The second half of the Summer term is my favourite part of the year. This is when we leave school, powerpoints and picture printouts behind and take our Y12 Art History students to look at art in the flesh! We walk down to Kenwood or to the Goldfinger House at 2 Willow Road, or we take the bus to the Estorick Collection.
By tube we can easily get into any museum in London, visit an exhibition or look closely at paintings that during weekends are surrounded by crowds of people. We use every lesson we can and we finish the term with a day visit to a sculpture park like Roche Court or the Henry Moore foundation; some years we tour historic houses like Red House or Kettle’s Yard; in other years we go to the seaside, to Mendelsohn and Chermayeff’s Pavilion in Bexhill on Sea for example or the Turner Contemporary in Margate, which we had planned to visit again this year, accompanied by a sunny picnic on the beach, perhaps.
The small agony over what to select from this season’s visual treasure trove – Titian, Artemisia, Picasso, Warhol …? – was of course replaced by the huge sadness that we wouldn’t be able to show any of these to the pupils! Yes, there has been an unprecedented effort by museums and galleries to make up for their closure. They have responded with brilliant short films, sumptuous virtual tours and excellent documentaries of what lies there behind closed doors. Lucky us Londoners: art was always at our doorstep but now it comes straight into our houses through performance screenings, podcasts, TV programmes etc.
Quentin Blake’s mural for the Hastings Contemporary comes to us in detail via ‘robot tours’ !
The sheer amount of public creativity and engagement is also staggering, from the hilarious copies of famous works of art to the initiatives on how to support institutions or artist colleagues in crisis.
However, I have to admit that I have had my fill. I am overwhelmed. I can’t count anymore the open tabs and the little reminders of what to watch and what to share with whom. It all blends into one fuzzy rectangle on my PC screen. Looking at an art or design object in context of a particular setting, seeing the marks on the canvas or the grooves in the stone, experiencing a performance and following a body through the room, even watching a video installation made for a particular site – these physical encounters cannot be replaced. Just like it is not the same to toast your friends on zoom instead of clinking glasses in the pub.
The immense value of our summer term visits has never been clearer and I promise our pupils that we are going to make up for this ‘virtual art history’ with as many lesson time visits as we can possibly fit in the next term! And there will be fun and pupil-bonding and they will fall in love with art all over again.
Dr Judith Jammers
Judith joined Highgate in 2005 to set up the History of Art department. Since then she has created numerous partnerships with cultural institutions for pupils at Highgate, LAET and beyond. Previously Judith was an arts correspondent and she still tries to make most of London’s exhilarating cultural offer; she enjoys her (virtual) choir and book clubs and tries to stay fit playing ping pong.