is likely due to a number of reasons, firstly it is perceived as difficult. This perceived difficulty may come from a lack of instruction previously (Anning, 1999) or the development of resentment towards drawing due to not being able to achieve at the activity. Secondly, the participants in this study will be developed to appoint where they are trying to recreate a realistic view of the world (Burt 1921, Gardner et al. ,1975 and Lowenfeld ,7th Edition, 1982), which they may feel they produce inadequate results when trying to draw in this fashion. The study revealed that pupils are generally happy to attempt to create the western realist drawing that they are accustomed to but would prefer to draw their own personalised objects or activity.

Even though less than half of the participants (seven out of seventeen) said they enjoyed drawing, and four remained undecided (which may be attributed to a subjective view of what they are asked to draw, i.e. they only enjoy drawing objects and things that they have a personal taste for), eleven said that they would carry on drawing regardless of whether or not they are carrying on studying art at key stage four, with four participants saying they would regardless of the fact that they are not continuing with the subject. This would appear to give credit to Matthews’ (1994) idea that drawing is an intrinsic activity that all humans take part in. Drawing appears to be an activity that the majority of the pupils are motivated to continue with, regardless of an academic need to, which would suggest that the simplest motivation for drawing is a pure kinaesthetic pleasure from making a mark (Anning, 1999).

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Winner, E. (1989) How Can Chinese Children Draw So Well? Journal of Aesthetic Education. No. 22, pp.17 – 34.

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A blast from the past… an old essay about…

Earlier in the week I posted a tweet linking to an old essay I wrote and submitted as part of my degree course and was published on Insidepulse.

I thought I should present the essay here as well. Please give it a read (it’s quite lengthy) and leave comments if  you want to have a conversation about it.

To the put the essay in some context, if you read the about me page you’ll see I love comics, I absolutely adore comics and have done for years to the point of financial ruin. Honestly 23 pages can cost so much! It’s because of comics that I became interested in Art in the first place. I always thought I would go into comics and illustration as a child, it’s only once I went to Art school that I started to think differently. That didn’t stop me from loving them or from trying to use them academically in my studies.

Well here it is, I hope you enjoy it:

CRITICAL ANALYSIS OF THE GRAPHIC NOVEL AS AN ART FORM


IIntroduction

Through this essay I am going to look at the world of the comic book and graphic novel as a legitimate art form and not as it is often seen, cheap entertainment. It is not hard to see why comics have fallen into this niche; they used to be cheaply produced on cheap paper, with only basic printing techniques. The format by nature is commercial and mass produced in order to sell as many units to as many people as possible. The great icons of comics are often those designed for a less sophisticated and often younger audience, for example Superman, a childish fantasy about having absolute power created originally by two teenage friends with a keen interest in science fiction, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster.

This essay will argue that these books, particularly the new generation of books being produced now, should be given an artistic respect especially in Britain and America. Comic books are already accepted as viable art forms in Europe, where in France every one in five books sold is a graphic novel[1], and Japan, which accepts the books due to their rich history in their scrolls, and illustration. The format has come a million miles in its developments since the days when Superman was created, yet people insist on viewing it in the same manner. The format has become a forum for discussion of philosophy, ethics and politics. Many writers and artists relish in the fact that they can do this as the format “fly’s below critical radar”[2]. This essay will not argue that this art form is ‘high’ art, the commercial nature of the art form does to a large part prevent that, but it will argue that the format is a legitimate art form that allows discussion and exploration of ideas like any other art form.


What is the definition of a ‘comic’?

Will Eisner, who is often considered a seminal character in the development of comics defined the medium as ‘sequential art'[3] and left the definition simply as that. Whether the sequence was two or a hundred images it did not matter, all comics could be considered sequential art and vice versa. This was and still is considered true, however this definition is too broad. The definition which is currently considered accurate was produced by Scott McCloud in his book Understanding Comics. The book, set out as an actual comic, looks to explore the individual components that make up a comic, but in order to do that a definition is necessary. McCloud argues that saying sequential art is too simple as this could include other areas of art, such as calligraphy and film; in the case of film it is the difference of how time is conveyed that separates a comic and a film. Space between the panels on a page of a comic book does what time does for film.[4] After some exploration McCloud defines comics as:

Juxtaposed pictorial and other images in deliberate sequence, intended to convey information and/ or to produce an aesthetic response in the viewer.[5]

However McCloud’s definition allows us to include all sequential art. As early examples of comics he uses the Mexican picture manuscript Tiger’s-claw[6], 1049 and the Bayeux Tapestry, 1066. These should not really be classified as comics; by accepting them as early comics it would be possible to go even further back through history and class early cave drawings as comics. This is not to say they have not had some influence on the format and they can be considered as the ancestors of the current day format, but under a present day definition of a comic they are not comics. This is however where the modern day format obtains its central philosophy; to exploit the powerful tool of visual communication. Comics have inherited a tradition that can not only be seen on the works mentioned but on many other historical works as well; the use of words and image to convey what is happening. This is an ancient tradition and it is only under modern communications that the two have been divided into separate disciplines.[7]

