We Are The People We’ve Been Waiting For

‘Science is now discovering what artists have long understood: that nurturing our feelings is vital to the quality of our lives and that intellect and feeling are intimately connected.’ – Sir Ken Robinson

At the start of a new year I, like many others, reflect on the environmental, social and economic changes our world appears to so rapidly have been going through over the recent years and while good government leaders recognise that education is a top priority, I need to question if our education systems have prepared our children adequately to deal with our constantly changing world.

 ‘The social and economic costs are incalculable. At one end of the spectrum there are the huge numbers of people who are chronically disengaged at work or in school because they find it all pointless and unfulfilling. At the other are the jaw-dropping numbers who are critically addicted to alcohol, tobacco or drugs as a way of stimulating or suppressing their feelings.’ – Sir Ken Robinson in his most recent blog for The Huffington Post, As Science Turns Its Attention To Feeling.

I believe we desperately need the next generations to get smarter and more adaptable to successfully deal with these changes. The education plans of the past that relied on students all achieving the same answers doesn’t seem to be helpful anymore. Students must learn to think laterally, find many answers or solutions, create original ideas and new approaches to solving problems…  and the only way I can see this being achieved is to change the focus and format of our current education systems.

We are the people we’ve been waiting for… we can find the solutions if we can change how we think.

We need to get creative… and think like artists!

Who Would Have Imagined?

Just in time for Christmas!

I have been pleasantly surprised to find this recording by a young friend who I am watching grow. Creativity has been highly valued in her family and is nurtured daily alongside her academic and social growth.

I first met Lilia as a budding visual artist when she was only 8 years old and recently she opened the Operation Art exhibition at the Art Gallery of NSW and spoke about how this program and the arts had impacted upon her life. Here is Lilia’s speech. She is a confident young teenager now who continues to be excited by life’s challenges. I am watching her grow in so many ways and constantly learn from and enjoy her achievements.

My original post about Lilia is at: http://fionasteel.edublogs.org/2010/07/24/the-heart-of-operation-art-lilias-story/

Now, for your enjoyment…while you can’t see her here, you can enjoy Lilia singing ‘Who Would Imagine A King’.

Happy Christmas!

Education Evolution

Are education systems adapting to meet the needs of students?

In the words of arguably, the most famous Aussie political slogan of all time… It’s Time!!!

Recently I asked a group of preschoolers to pretend they were taking a photo of each other. Every one of them confidently held their pretend camera away from their body to look at the pretend preview screen before they clicked. Gone are the days of putting your eye to a viewfinder!

Children use technology as easily as I used a pen and paper or read a book when I was growing up. My parents still read a newspaper to keep up with current affairs but I access news sites online or ‘google it’ while my 20something daughter relies on social media sites.

We live in a world where children are stimulated continually from the day they are born by technology… television, dvds, ipods, phones, cameras, image files, internet and so much more. When they come to school we ask them to sit quietly and listen to a teacher who has important things to tell them. It might be important but in comparison to the student’s ‘techno’ world it is usually not very entertaining… and we wonder why students are so easily distracted! How can we expect them to learn if they are not excited to be involved?

Education is about learning how to think in a variety of ways. Some subjects teach a student to follow procedures or research while other subjects teach problem solving, questioning and creativity. If our children are to develop their creative thinking skills, we need to offer opportunities for them to have a go. Creative thinkers often work collaboratively and understand that there can be more than one answer. Often they can see many solutions!

The following short video created by G&T middle students in the Dallas/Fort Worth indicates that change is needed and that technology is their answer… what do you think?

Changing Paradigms

RSA Animate – Sir Ken Robinson

Sir Ken Robinson, the world’s leading authority on creativity, is still questioning the methods born out of the industrial revolution that we continue to use to educate our children.

Recently a friend sent me the video below! Hallelujah! Sir Ken speaks AND I am given visuals! I could ask for no more…

I am a teacher with 30 years of experience teaching and my speciality is Visual Arts. While I appreciate a good artwork and quite enjoy hanging a few, I believe this subject teaches far more:

1. The choices children make about which tool to use, what line to draw, what shape to cut and onto what surface to apply… gives them the confidence to make choices at other times in other subjects and out of school.

