appendix 10



Michael interview 1: Interview with Michael, a former student at The Valley (UK) (school for the blind), June 2002.


I never registered myself as visually impaired [at mainstream school], eventhough I had the option…I was never registered. I was always very firm about that… I had severe problems in mainstream schools… It was behaviour and the excuse to get me in here [The Valley] was also my eye sight’s very poor {he is registered legally blind.} I would [guess?] it, 50/50. Muchos educational psychologists…

At mainstream school I had lots of problems because I was sat at the back of a class and couldn’t see the board. I ended up doing things I shouldn’t be doing. I didn’t like going outside on sunny days {Michael has photophobia}… so I used to get in trouble for being inside, and I just didn’t get on…

At the time [I was in mainstream education], I didn’t know. I obviously went to doctors, and you get given glasses like Michael Cane {I presume he means large, thick glasses} and stuff like that. It’s not very pleasant to go to school in them. Your peers are generally decided upon by the things you can and can’t do. And when you don’t connect with the long ball system at break time {a term in football, meaning a ball kicked a great distance from a defender to a striker – this is very popular in the British game}, you know, it’s a lot less fun...

[During my illustration degree] I did photography, computer work, print. Though I knew I wanted to do painting a lot of the students, some of them became 3D illustrators. We all worked very differently. Probably on the course, I was the most, I had the best facility for drawing, which gave me an advantage in some ways. It also meant that some of them started from the ground, so they developed a lot more than I did over the three years.

When I was here [The Valley] you come across people who are worse off than you… It’s quite easy of getting into a routine of thinking ‘well nobody understands, nobody knows’…

So here [in the art classroom at The Valley] you are less likely to have people that are artistically adept or technically so. So when I was here I was more appreciated for what I could do, and encouraged more. I felt like it was my own domain, because you never had many people in or the people who were here couldn’t do other subjects… I could come in here, I had my own space, I did some painting, it was [Harry] that first encouraged me to do oil painting. It was something that I really enjoyed and [Harry] got the paint in for me, and I really wanted to do it…

I wasn’t any great shakes [on my degree]. And I was very lucky because my dissertation pulled me up into a 2:2. But I think the proof of the pudding is in the eating, in that of the students on the course I was the only one to go on to work straight away. I think in my year there’s been about three people who are now professional illustrators. Of those I’m probably the most successful. And the professional illustrators’ course is going to set you up as a professional illustrator. So it did that. So you know the illustration mark that I got doesn’t actually represent it…

Also because, more disability based, because of my eyesight, I’ve developed more of a facility to make things up in my mind. I don’t, although I use reference, I can actually see things in my own mind which I can then draw. I don’t use photos or anything like that. I don’t refer to things when I’m doing it… I’ve got quite an acute visual memory…

[On my foundation course] I was made to do life drawing. I found it difficult because I was made to sit at the back of the class, so I didn’t put the other students off. Because I was actually quite good and they’d [the other students] had never done it before… But I found that difficult. So I ended up drawing them [the other students] because I couldn’t see the model... I ended up adapting the drawings.


Michael observation 1: Observation of Michael’s work, a project at The Valley (UK) (school for the blind), May 2002.

President: [Sometimes] you need a rule to guide you where you are going. It’s my guiding principle that [the commissioned project is] about participation and positive aspects towards disability. From my point of view, that really is the only criteria that’s being set. And then [Michael] was going on to raise some ideas which were reflecting that principle of the trade union. But perhaps, you know, not everybody would be aware of that but it would have a strong appeal to us. So over to you in terms of where you’ve got with your ideas…

Michael: Basically, a rather nice idea I had was to use some MDF blocks, about so big, and so thick {he makes a gesture with his hands} which we could give to the students to do whatever they like with. And then if we have, when we have… a number {the idea was to produce these in a series of workshops involving all of the students} we could then slot the together to form a, depending on size restrictions or whatever, or space, an overall picture which could then be disassembled or reassembled as you like in various places. [They could be] split up and put back together.


Harry interview 1: Interview with art teacher, Harry, at The Valley (UK) (school for the blind), April 2002.


Interviewer: If you have a child who is completely blind, totally blind, how would they [learn art]?