The invention of the printing press in 1452 by Johann Gutenberg was an important advancement of technology, one that would eventually allow comic books to be produced however at this time there was no market for the medium; that would come along much later in the nineteenth century. Printing had been around previous to Gutenberg’s invention, largely in Asia, but Gutenberg’s invention allowed for mass production of books to begin. Previously to this books had been produced by hand. The printing press allowed books to be mass produced therefore spread news and information quickly and directly to the masses. The comic that we now know, came into being during the nineteenth century. This happened because facsimile copying was available due to technological advances in photo-processing and the cost of printing and binding, again due to technological advancements, had fallen, meaning that publishing volumes of these images and stories was now more financially viable.

The comic has been formed through an evolution of different art styles and advancements in technology, and as such this should be acknowledged in its definition:

Commercially printed juxtaposed pictorial and other images in deliberate sequence, intended to convey information and/ or to produce an aesthetic response in the viewers.

This definition though is also not enough; it describes the actual physical form of the comic book but not the content. The content to a large extent is not important, genre, cast and plot are inconsequential but the way these elements are depicted is important. Comics do have their own set vocabulary, some is now universal whilst other elements remain cultural and may be specific to any given region. This vocabulary is vital to the success of the book as this is how the ideas are conveyed to the reader, it is a language. This language has to be understood, as Goethe said the critic can only decide what the artist was trying to accomplish and whether they succeeded.[8] If the language was unreadable then the book would fail, however everyone when they pick up a comic book can begin to understand the narrative presented. The comic books vocabulary is made up of visual symbols and people, when reading these books understand more of it than they realise.

Symbolism is a powerful tool that is used in every element of a comic due to their nature. A comic is a series of static images that are trying to convey a story that is happening in time. Therefore time must be emulated, and it is; in the gaps between the panels, known as gutters[9], this is also where the reader uses their imagination to fill in the act of motion inherently missing in static imagery. Emotion, tension, suspense and all other sensations must be conveyed to the reader, this is done through the posture, facial expressions and position of the figures in conjunction with the way in which the dialogue is represented. The shape of the ‘balloon’ in which the dialogue is displayed can dictate how the dialogue is meant to be read; is the character shouting, speaking normally or thinking to themselves? The answer to this question always, without exception comes from what have become universal shapes for the speech balloon. Symbolism is the vehicle in which the narrative is told, without symbolism there would be no narrative in the still images and the comic could not exist.

With symbolism being so integral to the very nature of the comic and narrative art, the comic can now be defined as:

Commercially printed juxtaposed pictorial and other images in deliberate sequence, intended to convey information and/ or to produce an aesthetic response in the viewers by use of a set vocabulary and symbolism.

However, for the symbolism in the narrative to be understood, the reader must be able to recognise the symbols used. This is usually obtained through the use of a shared common experience. With the text this is taken as a given, as long as it is in a language you understand as reading tends to be learnt during infancy. Pictures tend to be more complicated, but over time a visual vocabulary is built up, an individual can identify a drawing of a person because they have seen a person in life. No matter how abstracted that would become, part of the individual would still read the image as a person. The person is represented on the page by the use of symbols. This makes the use of representation integral to any comic, as it is to all narrative art. This means a comic can once again be defined:

Commercially printed juxtaposed pictorial and other images in deliberate sequence, intended to convey information and/ or to produce an aesthetic response in the viewers through representation by use of a set vocabulary and symbolism.


Narrative and the comic

Narrative art has always been popular and employed as a powerful communications tool. Essentially this is what a comic is; a narrative art. Narrative art has been used since the time when man lived in caves. It is at the foundations of every written language. The comic also shares the power of a fundamental communicational tool; as can be seen by the censorship cases that have been brought against it, for example when the Comics Code Authority was created during 1954.

In 1954 a psychiatrist named Fredric Wertham released a damning book about the comic book industry Seduction of the Innocent. The book was academically unsound, with many other psychiatrists of the time criticising his work, but the book did produce the moral panic intended. Wertham noted that comics were found in the room of teenage suicides and would ruin the taste of fine literature. Wertham accused comics of being the cause of increased juvenile delinquency and having the ability to produce copycat crimes.[10] Seduction of the Innocent led to comics being used as a social scapegoat. In a similar vein as to how popular film, television, pop music and video games have all been used since. The books were too violent, too horrific and too sexual. The same political currents that had created the Hollywood blacklist and the McCarthy hearings at this time now also fought against the relatively small comic book industry. The publishing companies banded together and formed the Comic Magazine Authority of America (CMAA). This was a trade organization which was set up to ease public concerns. The CMAA set up several guide lines about what could and could not be in comic books, this produced the Comic Codes Authority (CCA). Women were to be properly dressed, authority figures respected and violence toned down. If the comic was not up to the code then it would not be published. This scare was brought on largely by EC comics the publisher of most of the popular horror fantasy stories and most notably MAD (Fig. 3), a comic that was upgraded to a magazine format in order to escape the confines of the CCA. Whilst the CCA regulations only directly affected the American comic books and their reader’s, repercussions were felt in the United Kingdom; American comic books were banned by an Act of Parliament in 1955.[11]

