Calm the flock down…


If you’ve ever watched a juvenile magpie learning how to sing you’ll know that they are earnest, they falter, they’re keen and they’ll keep trying to master the art of song. At times they sound beautiful, matching the rise and fall in the melody resonating flawlessly from the adult bird.


I can hardly claim to be that resonant, melodious bird, hitting all of the right notes reliably, more often sounding like the ubiquitous school yard crow…sharp-eyed, yes, and cawing out over the raucous clatter of the juveniles chattering, repeating themselves, imitating one another in shameless mimicry; behaving like rampant flocks of drunken lorikeets, shyacking and stripping the blossoms in the afternoon light.

If you will allow this old bird to call on more feathered friends to stretch the metaphor, Mother duck said quack, quack, quack, quack….

How to bring those charming, dissonant birdlings to the agreeable symphony one believes they are destined to create…? Partly instinctive and yet with so much to learn. In finding their voice, they don’t know what they don’t know. Often, I don’t know what I don’t know although I’m all too aware of what they don’t have on board for the flight. A flight path charted within a conceptual framework can be cause for some turbulence. Many hatchlings face the obstacle of not knowing how to begin. It’s not about the how so much as the why then the how.

‘ When I started, the concept was so broad I didn’t really know what I was  doing…once I knew, it was easier to make decisions.’   ( Ziggy, Yr 11)

Ziggy began to understand that research was where it all began so he could develop his ideas.


Using the enquiry based learning model (Research, Develop, Resolve, Reflect) is both a blessing and a curse. While it asks of us to deeply engage with ideas, it leaves little space for really learning about specific materials and techniques… favouring those as a means to an end in the communication of a meaning. This combined with the crowded schedule for gathering evidence of achievement against measurable criteria leaves us with ruffled feathers and wings clipped, barely a moment to really reflect on what it is we’ve created and where that takes us to next.

Resolve, reflect, resolve, reflect, resolve… … reflect. Swooping and diving in endless loops. Buoyed upward, soaring on a thermal current and hoping it lasts until the end of the flight without crashing to shore.

Spread their tiny wings and fly…

It’s true that there is the occasional broken wing. Despite this, high school art at its best is Big Art .The  final work is an arrival song at the end of a journey imbued with all the developed thoughts, emboldened colour and fledgling squawks that befit such a learning curve. This end point encapsulates the whole grand intention without being grandiose, pretend yes, pretentious, no.

Blackbird fly…

Creative Generation, formerly (paternalistically) The Minister’s Art Awards for Excellence (speaking of grandiosity) is an annual exhibition held at Goma. It is comprised of the very best artworks from Senior Visual Art students across participating state and private Queensland high schools -a whole flock of birdies who’ve learnt how to fly. It’s at this point the old bird becomes high pitched and warbly, when one of her chicks has flown the coop to join that flock in making big, beautiful and thoughtful art to share with a public audience.


This artwork explores the notion of worship and attempts to convey the human need for constructed belief systems and ideals that represent a reflection and embodiment of human nature. The creation of these sculptural forms, cast in resin and embellished with copper, use precious materials to fashion totems or icons. The collection and arrangement of forms symbolise the reality that worship and ideas of religion are created and valued by humankind alone in an attempt to make the finite nature of existence infinite.   (Sian, Yr 12)

I’m certainly no twitcher but I do love watching  my birdlings… not so much identifying or classifying them but more observing their ways; flocks in formation, murmurations of thoughts and feelings, flashes of colour and  fresh wisdom, shaking their tail feathers with unabashed enthusiasm … the wagtail who alights on my car windscreen as I pull in at the end of each working day, gawking at his reflection reminding me of the girls who use the office window as a mirror to do their hair, oblivious to the big, bemused crow eyes taking them in from the other side… them teaching me how to fly.


3 thoughts on “Calm the flock down…

  1. Love this blog Karen, I’ve read it quite a few times (bumping up the outreach stats at the same time!) Read some things recently on how critical thinking and painting (and music, so says) don’t mesh in early stages of works, so would you consider the ‘reflect’ as a critical thinking element in the model you mention above?

    I wonder what I’m talking about too 😀


  2. I think to ‘resolve’ something is to have been through a critical thinking process and ‘reflect ‘ in the enquiry based learning model is definitely asking one to analyse and evaluate the work at any stage, but particularly at the completion of the work. I guess one of the problems with this approach is the risk of overthinking and killing the intuition; stripping the emotional and the visceral away from one’s relationship with media and subject matter and whatever else drives the creation of work. Not all work has to be a problem to solve. A mature artist has the benefit of a life’s practice and a visual language of their own, in strong part shaped by the broadest critical thinking whereas the young student is still coming to terms with every aspect of art making.


  3. Thank you, this may surprise but this response is really helpful to me as I wend my way back to more doing and less overthinking. Will always bounce between each I imagine. (Bizarrely, my name is against your comment so I missed it :-] must be a shortcoming of our blog set up)


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