Harry: My first thing is to build some kind of tactile, how can I put it, sort of tactile language really.

Interviewer: Sure.

Harry: Yeah, so it’s tactile discrimination to begin with and then, and then a tactile language. I mean we’ve got some kids who’ve got, I’ve only got two at secondary who don’t see at all. One’s is very, I mean he’s got so many other associated [conditions] that it would be difficult to study him, but his visual impairment even though he’s totally blind, is not his biggest problem {various severe emotional and mental disorders are described within his family, which are not applicable to this study}…

Interviewer: How does he approach his work, I mean does he?

Harry: I got him working with a volunteer helper at a table one-to-one so he’s not exactly an intervener, but… it [his work] is there… but it’s just his concentration span is so short. He just needs that kind of attention… if he doesn’t get that kind of attention he’ll just call ‘wanker’, you know, he’ll call someone a wanker nearby…

What I do for them, if we are doing a project with them, is I’d have to look at a tactile material for them. You know, but you don’t say, ‘oh right, we’re not going to be working in… pastels,’ you might have a totally blind kid working in clay or paper mache or wire or other material.

Interviewer: Right.

Harry: I’ve got a kid who can see actually very, very little but he actually likes to draw.

Interviewer: And none of these children, no matter whether they [are totally blind] or not are that reticent about starting [art] work?

Harry: No, no, not at all.

Interviewer: Right.

Harry: No, they all work. [He shows me their artefacts]. They look really good when I set them up… That was [the student’s] Greek temple. He’s got… Retinitis Pigmentosa. He, he really sees very little. But he really likes drawing. And if you give him a piece of paper and a black [pen] he can actually draw. I mean he can’t see anything else. But, you know, he really likes his drawing, so I let him… [Harry shows me another drawing of a submarine.] It was made after we’d watched a programme on a submarine which was made out of tyres. And this is his rendering of it… And he’s a Braillist, he can read Braille [the symbol in British education of total blindness, Harry rates his vision at around 2/10, although from experience I would imagine it must be much lower to be a Braillist; maybe <10%]… He’s year 8 {which is 12-13 years old}…

Interviewer: How long’s he been here?

Harry: Since primary [junior school]… {Harry tells me both of the students who are completely blind were.…

Interviewer: You remember we were talking earlier about students who’d come in from mainstream schools, integrated school?

Harry: Yeah

Interviewer: And the work they’d done, have you got anything by them…

Harry: [He shows me some computer graphics designed by a lad who is partially sighted and began his education at mainstream school {Harry rates his sight at about 6/10 visual acuity}. I was told he does all of his drawing on the class computer, but Harry has told me he is struggling on the course.] He’s got no drawing skills as such. He’s got no formal drawing skills because he wasn’t taught properly…

Interviewer: Does he avoid drawing?

Harry:… He’s got to do some drawing [for his coursework {I noted he currently cannot be entered for GCSE because he does not have traditional pencil or pen drawings}]

Interviewer: But does he want to do it?

Harry: No, he’s not overly keen. He finds it hard. I mean he’s done some nice work on the computer. I think I only got him because he came… I think he’s really keen on computers, and so I think we’ll see it go in that direction really. But he won’t have a sketch book like my other students have got.

Interviewer: And is that his choice?

Harry: No, it’s his because he doesn’t do it. But rather than snarling up on that I’ve tried to find something that he can do. I mean, we only got him because when he arrived he chose to do art; because when he arrived he sort of tacked on to a group; and we were working in the library, when he came to see what the art group was doing; and we were actually on the computers that day; and he sort of said ‘ooh yeah, art, I think I’ll do art’, you know, he chose to do it.


Gerard interview 1: Interview with the art teacher Gerard at New College (school for the blind), Worcester, February 2000


Gerard:... I just looked at things that they might be interested in. Themes that they might be interested in. Things common to them. Not things that were totally alien to them; so that they were at least working on something that might have an interest in; even if they weren't particularly interested in art. You know, I have kids that are fairly bright and set them problem solving exercises, practical problem solving exercises.

You know, they were useful to do, because again there didn't necessarily have to be an artistic outcome. There were also getting a process, so you know this had taken up a long period of time and wasn't always being successful, but I think I put things like involvement and interest and enjoyment at the top of the list of what I want to achieve from the lesson.

