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Learning Through Doing and Experimenting

Temporary Drawing - Transfer of a tree onto a tree using carbon paper
Temporary Drawing – Transfer of a tree onto a tree using carbon paper

A couple of months ago I attended a one-day workshop which brought to life the collaborative learning environments of Tom Hudson. The workshop emphasised collaborative and investigative approaches to art making and was led by artist and educator Suzi Tibbetts. Suzi has answered some questions below to help us understand who Hudson was and what his teaching methods were.

Firstly, this is my thesis abstract, with some modifications, to summarise what I did…

Tom Hudson: A Study of his Vision for Art Education

My research project investigated the pedagogy of Tom Hudson and his vision for art education. This involved a critical overview of the relationship between Hudson’s pedagogical theory and practice, as well as a review of the influences and contexts that shaped the development of his ideas. Having played a significant role in the formation and progress of the Basic Design Movement, I considered and compared Hudson’s practice and ideas with respect to this period and the work of other protagonists, namely Harry Thubron, Victor Pasmore and Richard Hamilton. Hudson’s development of what essentially emerged from this was investigated, providing an extensive review of what became known as the Foundation course through to Hudson’s retirement in 1987.

Contemporary practices were also considered and observed in order to gain an understanding of current debates and the place of Hudson’s pedagogical views within these. Familiar elements in his writing show that his ideas have relevance to current concerns and practices. Twenty-five years later we are still working to prove that ‘creative activity is more than a mere cultural frill’ (Hudson, 1979, BH/TH/PL/196, p. 2).

The study included a consideration of the archive as a theoretical framework for the artist educator’s research. A substantial amount of primary material for this research was found within the National Arts Education Archive (NAEA@ysp), a valuable resource with much to offer the art and design educationalist, student or researcher.

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Tom Hudson (Basic Design Collection), 1960s

So who was Tom Hudson?

Tom Hudson was born into a working class family in 1922 and brought up in Horden, a mining town in County Durham, England. He is known as having been part of the group of Basic Design pioneers which also included Victor Pasmore, Harry Thubron and Richard Hamilton. Of these men, it was only Tom Hudson who developed his pedagogy into the digital age, producing a number of television series such as Mark and Image (1988) and Material and Form (1991), as well as introducing courses in computer art. He developed his educational ideas at art colleges including Leeds College of Art, Leicester, Cardiff and Emily Carr in Vancouver, Canada. While Tom Hudson enjoyed some success as an artist, his natural medium was teaching. Hudson maintained a career in art education until his death in 1997.

What made Hudson’s pedagogy so radical at the time?

In the early part of the twentieth century there was a lot of change taking place in both art and education. The Basic Design Movement set out to challenge the traditional, academic methods practised in schools of art such as The Slade in the early and middle 20th century. Basic Design ideas gained prominence during the 1950s and 1960s as a model for the newly introduced pre-diploma courses, later known as foundation courses, which still exist in a similar format today. Basic Design ideas first became a topic of debate among art educationalists at the Society of Education through Art Conference held at Bretton Hall in 1956. Supporters of Marion Richardson’s influential Child Art philosophy, which promoted art as free expression, were angered by the group’s rationalist approach.

Acting as spokesperson for Basic Design, Harry Thubron argued that adolescents had ‘outgrown the emotive and expressionist forms’ that the Child Art Movement focused on, and insisted that education must be follow a more intellectual path. Thubron argued that it was only through a more rational and experimental framework that the role of intuition could be freed.

At the core of Hudson’s work was a desire to challenge the 19th century notions which still prevailed in art education in the post–war period. He believed it was a fundamental right for all members of society to gain an understanding of modern visual language and systems in order to take control of their aesthetic world. Challenging traditional notions of art making, Hudson believed art should go deeper than representation. A former student commented on Hudson’s ethos as he perceived it: to change society, not reflect it.

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Tom Hudson

Part of his ethos was ‘learning through doing and experimenting. How important are collaborative and investigative approaches to art making & do you think ‘play’ is important aspect of learning?

I believe these approaches are vital. Playing, making mistakes, testing ideas and experimenting are ways we make sense of the world.

In what way do you input his ideas into your teaching?

I am a very different person to Tom Hudson, in many ways! But i believe in empowering students, and helping them to understand the principles which will allow them to develop their work. I believe in play and experimentation, and about pushing ideas as far as you can.

Do you think his work is still relevant today in Arts Education?

This is a very complicated question… I believe that an understanding of what came before us is essential, and the NAEA helps us to see how art education has developed. All the educators hold relevance if only to learn from their ideas, mistakes and a desire to stand up for what they believed in. We live in a very different world to that of most of the archive collections, and must always remember that. Our students are different, our experience of the world has developed.

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Temporary Drawing – Body Outline using charcoal

Have you any tips on how students studying via distance learning can be inspired by Tom’s work?

Hudson ran a very successful distance learning course in Canada, believing that anyone should have access to art education. He encouraged everyone to engage, and feel empowered by the development of visual and plastic abilities.

Some of the things he advocated which should resonate with OCA students is the emphasis on student directed learning and a blurring of the boundaries between artistic disciplines and his deliberate limitation of equipment/facilities to show that anything was possible through experimentation and imagination. Some of the discussions that pop up on the student site are about the importance of play and risk taking. For me, I really enjoyed working collaboratively and uninhibited, I stepped outside of my comfort zone and interacted with the environment in a way I wouldn’t normally do. You learn through doing and experiencing and if you always stick with what you know your not going to happen upon that happy accident. It made me want to keep making, for me creativity is infectious.

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Temporary Drawing – Body Outline using seeds and leaves

Remember anyone can make an appointment to enter the National Arts Education Archive at Yorkshire Sculpture Park.

Temporary Shadow Drawing
Temporary Shadow Drawing

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Mapping a Spider’s Walk


Posted by author: Joanne
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3 thoughts on “Learning Through Doing and Experimenting

  • I had not heard of Hudson. i wonder if his ideas were responsible for the Foundation Design course i did in my first year at Edinburgh College of Art (equivalent to Foundation year in England) in the eighties. Everyone had to do this course. It was based round principles of design which could be applied to disciplines such as fashion, graphics and ceramics. I went on to study painting, but found the Foundation Design course interesting. We were very much encouraged to play. The first day we were all given a box of matches and told to ‘do something with it’. Of course, we all immediately thought that burning down the college would be daring, but rather stupid. It was interesting to see what my fellow students did and, looking back, I think there was early evidence of what people would go on to study. i remember one student did a very careful coloured pencil drawing of the box- she went on to study Illustration. One student made three dimensional structures with the matches- he went on to study Furniture Design. I made a small fire, burnt the box with all the matches and filmed it. I went on to study Painting, but have made several films. They no longer have this course in first year. It has been replaced with project based learning. I hope the element of play is still there.

    • Yes, Tom Hudson, Richard Hamilton and Harry Thubron were all instrumental in developing the Basic Design course in the late 1950s. Their approach to art and design education underpins the Foundation courses across the country.
      Like your course, many foundation courses have now gone, partly with the demise of independent art colleges, partly due to funding issues.
      As an aside, my father was taught painting by Tom Hudson at Cardiff, and loved the experience.

  • This is especially interesti9ng as I start Drawwing one, as the first project is temporary drawing.Clouds, shadows, snail trails etc are gthinmgs I enjoy exploring.

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