Success with art classes via email

Photo: Sally Chandler, U3A Art Tutor and Educator.

“Welcome to our online, inhouse, incarceration program,” wrote tutor Sally Chandler in a greeting to students continuing art classes remotely using an email-based tasking and work submission method.

With a distinguished career as an educator, Sally saw opportunity rather than obstruction in the current stay-at-home COVID-19 environment, and was determined to continue her ‘Watercolours: Realism to Abstraction’ classes while not being able to meet as a group.

“When this Coronavirus came along everything closed down and I thought, ‘how can I keep it going’?” Sally said. “Zoom wasn’t quite suitable for practical art class: being able to see what people are doing, exchanging ideas, etc.”

Sally decided to set her students a task each week, an art challenge, via email. They would work in their own time and in their own space to complete the task then return an image of the artwork via email, with everyone invited to comment on each other’s work.

So, was this successful? “I was absolutely gobsmacked!” Sally said. “They did much better working that way than coming to the studio for a class.”

“While they enjoy the sociability of meeting as a group, chatting about travels and what’s happening in their lives, the art can become secondary to meeting up. Also, creating art is a very solitary activity so it can be difficult to focus in a group activity where there are distractions in socialising. Having a weekly deadline to finish things is another advantage. Focus and a deadline are powerful incentives to creating and finishing an art project.

“I was fascinated as to how well the classes worked, from an educator’s point of view; the students actually worked better on their own than as a group.”

One recent art challenge aimed to honour the outstanding work of the artist Christo. Christo with Jeanne-Claude are famous for wrapping buildings in fabric including Berlin’s Reichstag and swathing areas of coastline, even entire islands. Christo died recently in New York, aged 84.

Photo: Magnitude of Christo’s work: Biscayne Bay, Florida.  Photography by Wolfgang Volz.

“I call these assignments ‘challenges’ because I try to extend the students’ thinking of art and its history, to push them to challenge themselves and to think outside of just copying what you see,” Sally said. “Copying a photo eventually disappoints and frustrates, as the detail can’t be replicated exactly. I challenge students to create a more of an abstract form, which presents the greatest challenge in art.

“When I heard that Christo had died, I thought as a tribute to this great artist I would challenge the group to choose an object at their place and create a wrapping that would elevate the ‘wrap’ beyond the realms of the mundane to being a work of art,” Sally said.

“Christo taught us to see and to think of the world in a different way and to expand and push the boundaries of our ideas about what is art, and this was an opportunity to pay homage to him.”

One of the group, a talented lecturer in art and design, Gerry Luhman, took up the challenge with gusto and thought well beyond the idea of art being only two dimensional. In his final work, Gerry combined materials, engineering and technology in his ‘wrapping’, as a fitting tribute to Christo.

Photo: Gerry Luhman’ (insert) with his tribute art work in video. (Click image to play)

Gerry first created the drawings of how his wrapping/unwrapping contraption would work, which was artistic in itself, then he made the wrapping for his object and constructed a hoist to lift/lower the wrapping. The final phase was to video the end result for all to see, which used technology to reveal this art creation in dynamic form.

Sally said that other students were also innovative in combining technology with art, such as using timelapse photography to create moving lights paths presented a two-dimensional photo.

So, where to from here for U3A art classes, given the success of the online method. Sally is now considering a continuation of this new way of conducting classes online, with the option for attendance classes as well.

Photo: Art works by Dawn Campbell and Angela Rae.