Obviously there are… hopefully learning outcomes and they will differ from pupil to pupil, but unless you can engage them in an activity then you basically aren't going to get anywhere. So I was looking for that involvement, and I tried to tap in to what ever they were interested in.

Interviewer: Right, how do you feel your current attitudes towards visually impaired students have developed? For example… [Do] you feel that you came in with a “picture” of art… [And] how have your, even in the course of your own teaching development, how have your limitations, capabilities lived up to your expectations?

Gerard: Well, I mean I've had four maybe five students that have gone on to further education {it turns out in our conversation that Gerard means all of these students have gone on to take foundation courses which are the necessary pre-requisite for degree courses} in art and design, including a totally blind student. And so I've started with nothing, not even an exam course, not even a sort of recognised slot on the timetable as I remember it, and onto a stage where, you know, where the students are now... some of the first students on the A level that have gone on to further education are now coming up with degrees, hopefully from further education. So that is how much it has developed.

Interviewer: What changes did you envisage when you first taught… children at New College?

Gerard:.. The honest answer to that question is that... I didn't have any sort of preconceived ideas or ideas about it. I basically continued with what my predecessor was doing and over the years it just expanded outwards very, very slowly and gradually until what I do today to what is a broad based art education. Its taken place over a very long period of time. So its been a slow sort of evolving process. And so if I think back to my first coming here I honestly don't remember what my preconceived ideas were. I mean it just seemed I was teaching. That was it.

Interviewer: So you looked on it just like any normal teaching job?

Gerard: I looked upon it as a teaching job. And though I then had to do a distance learning course to be a qualified teacher of the VI. And that involved all aspects other aspects of visual impairment as well, and then I was basically teaching the subject. I kept looking at ways in which I could teach what I could what I would call a normal art activity to a group of children some totally blind some with visual impairment. So I experimented an awful lot. And some of the things I did then I still do today. And some of the things I don't. So again it was a long process, looking at things, trying things out and seeing if they worked.

Interviewer: What did you try and find was the most effective method of art education at the time.

Gerard: Whilst I was teaching mixtures of blind and partially sighted I think probably three-dimensional art. And, I mean, ceramics is a, is a very sort of accessible medium if you like for visually impaired [students], because of the making process. But I looked at other ways… form and shapes could be built up by using a variety of materials and so on. And I sort of wanted to give some of the students the opportunities to say paint, draw and of course we got masses of drawing on [German] film which is what the VI can use. So I just tried to keep it as normal as possible.


Taylor interview 1: Interview with peripatetic teacher, Taylor, from Ashton Gate (US) who worked with mainstream art teachers, November 2003


Interviewer: [Have] you taught students who have had bad experiences in art classes, especially mainstream classes…

Taylor: I had a student; he had an inflated idea of his art ability…

Interviewer: By the teacher?

Taylor: Well, he’d been in a self contained class and well, he had some art talent, but I don’t think, he didn’t seem to have as much as he thought he had. But because he was head and shoulders, and he thought he was probably the brightest and probably the most academically able child, in his group, and he had some social problems, but his art teacher was always ‘oh that’s so wonderful,’ and compared to a kid in a regular class it wouldn’t have made it.

And I was with the year that, in [Ashton Gate] at the end of 8th grade, or at the end of the 8th year [around the age of 16] you apply to a high school. And he had decided he wanted to go to one of the art and design… schools[1], which required an audition, as well as a portfolio. So early in the year when he had identified this desire, we tried to get him working… And, poor guy, his art teacher was willing to help and tried to help. He didn’t quite get that he wasn’t quite just going to be put into this school. He didn’t realise it was really competitive and they weren’t going to say ‘oh, he’s a little blind kid we’ll let him go in anyway,’ it was all on his merit.

