AI and me

Tomorrow I’m going to a seminar at The Photographers Gallery which explores how AI can be used creatively by students. I’m looking forward to it as it’s not something I have thought much about – yet. My AI experience has been to understand how it might make life easier for time poor teachers.

But I felt I should get a sense of how AI image generation works. It seemed sensible to use my own interests as a starting point. So I asked for original ideas for hand carved wooden spoons and then added prompts to generate more unusual shapes and a distressed, burnt, stained, patina, which is my current direction of travel.

Below are some of the AI results with a picture of my own recent spoons (bottom right). I’m not sure what to think about this – it’s not what I expected but it has given me some ideas that I’m interested in pursuing.

Legitimate research or illegitimate plagiarism?


Is it a spoon?

I’m reading about design at the moment and hope to be contributing to discussions about design in schools. In conversations with Ged (old friend and colleague and art educator of significance) we noted that it is sometimes hard to define what students make in terms of art, craft or design. There seems to be a generic, fused together ‘art + craft + design’ thing that happens in art classrooms. Because we don’t tend to think much about whether it’s ‘art or craft or design’ it’s sometimes hard to track how design is delivered in the ‘art & design’ curriculum.

But that’s a debate for elsewhere. This is just about this latest spoon which is part of a set of ‘deconstructed’ spoons. The whole ‘spoon’ thing is in effect a simple formal exercise in playing with 3 simple elements a handle, a bowl and the joint that joins them. It’s not an intellectual puzzle but is worked out time and again just through touch, tools and wood.

But back to design, is it a spoon because of its form or function? I seem to be challenging the convention of function in this last carving (distressed, cracked, burnt, stained rubbed back and oiled) but in my mind there seems to be a bottom line that says it has to be able to function as a spoon even if it’s just ceremonial, otherwise it’s just an arbitrary bit of decoration or treated wood.

…and so distraction over, back to reading ‘Introduction to Design Education, Theory, Research and Practical Applications for Educators by Steven Faerm.‘

Playing with AI

I’ve been working on various projects and have found that AI has made life easier. It has been useful in providing outlines, summaries, lists, commonly accepted explanations, more comprehensive descriptions and presentation of information than my old memory can muster unaided.

I have put these experments into a small Canva site so that I can share the ideas with friends.

Knowledge or skill

I’m doing some work writing about a new art curriculum in Saudi Arabia and at the same time reflecting on the implications of the publication of a new Ofsted Research Paper about UK art education. The paper is rather impenetrable and probably not fit for purpose as a consequence – because teachers, and me, can’t easily understand it. But it states that it is now for teachers to make choices and decide upon the curriculum that they feel is best for their students. Until fairly recently these matters were laid down in the UK National Curriculum for Art. That teachers have a choice is a good thing, but it is quite a few decades since these matters of educational philosophy were discussed in many school art rooms.

For me it has meant going back and rummaging in old archives, dusty hard drives and rereading once familiar old books about educational philosophies. One by Maurice Barrett was the first book about Art Education I had read and which inspired me for much of my career. He was writing in 1979 about the choices that teachers could make as they developed their curriculum. (Art Education: A Strategy for Course Design) It was subsequently rather subsumed by the National Curriculum orthodoxy that followed. But today it once more has a relevance as art teachers are again being required to make choices and justify them.

In the middle of this reflection and revision of theories I found myself sitting by the fire with my granddaughter. I was working on a spoon and she crocheting a bikini top. Both of us untaught in these media and both making a similar, shallow concave shape – just intuitively using our fingers to feel and tease the shape into existence.

A few days earlier I had been reading about, and discussing with an old friend, concepts of ‘powerful knowledge . I was uncomfortable with the notion of having to refer to everything as some sort of ‘knowledge’ as the Ofsted report suggests. I think what Erin and I were doing was some sort of sensate response to materials and the qualities of form, shape and texture: possibly function as well. I don’t know if there is a metaphor for curriculum purpose and content in art here. But it seemed a curious and unusual alignment of ideas and questions about making, skills and purposes in art education.

Starting point

I have been an art educator all my professional life, as a teacher, senior examiner, lecturer, senior advisor, inspector and consultant. I had set up a website for art teachers even before Bucks County Council (my employer at the time) had a website of it’s own. I abandoned this when I retired from Bucks, though there are traces of my work scattered around the Internet.

But occasionally it is useful to share what I am doing now with friends and colleagues, so I have once again set up a ‘danchina’ website. It is really just an opportunity to gather a few creative strands together in one place and note how they evolve.

I am not a fan of hyperventilated, over sharing social media, so I’ll just keep to a simple website and blog that I can manage from my phone.

Perhaps I will gather up some of the earlier professional stuff, more as a reminiscence than a publishing programme. However, as teachers are now being required to reinvent the wheels that we reinvented some years ago, there may be stuff which stimulates ideas. I’ll see.

Dan China