It was not until May 1971 that a mainstream comic would be published without the permission of the CCA. This was Amazing Spider-Man #96 – 98 (Fig. 2). The story showed one of Spider-Man’s friends as a drug addict and how Spider-Man saved his friend’s life whilst questioning how he could do such a thing to himself. Even though the story sent out a strong anti-drugs message the CCA still would not allow it to be published, Marvel however published the story without the permission of the CCA. This incident lead to the CCA having to update its regulations, drugs were now allowed to be depicted as long as they were shown as a “vicious habit”.

Throughout the history of the comic censorship drives like this can be seen, it would seem that a format that has little ability to be more than a medium which can only tell simple morality tales, baby science fiction / fantasy and base satire[12] has had some social impact. The most recent case of censorship being in 1996 when a shipment of Robert Crumb’s book My Trouble with Women were seized by Customs and Excise under obscenity laws. The book Lord Horror was also seized; Lord Horror was published in both novel and comic form, the comic form was ordered to be destroyed whilst the novel was cleared of all charges. In the Judges words the comic may ‘appeal to people of a lesser intellect’.[13]

A common misconception of the comic is that they are aimed at children, particularly young teenage boys. This is not true the comic in has been aimed at all levels of age, gender, class and race at one time or another. Punch (1841) (Fig. 1), arguably the first comic book produced, was aimed at the middle classes with its content of political satire. The book, a monthly publication, contained ink drawings mixed with text satirising events of the day in the same fashion as the cartoons found in the broadsheet newspapers. It would however be true to say that the majority of comic books produced have been aimed at teenage boys even from the early days of the penny dreadful.

The penny dreadfuls were often violent prose stories produced with pictures to accompany the text, written primarily for young working class men. These also faced censorship due to their under currents of anti-establishment politics, however it was officially said they were too violent;[14] a mirror of the events that gave rise to the CCA almost a century later.

It is easy to see the reasons why comics are seen as being aimed primarily at children. The truth is that many modern comics are aimed at early teens, a customer base that has a totally disposable income, and are therefore going to buy whatever appeals to them. Many of the comic icons, particularly super heroes are aimed at children. It is easy to see why children enjoy the stories, the characters tend to be simplified versions of characters seen in real life but can do all the things people fantasise about, such as being able to fly or turn invisible.

Comic books do tend to use a simple narrative, despite which readership they are aimed at. This is done in order to give the reader a reference point from their own lives to build a new narrative from, much like the way in which cartoons, whether its Mickey Mouse or The Simpsons, use relatively basic looking characters. The more abstracted the characters and narratives become the more likely a reader or viewer will be able to connect with it.[15] This is similar to what Mondrian did in his paintings by moving to the simplicity of block colour, the horizontal and the vertical line, total and complete abstraction. This is also similar to what Barthes says in his essay Death of the Author;[16] every viewer will bring to the text their own meaning by applying a personal narrative to it. However not all comic books do use a simple narrative though, perhaps the best example of this would be Art Spiegelman’s book Maus[17] which uses two narratives inter woven to tell the story of his fathers life, one set in the present day where he is a bitter old man, and one set in his life during World War II and his time in Auschwitz.


Fig.1. Cartoon from Punch, 1895


Fig. 2. Cover of MAD from October 1957


Fig. 3. Cover from the Amazing Spider-Man #96, May 1971


From periodical to novel

The comic book format by nature lends itself to a simple narrative; the creators of the book have a set number of pages in which to tell a complete story by tradition. Few comics had stories written across multiple issues prior to the 1980s, and unlike today, it was certainly not the status quo. The extension of narrative in the comic book is due to the birth of the graphic novel. In 1978 Will Eisner released the first book to be termed a graphic novel, A Contract With God (Fig. 4). This was the first time an extended narrative had been placed in to this format, the term graphic novel was applied to it and to call it a comic book would reduce its social standing.[18] The graphic novel became the cornerstone of the independent publications outside of Marvel and DC. The independent creators[19] have often seen themselves more as artists than the mainstream (Marvel and DC) creators due to their flexibility to tell the stories they want to tell and not what an editor tells them. This new longer format suited these creators as it allowed them more room to tell more engaging stories.