And he made some drawings; and got a portfolio; and it was missing a lot of the things it was supposed to have, and not only because he’d said, ‘I don’t want to draw the still life, I want to draw my cartoon characters,’ and there was something there to work with but not, not what would get him into the school. And he went to the audition where they were put in front of a drawing board, and given a task and had to draw 2 or 3 different things and he was just crushed. He came back and was demoralised. And his drawings after that seemed to get a little more [angry]. Not that he’d had a bad art experience, but he was led to believe something that wasn’t…

Are we doing them a service by telling them that it’s great work. Yes, but encourage but try not to pump them up too much or else… It wasn’t realistic on his part, and it wasn’t because he was blind but because he wasn’t good enough…

Interviewer: Have you been in a school previously, or been in a school where they [students who were blind] were refused art? Or put out of art class?

Taylor:… I had a teacher who said, ‘no, there’s nothing that I can provide for this child’… there’s nothing that I can do short of sitting with them one-to-one with me… which is not the aim of a mainstream class… It was supposed to be an enlightenment class. It wasn’t supposed to be something that was led specifically by a stranger, an insider, or an outside teacher. And I was crushed.

There was one boy who, he was one of my more academically gifted students. And he said, ‘ I have no musical talents.’ They had to do either a music or an art credit. And he had absolutely no talent for music, he had no background in an instrument, and he couldn’t sing at all and so he was assigned to an art class. We were all prepared to go in…

We should have shopped by teacher rather than shopped by title [of the class]. Within a high school regime you can’t always choose the period or the time that that teacher will be there. So he ended up being in a class that wasn’t, wasn’t great. And the teacher basically sat him in a corner and gave him some clay, and said, you know, ‘work with this’, and the rest of the class was doing something, they weren’t even working with clay. They were doing drawing, they were doing a variety of things. And he was just stuck there. And he said, ‘you know, I feel really stupid. Why can’t I do something else?’ It was so demeaning.

Interviewer: Did he [change his mind about] art because of it…

Taylor: He went on to college… He went in to computers. I don’t know whether he, I doubt if he ever chose to take art class. In the following year… he went in and negotiated with the person who is in charge of the scheduling and he got the credit, but didn’t have to take art. He did something alternative instead…

   In the same building, he had art [techniques taught] in other classes. He had a calculus class. And his teacher there was just wonderful. And he came in one day and he said ‘let me show you what I’ve just found. I’ve just been to the hardware store and I’ve just found what an S-curve is like.’ And he had gotten this plastic covered wire thing. And he was able to do the interval curve… And this guy was great. And that’s when I started thinking that art doesn’t have to be in art class.

Asia interview 1: Interview with art teacher, Asia, from The Hawthorns (UK) (school for the blind), April 2002.

Interviewer: What particular difficulties do your students face when they first start in your visual art classes? How do you overcome difficulties particularly related to teaching visual art to children with visual impairments?

Asia: If the student had a negative experience prior to coming, that can colour their initial sessions with me…

Interviewer: Did your current students have experience in the visual arts before studying at [The Hawthorns], and if they did what particular experiences did they have?

Asia: They have all had experience in secondary school of the National Curriculum, whether sighted or not. It depends on the resourcefulness of the teacher… Only the older students 30 or older have missed out on art, they come in and say “what is art?” Do fish walk on their tails?...

Interviewer: Have you ever taught students either sighted or visually impaired that have actively avoided practising visual art - in any form? …

Asia: Usually, the avoidance is about adolescence and the fear of the unknown rather than V.I. [Visual Impairment] but it is clear that that where students have been introduced to making art work early they are more likely to have confidence to explore possibilities… Art can [also] be a vehicle for learning in so many areas, numeracy, communication, expression of feelings, etc. so the earlier it starts the better.


Petra interview 1: Interview with art teacher Petra from St Andrews (US) (school for the blind), February 2004


Interviewer: Students who are blind, if you teach them younger, have you found that they respond more when they are older?

Petra: Oh definitely. There’s a place, I don’t know exactly where… It’s probably different for each person. There’s a kind of inner reception or place, where you’re willing to be an artist; eventhough you might have had very little experience with artistic materials. And then there’s a time when a student will just say ‘not for me, this is not something that I’m ever going to enjoy, I’d rather take music, or I’d rather do gardening or something.’