2. When they began to understand that the idea that started in their mind doesn’t always transfer easily to a material or surface then they adapt their approach, change the tool, experiment with new techniques, observe mistakes, restart and sometimes even try something new … and they learn from each seesawing step… this develops their thinking skills and sometimes they even do that laterally. How creative!

As a student myself, I knew I learned things a little differently to many other children. I never thought of myself as academically clever and indeed often felt the things I enjoyed and did well were not important. Often I could see several possible answers and wondered why I was limited to only one as the ‘right’ one. I also needed to visualise ideas and see how they fitted together. For this I needed to ask questions and the more I asked then the more information I could visualise. However, I soon learned that if I asked too many then it was assumed that I didn’t understand a concept and this resulted in being given more work or a poor report card. I soon learned to parrot back the expected  ‘right’ answer so I could get on with enjoying other things in which I was really interested. How many other children do this? How soon do they learn to ‘play’ school correctly? How soon do they get bored with the game with dire consequence?

Listen, watch and think for 11 minutes! Thank you RSA! Thank you Sir Ken!

New Life

 “Dubito ergo cogito; cogito ergo sum. (I doubt, therefore I think; I think therefore I am)” Rene Descartes

Is it Art? Science? Creationist? Fantasy?

How can it help us? What can we learn? Does it have an educational purpose or is it purely for entertainment?

I find Theo Jansen’s creatures clever and mesmerising but is it an animal? It doesn’t reproduce independently from its creator! It doesn’t think for itself and is only reactionary. Is it art? Jansen thinks outside the square and his creation is beautiful but is it just too fantastical or popular to be considered an artform?

Is it a commercial product? Not yet!

 Like all TED Talks I find these concepts challenging…  so what do you think?

Sculpture By The Sea

Sculpture monumentalises everyday life.

28 Oct – 14 Nov 2010

‘Bondi’s spectacular coastline is transformed into an interactive canvas as an estimated 400,000 visitors engage with more than 100 sculptures.’ Dr Andrew Bell SC

I love this annual exhibition because it’s always exciting to see how the artists use this extraordinary exhibition space. 

'Leaf Vessel'
'Leaf Vessel'
'Bondi Venus'
'Bondi Venus'
'At The Table'
'At The Table'


'The Adaptable Migrant'
'The Adaptable Migrant'
'What Have They Ever Done For Us'
'What Have They Ever Done For Us'
'The French Litter' detail
'The French Litter' detail
'Sea Cells'
'Sea Cells'
'Transfiguration Link XXIII'
'Transfiguration Link XXIII'
A soaked sculpture walker
A soaked sculpture walker

 Which artworks are symbiotic to this environment? 





Which artworks encourage me to question context?





Which artworks exhibit beauty?





Which artists show quirky originality and make me smile?





What is unique about the form?





What materials have been used and how has an artist manipulated line and space?






In the past I have enjoyed sunshine saturated sculptures… but not this year.


Vik Muniz

‘Creativity is how we cope with creation’ – Vik Muniz   
Jackson Pollock in Chocolate
Jackson Pollock in Chocolate

Born in Brazil in 1961, Brooklyn-based fine artist Vik Muniz has exhibited his work all over the world.

Clown Skull - the remnant from a very evolved race of entertainers.
Clown Skull - the remnant from a very evolved race of entertainers.

He is a great observer of life and uses unexpected materials to create portraits, landscapes and still life works which he then photographs.

This creative thinker has an interesting way of looking at the world. In the 15 minute TED Talks video below he describes the thinking behind his work and takes us on an amusing tour of his incredible images made from cotton, wire, thread, sugar, chocolate, dust, earth, clouds and food.

I feel privileged to have been given a glimpse at creative genius. Enjoy! 