The appeal of the graphic novel did not go un-noticed by the large companies, particularly DC comics. In 1986 Watchmen (by Alan Moore and illustrated by Dave Gibbons) (Fig. 5) and Batman: The Dark Night Returns (by Frank Miller) (Fig. 6) were both released. The books were originally released in a monthly format then collected as bound versions and marketed for mature readers. They both were intended to be read as a whole and not as separate issues, the separate issues became, distinctly, chapters of the story. Miller since the publication of the story has compared the structure of the narrative to musical notes as away to control the pace and emotion in the book,[20] this is comparable to the analogy to music that Will Eisner makes in Comics and Sequential Art.[21] Moore and Gibbons, on Watchmen also looked for this sort of control by employing a nine square grid pattern to their pages.[22] These formats allow a tight control over the narrative and the viewer’s eye. The viewer can be forced to either purposefully look harder than usual or miss small details adding a puzzle element to the book. The tighter the narrative, as for as panels per page is concerned the tense and hostile the atmosphere created tends to be, as the panels convey a sense of speed and urgency.

These books received wide spread critical acclaim, sold in record breaking numbers and for the first time saw non specialist bookstores selling comics, but not as comics as graphic novels. The idea that each individual comic should tell a self contained story was over; stories were to be told through multiple issues that could then be bound together under the marketing name of the graphic novel. It was seen by the publishers that the term graphic novel was more acceptable than the term comic book to the casual reader.

The graphic novel also brought with it some artistic credibility; it changed the comic from a periodical to a book, the difference being that a periodical has always had the connotation of being disposable, it is only temporary, and the book however is seen to be permanent and of value. It was up to the industry to prove its worth now and there have been many attempts with books like Ghost World (Dan Clowes) and American Splendor (Harvey Pekar) (Fig. 7) to name just a couple following in Will Eisner’s tradition. It is interesting that in the strictest sense (i.e. original full length works and not just issues collected and bound together) there are very few graphic novels based on the super hero format; that is still largely left to the periodicals.


Fig.4. Cover from A Contract With God, 1978


Fig. 5. Page from Alan Moore and Dave Gibbon’s Watchmen, 1986


Fig. 6. Page from Frank Miller’s Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, 1986


Fig. 7. Page from American Splendor


Comics are a visual medium

Comic books are a visual medium that also contain text and narrative, the medium is not two separate methods of story telling, prose and illustration, crammed together. The medium shows the two harmoniously united, the two elements work together to convey the creator’s ideas. However if one side is weaker than the other then the quality of the book will be reduced. Over the years the various creative components of comics; the illustration and the writing have fought for supremacy. Especially in the mainstream companies, DC and Marvel, where it is common place to have at least two if not more people working on any given title,[23] each of these people want to be given the credit for the book, especially the writer and the person creating the pencil drawings. The amount of artistic freedom that the illustrator has though, is limited by the way in which the writer does his scripts. If the writer dictates what they want to see in each panel, and what each panel should look like then the illustrator is restricted to their only input being the way in which the characters on the page are drawn. If the writer is much more relaxed then the illustrator may end up deciding the entire visual look of the book. More often than not, though a compromise is reached where the two contribute in different ways to play off of their strengths in order to enhance the telling of the narrative.

The writer versus artist debate stems from the 1980s. Previously the credit had always been given to the artist or the team working on the book for the success of a book, it had always been presumed that the comic book was a visual medium and therefore the quality of the drawings were responsible for the sales of the book with writing being less important. DC asked Alan Moore to write Swamp Thing (Fig. 8) and it was to be illustrated by Steve Bissette. The book was released to critical acclaim but not due to it’s illustration but due to its quality of writing. It is important though to remember that a comic book is visual and the first thing a reader sees when they pick up a book is the quality of drawing and the visual way in which a story is laid out before them.

The quality of the drawing in a comic book can make the difference between a good script becoming a great story or a mediocre story. The merits of the comic book artist are judged in the same way as a classical painter. It is important to be able to convey meaning and emotion and have an understanding of composition and perspective. Many comics opt for a simple but effective style that is still similar to the types of images used when comics first appeared. The styles of Jack Kirby (Fig. 9) and Will Eisner (Fig. 10) still dominate the American and British approach to comics, Eisner more in the independents. The styles used in the books often show outside concerns with art, for example Marvel designed their books to emulate the paintings of Pop Artists during the late 1960s and 1970s.[24] This was one of the contributing factors to Marvel being considered cool and gaining its large readership of people in their late teens and early twenties during this period. Punch when it was first released was known by the quality of the drawings in it, EC became so popular during the 1950s because they were able to attract better artists than the other companies.

