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Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Developing Dylan

This post was written for the Dylanwad 100 blog, part of the celebrations for the centenary of the writer and poet Dylan Thomas.

Whilst working with young people on the Delivering Dylan project I've been struck by the potential of using visual art as a gateway into other, more challenging subjects, and the incredible capacity of young people to rise to any challenge.

I'm a visual artist, primarily a painter, with a background in cross-disciplinary collaboration and experimentation. For the past few years I've been working with an industrial polymer chemist to explore the possibility of using industrial materials and scientific processes to create fine art. This has been fascinating, and has enabled me to collaborate with all sorts of exciting people. Last year I was contacted by the London Science Museum and asked to assist in devising methods of using art to improve access to science. Science, it seems, is viewed by many young people as something inherently boring, bearing no relation at all upon their lives. When the word 'science' is coupled with 'museum' it unfortunately seems to trigger yawns all around the classroom. Interestingly though, when creative activity (art) is used first as a catalyst to capture attention and engage young people in the practicalities of science, then their response is much more positive. You can read about my collaborative projects on my blog:
My experience of the Developing Dylan Project has revealed several similarities. Of course I'm not implying that the mention of Dylan Thomas triggers yawns! But what I do know is that the idea of spending time looking at his poetry is not immediately appealing to some young people, particularly those who may be struggling with schoolwork or in pupil referral units. The genius of Developing Dylan therefore is the immersion of literature within other readily-accessible creative arts. And once a young person has been hooked by art (or music, or performance etc), then I think the challenge of poetry seems infinitely less daunting, and they can move on to explore the beauty of the words.

In my workshops I've collaborated with the poet Clare Potter and artist Matthew Britton. We’ve used art and visual activities to introduce, respond to and help remake carefully chosen works by Dylan Thomas, with some very impressive results. And there's a very good reason behind all this. Human beings are 'visually wired'; 50% of our brain is involved in visual processing, 70% of our sensory receptors are in our eyes and we can interpret a visual scene in less than 1/10 of a second. It only takes us 150 milliseconds for a symbol to be processes and 100 milliseconds to attach a meaning to it. Our rate of understanding for text with pictures is 95% compared to 70% for text alone, which is why translating words into images and back again can be so inspiring and revealing when looking at poetry. Importantly too, adding creative activity makes things easier to recall. We remember 80% of what we see and do, but only 20% of what we read, and a tiny 10% of what we hear.

So by joining word and image, my hope is that Developing Dylan has not only contributed to improving access and enjoyment of Dylan Thomas today, but also to creating a lasting legacy. I hope the young people will remember and return to his works throughout their lives, and have the courage to read, enjoy and respond to other literature in their own unique way. I, for one, have definitely been awed by the talent I've seen in all the schools and inspired by the artists I’ve worked with. Dylan Thomas has been revealed to me in a new light; I've even made my own artworks in response!
The Green Fuse