Picture this: Threshold Concepts for Art and Design

I’m convinced of the transformative effect that using threshold concepts can have on teaching and learning. A threshold concept (TC) could be considered a doorway to new awareness – a portal that, once crossed, irrevocably shifts understanding.

Jon Nicholls and I have been kicking about our TC thoughts for Art and Design for a while. These were initially developed via Google Docs, and shared wider here. Thankfully, others – not least James Nairne – were happy to challenge our ideas, and in doing so have added to and enhanced the conversation. By setting out to illustrate these TCs I then found myself wrestling with them further. This is what we’ve come up with:


Significantly, for two months prior to the summer holidays, I attempted to do this working alongside Year 12 Art students. The class produced their own responses (more of this to follow), experimenting, discussing and unpicking ideas together.

I’m totally sold on the power of TCs. New learning was tangible: Collectively and individually, students developed practical work with increased subtlety. Subject vocabulary was enhanced; discussions were enriched; stronger teacher-student relationships were formed.

As a result of this trial, from September, all new schemes of work, for all year groups, will be underpinned by TCs. we’ve simplified the supporting statements, which can be found below, attempting to make each TC distinct – hopefully still retaining a sense of flow and connection. The intention is that the illustrations do the same.

For now, about the pictures. For art geeks (with time on their hands) each illustration comes with a nod or a wink (and in some cases both; mostly tenuous) to various artists and artworks. Find what you will. I tried all sorts of styles but have – hopefully – ended up with a set that will work in practical terms for all year groups. After much deliberation we reverted to using an artist palette (with a thumbprint) as a reoccurring motif.


It’s a blindingly obvious, over-used and outdated icon for art. To a new year 7 it’s probably just an abstract shape in itself. But there are possibilities with that too. Artists use and abuse traditions you know.

Illustrating these has been a labour of love. At the moment I’m thinking they could be used as visual prompts for discussion, as posters, or postcards even. I might even get a set of mugs for the staff room. Go on, drink from the cup of Art, Maths teacher.

Anyhow, mugs or not, these are particularly testing times. More than ever, it’s important for us (you are an art teacher, right?) to stick our head above the surface – whilst busily scratching at it: Creative voices need to be heard; the depths of our subject need to be exposed.

Art makes people powerful; Art communicates; Art has value… It can sound familiar, but hopefully these TC resources will communicate and engage in alternative ways, opening new doorways. We’d love to know if others might find them useful.


As with our Photopedagogy TC resources, the intention is to now take each one as a prompt and explore these in more depth. You can subscribe above if you’d like to be notified of new posts, or f you’d like to contribute, even better.

Do feel free to express enthusiasm or to chuck a spanner in the works, via the comment boxes below. All thoughts welcome.


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