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ReachOutRCA Supports Art and Philosophy Discussion Space for School-leavers

RCA MA Print student Jake Garfield has developed an eight-week Art and Philosophy course for sixth-form art students, with the support of ReachOutRCA, the College’s engagement programme. The project was funded by the Durham Wharf Foundation Residency, an annual award open to all first-year MA students at the RCA who are interested in creating a sustained engagement with people outside of their discipline, peer group and the RCA.

The residency awards selected students £2,000 and the support of ReachOutRCA to develop their project over the summer for delivery in the autumn term. Their projects are ambitious, but must also be able to be realised within the timeframe and of genuine worth to the student proposing them, with a demonstrable impact on their practice.

Jake’s selected proposal was to facilitate a platform for A level art students to discuss the relationship between philosophy and art. Since graduating from the Royal Drawing School, Jake has discovered an interest in art education through teaching at the school’s drawing clubs. For his proposal he combined this experience with an interest in methods of teaching promoted by Philosophy for Children (P4C). P4C is an approach to generating philosophical discussion in classrooms and with community groups, as a way to encourage listening to other people’s opinions and critical, independent thinking.

Jake was given feedback on his proposal and practical support from ReachOutRCA. They helped him to source equipment and materials, and make connections with local schools. The workshops mainly took place on Saturday mornings at the College, using resources such as the Drawing Studio at Kensington, and the print facilities and photography studios at Battersea. They also made a trip to the British Museum to view the print collection.

At the beginning of each session Jake provided a stimulus, then through discussion the group would formulate a philosophical question to discuss. When they visited the British Museum they viewed Goya’s The Disasters of War and the work of Otto Dix. This generated a discussion centred on the ethics of violence, art and reality and what is permissible to represent within an artwork.

In the sessions, the emphasis was on breaking away from formal constraints of A level art education. Therefore they were planned with an in-built flexibility, and a structure that was, according to Jake, ‘sometimes thrown out the window’. This approach was particularly pertinent when the group met the day after the Paris terrorist attacks in November. The session offered the students a free space to be able to openly discuss their thoughts and reactions to the attacks. The discussion generated by the students ranged from covering the economic implications, to their fears going to school in central London.

Initially Jake had intended the sessions to be split 50/50 between discussion and practical activities such as learning printmaking techniques, but as they progressed he found that the discussions became much more of a focus. Often the warm-up activity generated such interesting and engaged debate that Jake did not stop them just for the sake of what he had planned. ‘Why stop one conversation that is really good, just to try and start another one?’ he explained.

The 12 participants came from two local schools and were identified by their art teachers as being students who would find the experience most beneficial. Many have gone on to apply for art foundation courses and the workshops will have offered them a unique insight into the discussions they may encounter on a Fine Art BA course, as well as the opportunity to experience the unique environment offered by the RCA.

Jake explained that the success of the workshops was down to the group, who were consistently enthusiastic and engaged: ‘Although they did not all know each other at first, they were very respectful of each other. The group had the right combination of malleability, independent thought and a willingness to work together.’

‘It was impressive how many students came for the duration of the course’ commented Hannah Coulson, ReachOutRCA Coordinator. ‘It obviously addressed a need and provided something they don’t have space to do within the school curriculum.’

For Jake, the experience has reaffirmed the importance of teaching as an element of his studio practice. He considers providing a platform for people and the active generation of discussion a central part of his future work. ReachOutRCA plan to build elements of the workshops into their future activities and are currently developing a summer school with Jake, exploring woodcut and collaborative storytelling.