In the 1990s, the story telling that had been so prominent in the books during the 1980s was, for the most part, lost and replaced with a new eye catching computer enhanced, special effects laden art. This can largely be traced to artists like Todd MacFarlane, Rob Liefeld and Jim Lee (Fig. 11). Todd McFarlane, Rob Liefeld and Jim Lee had set up an independent publisher called Image. The company soon became known for its flashy art, this style of art is now referred to in the industry as the Image style. It is the comic equivalent of art for art’s sake. The style was all about big splash pages which reduce the amount of storytelling in the book, subsequently the books look good but do not particularly do what a comic book should; tell a story. Jim Lee, in Artists on Comic Art, credits Jack Kirby and MTV for the birth of the style; MTV for its fast paced imaging and weird angles and Jack Kirby for the full and double page splash[25]. The difference between what Jack Kirby did and the mid 1990s[26] Image style was that Kirby would limit these effects to once an issue for dramatic effect, for example the cliff hanger ending, the Image style however was an over indulgence of this style in order to make everything dramatic; it actually had the reverse effect, when everything is meant to be dramatic it just blends into the rest of the story and nothing ends up being dramatic.

Not all comic book art has to be straightforward narrative story telling, it is possible for the comic book artist to use elements of metaphor and allusion in a similar fashion as other artists do. Many comic creators do use the double symbolism of their imagery to provide a deeper added layer to the story they are telling such as Grant Morrison and Chris Watson in The Filth where the contrasts between Freudian sex theories, the superhero icon and the status quo are used to further the story. Another example would be in Frank Miller’s Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, as Miller deconstructs the heroes to appear more human, Miller draws them larger and larger to emphasise their once iconic nature in the world he has created. Art Spiegelman’s Maus (Fig. 12) is perhaps the best use of allusion and metaphors in a comic narrative, throughout Maus the characters are simplified to animals for example the Jews are mice, the Poles are pigs and the Germans are cats. This does several things that all create a larger impact in the narrative. The first is that by reducing characters to animals it creates the illusion that the characters are separate from reality and unattached, however they are not; they are real people facing extreme problems. Secondly the animal metaphor makes the comparison to Animal Farm by George Orwell; given the subject matter a more than suitable reference as ‘All animals are equal, But some animals are more equal than others.'[27] Thirdly the metaphor plays on cats and mice being mortal, eternal enemies. Lastly the use of the animal metaphor alludes to the old comical animal comics aimed at young children that were extremely popular around the time of World War II.


Fig. 8. Cover from Swamp Thing illustrated by Steve Bissette


Fig. 9. Page from X-Men #2, 1963 illustrated by Jack Kirby


Fig. 10. Page from Will Eisner’s The Spirit, 1947


Fig. 11. Example of Jim Lee’s penciling from sketch for Maul from WildC.A.T.S


Fig. 12. Example from Art Spiegelman’s Maus, 1986


Comic creator as artist

Comic book creators often try and raise themselves to the role of an artist. They presume by doing this that they are not already an artist, those that do believe they are an artist are always looking for a way to raise their profile and their works profile to that of art. It is interesting to see that those that are accepted by the establishment either embrace it to try and further comics in general (Art Spiegelman and Will Eisner, for example) or resent it and try to stay away from it (Robert Crumb, for example). Eisner has always believed that the comic is an art form and has pushed this idea forward. This was not well received during the early days of comics around the 1920s. At this time Eisner was a young man whose career was developing in the shadow of older cartoonists that had been or considered themselves ‘Vaudevillians.’ These were people that would draw live on stage at what were known as chalk talks. For years comics were told to stay in there place, often by people working in the industry who did not believe that they could be inspired in the same way as an artist or that what all they were doing was manipulating a communications tool. However visual art and visual communication go hand in hand, all art is designed to communicate an idea and it depends upon the broadness of definition used. Comics are now seen as an art form and a legitimate choice in life as a career, this can be readily seen by the number of sequential art courses taught at universities and schools, such as the course at the School of Visual Arts in New York that Eisner taught. These are not private run courses but are in established schools. Comics have begun to be accepted in galleries as can be seen by the Spiegelman exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, New York and the Robert Crumb exhibition Yeah But Is It Art? at the Museum Ludwig, Cologne in 2004 (Fig. 13). It is interesting to see here though that neither of these comic artists have worked in the mainstream and that their origins are in the underground comics of the 1960s and 1970s. Comics which did not draw upon fantasy for inspiration but real life and desires.

