Embracing constraints in lockdown

Jon Nicholls, Director of Arts & Creativity at Thomas Tallis School explores the relationship between creativity and freedom

Total freedom isn’t necessarily conducive to creativity and too much choice can inhibit action. Whilst we all struggle to cope with the many constraints imposed by Covid-19 protocols, rules and restrictions can help to focus our imaginations. As long as we make time for divergent thinking, we also need periods of convergent thinking in order to solve problems and create solutions.

Getting under the skin of constraint

I teach photography in a large London secondary school. We re-designed the curriculum this year in order to embrace creative constraints – no darkroom, less movement in classrooms, no photoshoots outside, less sharing of equipment. Rather than feeling constricted by these changes we decided to explore the work of artists and photographers for whom constraints have been an essential feature of their practice.

Make do and mend

From John Baldessari’s instructions to his students at CalArts in the 1970s to prison photography workshops, our new project entitled ‘Make Do & Mend’ (inspired by a wartime response to material shortages) encourages students to view constraints positively. We encouraged students to think of their half a desk as a tiny studio, their phone as camera and computer.

To help spark their creativity, we started by asking some unusual questions:

  • How do you design an instruction for someone else to make a photograph?
  • How do you make interesting images with less time and little space?
  • What happens when you photograph another photograph?
  • Can a photograph also become a sculpture?
  • What is it like to photograph the same subject repeatedly?
  • What kinds of photographs do prisoners make?

Now the majority of students are back at home, learning remotely, the limitations are even greater. However, through the process of our Make Do & Mend project they seem to be coping well with the restrictions, secure in the knowledge that artists can thrive in constrained circumstances.

Whatever you teach you might like to read more about what we did and adapt Make Do & Mend to your context.

Jon Nicholls, Director of Arts & Creativity, Thomas Tallis School

Read the Case Study from Thomas Tallis School in the Ideas Exchange.

(Image: GCSE Photography student work, Thomas Tallis School.)

    • Type
    • Blogs

    • Source
    • Jon Nicholls, Thomas Tallis School

    • Interest
    • Covid-19

GCSE Photography student work, Thomas Tallis School 2.jpg