The Heart of Operation Art: Lilia’s Story

I hope you enjoy Lilia’s Story. This is the speech from my last formal function to officially open Operation Art at Maitland Regional Art Gallery:

Sometimes in life we just get lucky, well I really landed on my feet the day I started this job. I’ve received the utmost pleasure from being the Coordinator of Operation Art and managing this unique program. I feel very privileged to have been given the opportunity to meet and work with some amazing people.

Operation Art was initiated by the Children’s Hospital at Westmead and is run by the NSW Department of Education.
Every year we ask schools across NSW to submit up to four artworks each. These artworks are created by students for children in hospital and from all of those we select fifty to become part of the permanent collection at the Children’s Hospital at Westmead. Because they are so great they are shown firstly at the Art Gallery of NSW and then tour throughout the following year to several regional galleries before returning to hang on the walls at the hospital.
I could give you more facts like that about the program but I would rather tell you a story that shows you its heart.

Lilia’s Story:
I first met Lilia in 2006 when her artwork was hanging in the Operation Art main exhibition.

Teddies Ready For Bed
Ready For Bed

Lilia was 8 years old and her chalk pastel drawing of teddies ‘Ready for Bed’ artwork was hanging proudly alongside 601 others, it had been selected in the top fifty and had also been chosen as the junior winner for that year.
The next time I met Lilia, was the following year at the same annual exhibition opening. Once again her artwork had been selected to represent her school and once again it had been selected in the top fifty.

She bowled up to me excitedly and said “Mrs Steel, I have to tell you something. Last year when my art was hanging at the Art Gallery of NSW I met a lovely lady artist… her name was Margaret… and she invited me back to draw.” I looked for some kind of explanation from her Dad who was standing proudly next to his clever daughter. Yes, Lilia had indeed met Margaret Olley at the opening and subsequently, arrangements had been made for a short visit.

Lilia & There's Bugs at the Bottom of My Garden
Lilia & There's Bugs at the Bottom of My Garden

This little girl had been invited into Margaret’s wonderful world of art one afternoon and they’d spent time talking and drawing together. Lilia had been inspired and had gone on to create her artwork that was hanging in the 2007 exhibition. I looked at her latest entry and noticed that it was a very busy still life, a work full of flowers. The inspirational Margaret Olley was all over it!

“Wow Lilia! You must be so proud of what you have done,” I said. “Do you realise that you’ve had your artworks selected twice by your school now to be hung professionally here in this gallery with all these other ones? And by the time they get back to hang on the walls in the hospital, you will have exhibited twice at the Art Gallery of NSW (I haven’t); you have drawn with one of Australia’s most loved and well-known artists (I haven’t); your artworks will have toured to at least ten regional galleries across NSW over two years (mine haven’t) and they’ve probably been seen by about 100,000 people in that time… and you are only eight years old!”
“Yes,” she said quietly, “but the best thing Mrs Steel,” and her face lit up now, “is that now I’ll have two artworks hanging at the hospital.”
What I didn’t know about Lilia until then and her Mum had to explain to me was, that before Lilia went to school, she had spent quite some time in the Children’s Hospital at Westmead as one of their young patients. And as a family they had spent, what seemed at the time, like endless hours with Lilia in the hospital. She had spent nervous nights away from home and they had all waited together for tests to be done or results to come back, hours that turned into days of anxiously waiting, waiting and more waiting.

The only sanctuary they found during that difficult time was in walking the halls. This hospital is a registered art gallery and Lilia loved looking at the artworks hanging on the walls. They invited her into their world of colour and imagination and transported her away to a calmer place without cares. Her Mum and Dad and brother would take turns to walk mile upon mile around the halls with Lilia and they’d all be whisked away into her other world. Lilia had found the value of visual arts at the age of only four years old. She understood the real and very practical value that an artwork can have on its viewer.