The underground comics came out of the hippie movement and tended to be in the same vein as MAD but much more radical, containing a mixture of social satire, base humour and erotica. Crumb though, despite his central role in the underground comic movement has always denied being a hippie. His comics were initially based on hallucinations and other experiences he’d had whilst on LSD. Crumb still sees himself as a comic artist and is fascinated by the interest museums and galleries are now showing in his work, he acknowledges his cross over appeal but treats it as a joke, whilst remaining proud at the same time. This can be seen in his drawing ‘Yeah But Is It Art?’ where we see Crumb sat at a coffee table with a fashionable art book drinking a cup of coffee posing the question. Crumb however does not take this seriously as he will not be distracted from having his coffee. Crumb is not interested in creating art, but rather telling stories based in the popular culture all around him, as such Crumb often places himself at the center of his own work showing us his insecurities and paranoia in his typical satirical style. Crumb disagrees with the desire to raise the station of comics as he sees it as a danger; the comics may end up being pretentious, they are meant to be ‘rough and working class’.[28]

Comic books are based on popular culture; this prevents them from being able to reach the critical prestige of high art. Their mass produced nature and low pricing makes them available to the masses, something which traditionally high art is not. There are no exclusions to who can or can not read a comic book. It is arguable that these features make comics a real art form; they communicate with the masses not just a select few. Many comic creators take this view in their desire to raise the status of comics. They like that their art is accessible to as many people as possible. This is possibly the reason why there seems to be only two dominant genres at any one time. To get their message across the artists choose to work in an established area that will be seen by as many people as possible.

The market appeal of comic books often makes them ‘fly… below critical radar'[29]. The view of comics as mere entertainment for the ‘uneducated’ means the critic pays little attention. This allows the artist to have complete flexibility over what they want to do and say, opening up many possibilities and ideas to explore. Due to the lack of criticism, comics have become somewhat of a playground for writers and artists to produce works that they usual would not conceive or be able to explore. This has attracted people from outside the realm of comics to become interested and wish to try their hand at it such as Kevin Smith (writer/director of films such as Clerks and Chasing Amy), should the venture into the medium be a failure the reputation of the person is unharmed as the critics were not there to pass their judgement. The attraction to the medium comes through the notion that it is one of the last ‘free mediums.'[30] It is possible for each creator to have their own individual voice in there work as the nature of the medium is malleable to any message. For as long as the critic deems the comic to be of little or no artistic value then it can remain a cultural phenomenon that can have an impact on society. Should the comic be accepted in to the art world then its power would be limited to the art world only and all cultural impact would be lost.

This does not does not however prevent the comic creator from attempting to raise the critical prestige of the format, the comic Raw (1980, edited by Art Spiegelman and Françoise Mouly) was an attempt at this. The comic was oversized and published under the banner of a ‘graphix’ magazine, associating it to the comix (the underground comics) which Spiegelman had previously been associated with. The pages in the anthology style magazine would show new original work by other creators from the underground and alternative scenes, whilst featuring work from Europe, where the format was already considered an art form. The oversized pages lent themselves to emphasising the art work making the comparison to paintings on canvas. By making this comparison the comic is trying to prove its worth as more than just a comic, it wants to be art and be appreciated as art.

Despite all attempts comic book art is rarely welcomed into the arts world; however there is an increasing acceptance of comics in the world of literature. Since Watchmen and later Maus, large publishing houses such as Pantheon and Penguin are now printing graphic novels and the retailers are beginning to stock more and more books in the format as more make their way onto the best seller lists and gain critical acclaim. There is an increasing amount of credit put on the writers of the books for their quality, not the artist. This is because the format is designed to tell stories and uses illustration as the vehicle to do this, after all the comic book is essentially a visual narrative. People are finally beginning to see the effectiveness of the medium and the possibilities it has in order to tell powerful emotional stories, in the same tradition as literary classics. In a way this is a reversal from the origin of comics where it was popular to convert literary classics and bible stories into the comic book medium in order to use them as educational aides; this is actually what EC were the primary publishers of before the days of Tales from the Crypt and MAD. EC comics used to stand for Educational Comics, not Entertainment Comics.

The graphic novels that do tend to cross over out of the niche comic books find themselves in tend to have come out of the underground movement. This may be part of the attraction to the general public. The books tend to be a little risqué, either through their content (for example Joe Sacco’s Palestine (Fig. 14)) or their exploration of the medium as an art form (for example the convoluted narrative in Chris Ware’s Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth). They are not what most people believe to be a comic because most people only see the mainstream genres of superheroes and funny cartoons. They do not contain science fiction power fantasies; many contain real people in real situations and draw from experiences in life. These new cross over sensations hold much in common with the old underground comics; they are printed in black and white, they are literary and contain political and personal statements. The large difference between this type of book now and those during the 1960s and 1970s is that the modern contemporaries do not resort to base humour whilst trying to deal with issues of cultural importance. Put simply the underground comic has matured and come of age.


Fig. 13. Cover from Robert Crumb exhibition catalogue Yeah But Is It Art?, 2004 illustration by Robert Crumb


Fig. 14. Page from Joe Sacco’s Palestine.


