Amelia Panella '18 interviewed High School Fine Arts Department Chair and professional artist Mr. Martyn Dukes, who has taught both AP and IB classes over the course of his 10 years at TASIS.
When did you start at TASIS?
I was first at TASIS in 2006. I was taking a sabbatical year out after teaching for 20 years. At the end of that year, I went to Collège Alpin International Beau Soleil, where I took up the position of Head of Art and Head of Expressive Arts. I returned to TASIS two years later when I was offered the Chair of Fine Arts. My sabbatical year was therefore probably the longest interview on record.
Can you please explain what you do at TASIS?
Currently, I am the Chair of Fine Arts, which essentially means I have a responsibility for all the arts, from Kindergarten through to grade 12. I administer the performing arts—theater, dance, music— and all the visual arts at TASIS. I am also the art teacher in the High School and teach AP, IB, and other elective art courses.
As well as administering the Fine Arts Department, I am a dorm parent in Del Sole and have been since I started working here. I am a member of the academic committees for the High School and for the Middle School and have an overview of the Elementary School activities. A big part of my year is in collaborating with colleagues in organizing the Spring Arts Festival each May.
Can you please describe your educational background and your career in education prior to TASIS?
I was educated in England and my university education focused on art and the teaching of the arts. I did an art foundation course, followed by an undergraduate Fine Arts degree in painting (I am now a painter), and a postgraduate degree in teaching and education. I then spent 17 years teaching art and leading departments in a number of schools in the South of England, after which I moved to France where I taught at my first international school in Toulouse, in 1998.
"Art is also one of the few subjects in which you are encouraged to make mistakes and through making the mistake you find something else."
Can you briefly describe your teaching philosophy?
I am an instructor in the sense that I show and hopefully equip students with art techniques. I also try to put a handle on things—try to make art interesting and attractive. Essentially, though, my teaching is about trying to reach and develop the individual. I strive to explore what a student can do, look for their potential, and then push them (a little) into finding their way. It's about teaching to the student.
What do you like most about working at TASIS?
I like the liberty that it gives me to be able to teach and work in various ways, to explore, and to even make mistakes, sometimes; if you're working in an overly structured environment, sometimes these things aren't allowed or even meant to happen. TASIS is very flexible in that way. It allows you to explore, develop, and learn, even as a teacher. I also have the chance to try out new things I deliver in the art room—and not just in the how, but also in the what.
The other enjoyable thing about being an art teacher is that I have my favorite things around me, namely paint, paper, pencils, brushes, and ink. I am privileged to have an extraordinary range of strategies to draw on. My Drawing and Painting class is a good example. It has developed much over the years, thanks to this inbuilt flexibility; I restructure the course each year based on what I think will interest the students most and what I have learnt from previous classes. I like the idea that every day is going to be different.
How would you describe yourself as an artist?
As an artist I'm struggling most of the time—in developing ideas, in finding the time to paint, in organizing exhibitions, in meeting deadlines—but I am always exploring, and discovering my world. In the same way that in teaching I develop and grow, I think I'm still growing as an artist. I am still happily painting and, at nearly sixty years old, attempting to not become too set in my ways. In terms of what I paint, I am figurative and enjoy detail and color, and I am often mindful of Paul Klee's quote, "Art does not reproduce the visible; rather, it makes visible."
Acrylics on canvas from Mr. Dukes' current studio project: The Industrial Landscape Project. L–R: "A Homage to Walter Sickert," "104 (II) Prato, Italy," and "Garage in Mauvezin, Gers, France."
Do you feel like you get to know your students through their art?
I not only get to know them through their art, of course, but I think art is the vehicle through which I can sometimes get to know them best; the way students work and respond and the way they approach assignments tells me much. But, once again, it is not just through their art. In the art studio, situations are often different than, say, a traditional school classroom. In my world, more often than not, it's one-on-one and this allows me to find out so much more about individual students.
What do you think is different about teaching art than teaching other subjects?
I think there are many different things to say to that. Art classes are not solely about spending time doing something for fun or acting as a distraction—it has much more weight than that. Art gives students skills and opportunities that other subjects do not give and that is why it is important in a school curriculum.
There's a list of things I think art does, if it's taught well: It teaches you to observe and to look. Charles Darwin wouldn't have made most of his extraordinary hypothesizes and discoveries without being able to draw: Art is also one of the few subjects in which you are encouraged to make mistakes and through making the mistake find something else. As an art teacher I encourage students to celebrate those mistakes, and they often stumble onto something that they didn't expect. The imagination is another useful trait. Albert Einstein would think in images; and he would solve problems by envisaging them. Other skills include being able to refine motor skills, solve problems, and develop perseverance. There are more, but these are the few that perhaps make art unique and give it an important place in the schooling.
I know that between teaching you've had your own exhibitions. Would you like to share something about them? Which one was your favorite and why?
My favorite exhibition is always the last one, or the next one. I like exhibitions partly because they're good for your ego—it's nice to show your work off. It's also a visual art, so you're doing it for a purpose and one of them is to see. I exhibited some work during this past summer, and in these professional exhibitions you pay for your space, so that sets up for a certain amount of nervous energy. You're acutely aware that you're selling yourself, so you actually transfer from being an artist to being a businessman. There's a middle ground where you have to do both: you have to select the work carefully, you have to exhibit it in a very professional way, and you have to promote yourself on social media and websites. It took me about three months to prepare for that exhibition and that does not include finishing artwork. I selected a certain number of works, and it was a difficult process making sure I selected pieces I thought would work for the particular setting and context. The exhibition was successful in terms of the response I got. Exhibiting is something that I enjoy a lot, but things have changed over the years so it is also something I am relearning.
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