About Mo’s drawing…and Threshold Concept 4

Let’s start with the big news: Mo’s finished his drawing.

Well, almost. He’s decided to save a few hairs for the Christmas holiday (as you do), and has since moved on to a Ralph Goings inspired painting. To be honest I’m a little disappointed he’s not opted for a more expressive follow-up; there’s an obscure conceptual performance piece in the lad, I just know it. But anyhow, here’s Mo in his own words, courtesy of Year 13 photography student Paul:

Mo, stickler for detail

Mo’s drawing (from Paul’s photograph) has certainly provoked plenty of interest this term, even influencing Year 12 art lessons.
It has proven a particularly useful example to call upon in the context of Threshold Concept 4, as is this previous work by Year 13 Beth:

 Beth’s disrupting of her ‘traditional’ self-portrait provoked mixed reactions. It also contributed to her full marks for A2.

TC#4 Artists use (and abuse) traditions…

Our Threshold Concepts have been developed to provoke reflection on the ‘big ideas’ within Art learning. The TC#4 illustration below places a ‘traditional’ still-life – a vase of flowers, with the tulips a nod to the Dutch Golden Age – alongside something a little more disruptive, a Rothko-esque bleeding canvas perhaps, as backdrop to a smashed pot.


The illustrations are open to interpretation but do also reference specific works. You can read more about our Threshold Concepts for Art here.



Jan Brueghel the Elder, Still life with flowers, c.1607-8; Ai Weiwei, Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn, 1995 (detail)


The accompanying statement/pithy provocation for this TC is as follows:

Artists learn the ‘rules’ and conventions so they can decide when to break them. Some artists work within established traditions and genres, others tease and disrupt these in alternative ways. Definitions of art are always changing.

Perhaps more than any other, this TC can provoke passionate debate about the nature of (teaching and learning) art, and where the balance sits between developing traditional skills over more individual, expressive or conceptual approaches.


It’s been interesting to watch Errigan work alongside Mo, two different approaches to drawing.

This term with Year 12 students we’ve been attempting to expose some of the various conflicts that can arise:

  • Should all art students be taught to draw and paint accurately (even at the expense of opportunities for experimentation and individual expression)?
  • What constitutes a ‘tradition’ in art anyhow, and how (and why) do artists turn against these?
  • If an artist masters a particular skill – such as painting – where do they go from there? – What provokes some artists to continually experiment, whilst others work within their established traditions?

We have now moved on from our painting skills-based sessions…


Portraits by Millie, Ryan, Florence and Penny (Millie and Penny did not take GCSE Art and hadn’t painted a portrait before – great work!). Insights into our teaching of portrait painting can be found here.

…to a ‘sketchbook in a week’ challenge. This was in response to input on the Dadaists (alongside other antagonists of art traditions – from Impressionism and beyond), but mostly to encourage a spirit of play, experimentation, and of art-making on their own terms.


These sketchbooks are highly personal, and very insightful. The work has an honesty – a ‘this is where I am at present’, be it in ideas, abilities, and interests – that structured lessons don’t always reveal. It can be easy to lose sight of this when teaching more explicitly. It’s certainly been a useful exercise as we head towards more experimental approaches.

Anyhow, next stop for this group: A visit to the Tate Modern for the Robert Rauschenberg exhibition, followed by a challenge to stage their own show in response to TC4.

Should make for an exciting end of term.

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