Conclusion

Comics have come a long way from their humble beginnings as newspaper inserts, or as light hearted political satire anthologies, but when compared to most art forms are still in their youth. It is only now people are beginning to see the full potential of the format. The comics have not only made their way into general books stores but also into classrooms as educational aides. Marvel recently produced a line of books called Marvel Age, after requests from teachers in America, to encourage children to read more. Researchers discovered that the graphic novel on average introduced readers to twice as many words as a children’s book.[31] This has just reinforced the idea that the format is an effective way in which to communicate information. Much of modern media, whether it be film or videogames begin life in a comic format through the use of story boards. Increasingly Hollywood is relying on the comics to supply them with material with which to work[32]. Despite however many steps forward comics seem to take in their social standing there is always something there to knock them back. Whilst the art world refuses to acknowledge comics, comics will not be able to operate under the same freedoms. Comics will always, much like popular film, be subject to censorship. These cases of censorship show, if anything, the amount of cultural significance that comic books can and could have in the future.

Comic books in America and Britain will continue to fight for their acceptance as art. Whilst on the way to acceptance comics have picked up millions of readers, a number which continues to grow, due to their educational and entertainment values. With this now large interest the image of comics in society can only improve regardless of whether they are art or not they have found a home in uniting written word and images and pictures.


llustrations

Fig. 1. Cartoon from Punch, 1895

Fig. 2. Cover of MAD from October 1957

Fig. 3. Cover from the Amazing Spider-Man #96, May 1971

Fig. 4. Cover from A Contract With God, 1978

Fig. 5. Page from Alan Moore and Dave Gibbon’s Watchmen, 1986

Fig. 6. Page from Frank Miller’s Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, 1986

Fig. 7. Page from American Splendor

Fig. 8. Cover from Swamp Thing illustrated by Steve Bissette

Fig. 9. Page from X-Men #2, 1963 illustrated by Jack Kirby

Fig. 10. Page from Will Eisner’s The Spirit, 1947

Fig. 11. Example of Jim Lee’s penciling from sketch for Maul from WildC.A.T.S

Fig. 12. Example from Art Spiegelman’s Maus, 1986

Fig. 13. Cover from Robert Crumb exhibition catalogue Yeah But Is It Art?, 2004 illustration by Robert Crumb

Fig. 14. Page from Joe Sacco’s Palestine


Bibliography

Books

Barker, Martin Comics: Ideology, Power and the Critics, Manchester University Press, 1989
Barthes, Roland Image Music and Text, Fontana Paperbacks, 1977

Crumb, Robert The R. Crumb Coffee table art book, Kitchen Sink Press, 1997

Eisner, Will, Comics and Sequential Art, Poorhouse Press (25 printing, 2003), 1985

Fredric Wertham, Fredric Seduction of the innocent, Museum Press, 1955

Gifford, Denis, The International Book of Comics, Deans International Publishing, 1984

Kwitney, Alissa introduction by Neil Gaiman, The Sandman: King of Dreams, DC comics, 2003

Lee, Stan and Buscema, John, How to Draw the Marvel Way, Simon and Schuster, 1978

Lee, Stan and Mair, George, Excelsior! The Amazing Life of Stan Lee, Fireside, 2002

McCloud, Scott Understanding Comics, Paradox Press, 1993

McCloud, Scott Reinventing Comics, Paradox Press, 2000

Nyberg, Amy Kiste, Seal Of Approval: The History of the Comics Code, University Press of Mississipi, 1998

Orwell, George Animal Farm, 1945

Sabin, Roger, Comics, comix & Graphic Novels, Phaidon 1996

Salisbury, Mark Artists on Comic Art, Titan Books, 2000

Spiegelman, Art and Kidd, Chip, Jack Cole and Plastic Man, DC comics, 2001

Talon, Durwin S., Comics Above Ground, TwoMorrows Publishing, 2004

Weiner, Stephen The Rise of the Graphic Novel, NBM Publishing 2003

Witek, Joseph, Comic Book as History: The Narrative Art of Jack Jackson, Art Spiegelman and Harvey Pekar, University Press of Mississipi, 1990

Exhibition catalogues

Crumb, Robert, ‘Yeah But is it art? Museum Ludwig, Cologne , 2004

Graphic Novels

Eisner, Will introduction by Denny O’Neil, A Contract With God, DC comics, 2000

Miller, Frank, Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, DC comics, 1986

Moore, Alan and Gibbons, Dave, Watchmen, DC comics, 1986

Morrison, Grant and McKean Dave after word by Karen Berger, Arkham Asylum 15th Anniversary edition, DC comics 2004

Seagle, Steven T. and Teddy Kristiansen, It’s a bird…, DC comics 2004

Spiegelman, Art, The Complete Maus, Pantheon Books, 1996

Video

Spielgman, Art interviewed on “The Late Show”, BBC2, 12 October 1993

Websites

Comic Book Conundrum: http://www.sideroad.com/comics/

ComicsNexus.com: http://comicsnexus.com/

Dueling Modems Comics Forum: http://www.comics.dm.net/

The 100 Greatest comics of the 20 century: http://www.geocities.com/mbrown123/index.html