When the Children’s Hospital at Westmead was opened, its then CEO, Dr John Yu wanted it to be a total healing environment where design, decoration, gardens and art combine with the best possible medical care to comfort and heal the young patients and so he asked Joanna Capon to be the curator of this amazing gallery. Joanna collected artworks from some of Australia’s leading and well- known artists like Arthur Boyd, Michael Johnson and Ben Quilty… but the artworks that are the most loved and appreciated by the young patients are the Operation Art works. They help families transcend tough times and help to bring a smile to the faces of the dedicated staff. These are the ones that the children can relate to, they tell their stories in their own way and remind them of happier times and places.

So when you look at these artworks exhibited here today at Maitland Regional Art Gallery, enjoy your sneak peek before they return and are hung forever in the hospital. Remember why they were done and who they have been created for, think about who will look into them in the future.
Think of Lilia… and let yourself be drawn into the world she found when she was only four years old!

17th Biennale – a Gift

I like to live in the present… especially on my birthday!

So today I took myself to Cockatoo Island to see the more outstanding part of the 17 Biennale of Sydney/2010 


Soaked Sydney Harbour
Soaked Sydney Harbour

So I wrapped myself up and stepped out into a soggy, soaked Sydney. I love being on the harbour at anytime and today was no exception. The Biennale’s free ferry leaves from in front of the Museum of Contemporary Art and so I jumped onboard alongside students on excursions and those little National Trust ladies that turn up at these events. It took me past a rain veiled Opera House, under the old coat hanger and slowly up to Cockatoo Island.


 How good is Cockatoo Island as venue?

The simple answer is BRILLIANT!! Why didn’t they think of this 17 years ago when it first started? Really, what else can you do with an old prison and a shipyard? Still better late than never! There are 56 artists’ installations and works… and I need to go back. One day is never enough to be filled by innovaters that make me think! 

Ok…  just a couple of pics to give you a taste… get yourself up and out there!

Cai Guo-Qiang
Born 1957 in Quanzhou City, China Lives and works in New York, USA

Cai Guo-Qiang 1
Cai Guo-Qiang 1
Exploding Cars 2
Exploding Cars 2
Exploding Car
Exploding Car

I quite like Teddy Bears with embellishment… don’t you?

 Rohan Wealleans – Born 1977 in Invercargill, New Zealand.  Lives and works in Auckland, New Zealand 

Rohan Wealleans2
Rohan Wealleans2
Rohan Wealleans
Rohan Wealleans



I was over video installations about 10years ago… and I still am because when will there be further development. It should have moved on more by now, don’t you think?


  And maybe you can finish off at the MCA… although… in my opinion, while always fascinating it is by far the more conservative part of the Biennale this year.



I will return with more! 
Enlightenment sometimes!
Enlightenment sometimes!
17th Biennale / Cockatoo Island
17th Biennale / Cockatoo Island

We need to look at the bigger picture


Sometimes a journalist write gold!

The following article was published in the Sydney Morning Herald – 7 June 2010 and is probably the most enlightened and well researched article I’ve ever seen written about how visual arts education is being left behind in Australia… even though the rest of the world has recognised its value!

Read it… enjoy… and then read My Final Report

‘Visual Arts are often left behind, to the detriment of education’, says Ainslie MacGibbon.

Australia seems to be ignoring a global move towards understanding the significance of art in education, the president of Art Education Australia, Marian Strong, says.

Strong, a member of the reference group developing the arts component of the new national curriculum, has just returned from the second UNESCO World Conference on Arts Education in Seoul where she was ”embarrassed” by Australia’s failure to even respond to an invitation to make a submission on a road map for arts education.

“Every country was asked to respond and there was no response from Australia,” she said.

”It was rather embarrassing … they started at the As, going through Angola and other countries, and just nothing from Australia. There seems to be a global movement in understanding the significance arts has in education and Australia seems to be missing that.”

The UNESCO road map states that it aims to: ”explore the role of arts education in meeting the need for creativity and cultural awareness in the 21st century and places emphasis on the strategies required to introduce or promote arts education”.

Strong says Australia hasn’t appreciated the importance of art in providing students with a broad education, particularly in today’s very ”visual” world.

”Creating art is action research – reflecting, thinking, reflecting again, creating. It is a very demanding cognitive process, one that would benefit our 21st century students,” she says.