Because they don’t feel that they can express themselves in what we call the fine artistic genre of thinking, they just don’t want to go there. Mostly, and with very few exceptions, [these are] students who come here after finishing somewhere else [in mainstream education]. Some come here after there teens to take a year at [St Andrew’s] to fill in the gap on technology, mobility, and occasionally they’ll have an art class…

They would have been [mainstream] all the way through. Most of the students I have had come in after that time from regular secondary school, I’ve only had one who had interest in art… They’re ready to do something else. They’re ready to get their act together to be a college student, or they want to go into some kind of vocational training… But as far as art goes, most of the time they don’t feel they have time for it…

Interviewer: And have they been taught art when they were at mainstream school?

Petra: Very little…

Interviewer: Have they had any bad experiences when they were in mainstream settings?

Petra: Uh huh…

Interviewer: And are they defensive [about doing art]…

Petra: Yes. Even sensitive to the point where, feeling like an expression of not wanting to try because they’d felt like in the past, maybe they’d tried and were such a failure at it… Eventhough I really try and accommodate anyone at that level.

Steve interview 1: Interview with art teacher Steve from The Walkers’ Stadium (UK) (school for the blind), July 2001.

Interviewer: How long, and in what capacity, have you taught the visual arts to children with visual impairments?

Steve: I have been teaching art to children with a visual impairment for around eleven years.

Interviewer: When you first started teaching children with visual impairments, what difficulties - if any - did you expect?

Steve: Initially I thought that teaching art to the blind was a ridiculous prospect, I later found that there is a wealth of creative talent with visually impaired pupils and that through the 'multi modal' experiences currently in favour in the general art world visually impaired artists are at the forefront of artistic expression.

Interviewer: What particular difficulties do your students face when they first start in your visual art classes? How do you overcome difficulties particularly related to teaching visual art to children with visual impairments?

Steve: I expected blind children to work using clay, I did not realise that often with a visual impairment some sight is available.

Interviewer: Was there an art teacher employed at your school before you, and - if you know - what were their strategies for teaching visual arts?

Steve: The art teacher before me concentrated on craftwork.

Interviewer: What particular difficulties do your students face when they first start in your visual art classes?

Steve: Knowing where to find equipment, etc. Sometimes their expectations are unrealistic and they will defeat themselves by thinking that I (as the teacher) will be making demands of them that are unachievable.

Interviewer: How do you overcome difficulties particularly related to teaching visual art to children with visual impairments?

Steve: I work on individual programmes where we discover together ways of answering the tasks we set ourselves.

Interviewer: do you notice a difference in experiences of children with sight and visual impairments when they first start studying at your school?

Steve: Yes, with sighted pupils they can discover things for themselves more easily. With visual impairment you need more time to discover these things.


Postal Interview with Art Teacher in a school for the blind in the South East of England


Dear Simon, please find enclosed some answers for you:


I have been teaching art to children with a visual impairment for around eleven years.


Initially I thought that teaching art to the blind was a ridiculous prospect, I later found that there is a wealth of creative talent with visually impaired pupils and that through the 'multi modal' experiences currently in favour in the general art world visually impaired artists are at the forefront of artistic expression.


I expected blind children to work using clay, I did not realise that often with a visual impairment some sight is available.


The resistance to art generally came from adults and parents who considered art irrelevant for visually impaired children. This still continues.


The art teacher before me concentrated on craftwork.


Knowing where to find equipment etc. Sometimes their expectations are unrealistic and they will defeat themselves by thinking that I (as the teacher ) will be making demands of them that are unachievable.


I work on individual programmes where we discover together ways of answering the tasks we set ourselves…


With sighted pupils they can discover things for themselves more easily with visual impairment you need more time to discover these things…


Often visually impaired pupils use a much more structured approach to there work. Sometimes the imagery can alter throughout the life of the painting and visually impaired pupils will also use a greater flexibility with the media they use in their artworks…


Usually any pupil sighted or visually impaired who aviods making artwork does so because they feel that any artwork they make is of a poor quality. They may say that art is only for people who have a talent, is for girls, you cannot get a job doing art, they haven't got the patience, etc. Generally their arguments for the avoidance of art reflect some expectation that they lack within themselves…


Regards B


© Simon Hayhoe 2005, 2007

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[1]These schools are designed to take students who have the potential to go on to take art degrees.