[1] Stephen Weiner, The Rise of the Graphic Novel, NBM Publishing 2003, p. 59

[2] Art Spielgman, interviewed on “The Late Show”, BBC2, 12 October 1993

[3] Will Eisner, Comics and Sequential Art, Poorhouse press,1985 (25 printing, 2003), p. 5

[4] Scott McCloud, Understanding Comics, Paradox Press,1993 p. 7

[5] Ibid, p. 9

[6] Also known as Ocelot’s-Claw

[7] Will Eisner, Comics and Sequential Art, Poorhouse Press, 1985 (25th printing, 2003), p. 13

[8] Will Eisner, introduction by Denny O’Neil, A Contract With God, DC comics, 2000, Introduction

[9] Will Eisner, Comics and Sequential Art, Poorhouse Press (25th printing, 2003), 1985, p. 163

[10] Fredric Wertham, Seduction of the innocent, Museum Press, 1955 p. 70

[11] Sabin, Roger; Comics, comix & Graphic Novels, Phaidon 1996 p. 68

[12] Will Eisner, introduction by Denny O’Neil, A Contract With God, DC comics, 2000, Introduction

[13] Sabin, Op. cit., p. 215

[14] Martin Barker, Comics: Ideology, Power and the Critics, Manchester University Press, 1989 pp. 99-105

[15] Scott McCloud, Understanding Comics, Paradox Press,1993 p. 37

[16] Roland Barthes, Image Music and Text, Fontana Paperbacks, 1977

[17] Published in two volumes originally: Maus : A survivors Tale, Pantheon books, 1986 and Maus II: And here my troubles began, Pantheon books, 1992, won the Pulitzer prize in 1992, and subsequently gained Art Spiegelman an exhibition at Museum of Modern Art in New York.

[18] Technically this was not the first extended length comic; they had been available previously but as anthologies of previously printed work. This was however the first time an original extended narrative had appeared.

[19] In the independents at this time it was still commonplace for the illustrator and the writer to be the same person.

[20] Mark Salisbury, Artists on Comic Art, Titan Books, 2000, pp. 176-178

[21] Will Eisner, Comics and Sequential Art, Poorhouse Press (25th printing, 2003), 1985, p. 28

[22] Salisbury, Op. cit., p. 80

[23] The creation of the comic is broken down into different jobs for different people these are writer, penciler, inker, colourer and letterer.

[24] Stephen Weiner, The Rise of the Graphic Novel, NBM Publishing 2003, p.11

[25] Mark Salisbury, Artists on Comic Art, Titan Books, 2000, p.123

[26] Whilst this style had started with the Artists that began Image by the mid 1990s this style had become common place throughout the industry.

[27] George Orwell, Animal Farm, 1945

[28] Robert Crumb, The R. Crumb Coffee table art book, Kitchen Sink Press, 1997, p. 247

[29] Art Spielgman, interviewed on “The Late Show”, BBC2, 12 October 1993

[30] Sabin, Roger; Comics, comix & Graphic Novels, Phaidon 1996 p. 9

[31] Stephen Weiner, The Rise of the Graphic Novel, NBM Publishing 2003, p. 61

[32] Marvel comics currently have thirty plus projects in the works at various Hollywood studios.

Blog

New Lion Print in aid of WWF

I have produced a new Lion collage print with the support of the WWF.

The stylish print is a beautifully collaged image of a Lions face, carefully layered to produce an exciting an dynamic image.

The print is being produced as a limited run of 50 and will be printed on Somerset paper, 42cm x 29.7cm, all signed and numbered with a certificate of authentication showing your support of the WWF.

Lion costs £50 from the online shop with a share of profits from the print going towards the WWF. This is a great cause and an excellent way of showing your support.

Lion (for WWF)
Blog

Artwork for the UN

I was approached at School about producing some Artwork for the UN conference in September to discuss the 17 sustainable development goals that they have set out. You can read about them here.

There were only 2 conditions attached to it:

  1. The pupils had to be involved.

  2. It needed to be done by the end of term…. with only 3 days to go until the end of term….

With all that in mind we set to work. The piece is based on the symbols the UN is already using for the sustainable development goals, with such a limited time frame to produce the work in we had to strip the process back to produce something interesting and striking as fast as possible. Whilst there are 17 goals the Artwork consists of just 16 as the 17 goal is the implementation of the other 16. I guess when put together the symbols create the seventeenth. The Artwork draws inspiration from the expressive style of Jasper Johns and collaged grids of Peter Blake. This is a large piece of work measuring 336cm x 238cm designed to be used as a backdrop on the stage for the speakers. I hope you like it.

Artwork produced to support the 17 Sustainable Development Goals