There is growing evidence that continued participation in visual arts complements core areas such as maths and literacy and contributes to students’ emotional well-being.

Strong is not convinced this has been acknowledged in the proposed national curriculum.

She was part of an initial advice group which had two meetings with the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority, which is responsible for a national curriculum from kindergarten to year 12 in specified learning areas. She has particular concerns about the initial advice paper for the Australian curriculum that was circulated.

”The initial advice paper was very disappointing,” Strong says. The way it was written didn’t reflect current theory, practice or research for visual arts in any depth. There was no clear, cognitive rationale. It indicates that all five art forms – music, visual arts, dance, drama and media art – are to be taught equally.

”This is ludicrous and will diminish the high quality practices that are in place for visual arts in many schools. I am concerned the terminology ‘visual and performing arts’ has been dropped.”

She says it is implausible and impractical that the five art forms be taught equally. ”The suggestion that there should be two hours a week for arts until year 8, which then needs to be divided between the five art forms, leaves less time for visual arts [and music] than what is happening now,” she says.

”This could have disastrous ramifications for visual arts … UNESCO is recognising the value of the arts as an integral part of any student’s education. We cannot allow anything to be written that cuts back on visual arts and redirects emphasis and resources to NAPLAN [tests] and the like.”

Strong says the ubiquity of images in young people’s lives has transformed the way they learn and perceive the world and new skills are needed to enable all young people to make sense of the visual world.

Today’s predominance of visual images means aesthetics and creativity are just as important as literacy skills or technical knowledge. ”The visual arts provide career paths for a few, but for many more they provide basic key competencies and general skills,” she says.

Strong says students in art classes learn ”a remarkable array of mental habits not emphasised elsewhere in the curriculum. These habits include observing, envisioning, innovating and reflecting”.

Dr Kerry Thomas, of the school of art history and art education at the University of NSW, says NSW has an approach to teaching visual arts that sets it apart from other states. During the 1990s, NSW rejected a proposed national curriculum, favouring its own established syllabus for visual arts, informed by research on child cognition and creativity.

“In NSW we don’t reduce what the students make to the creativity process alone,” Thomas says. ”Visual arts is a practice in itself, with a body of knowledge and practical reasoning – an arena for learning how to overcome obstacles. If there are too many criteria in place, students will adapt their work to the criteria.”

Thomas expresses concern about the ”generic competencies” of the visual arts component proposed under the new national curriculum: “as it stands there needs to be serious revision – what is proposed is a diminution of what is currently available in NSW.”

Thomas identifies Artexpress as a “powerful driver in setting expectations and standards in visual arts in this state. Since the late 1960s we have had generations of students looking at what other students can do – providing something to aspire to”.

Artexpress is a joint venture of the NSW Board of Studies and the Department of Education, presented in association with metropolitan and regional galleries. Artworks are selected from work submitted for the HSC.

Last year 9850 students submitted works as part of the visual arts examination (making it the 10th most popular subject) and 300 were selected for Artexpress exhibitions across NSW. The Art Gallery of NSW has first selection from the 300 works to build its exhibit.

Susanne Jones, Artexpress co-ordinator at the NSW Department of Education and Training, says that about half the students featured “end up doing something art-related, others pursue disciplines such medicine, architecture and engineering – but they still use their experience in visual arts, where they developed a sophisticated conceptual understanding of the world in which they live. To get through HSC visual arts you really need to be on top of things – and highly capable.”

Natalie Fong completed her HSC at Strathfield Girls High School last year. Visual arts was her favourite subject. ”It was time-consuming, but not at all stressful – to me it wasn’t work at all. It’s what kept me calm during the HSC: if I wanted a break I would turn to my artwork,” she says.

Fong’s intricate sculpture of shoes was selected for Artexpress.

Rebecca Soon, a former Hornsby Girls High School student and another artist from the Artexpress exhibition, says “Art was my outlet, the way I relaxed and got through the HSC.”

[ SMH | Text-only index]