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Teachers: Citizenship: Arts

Last Updated: Wed November 03 2004 13:54 GMT

Art and the individual: Richard Billingham

Citizenship 11-14/KS3/Levels E&F
Arts in individual and community life


The artist Richard Billingham exhibits photos of his parents, he was short listed for the twenty thousand pound Turner prize, but is that why he took the pictures?

Learning aims

  • Why people make art
  • What benefits producing art can have for artists
  • How art can benefit non-artists


    Background on the artist
    If you look at a family album you see smiling faces and good times, holidays and special events, but this is only one aspect of family life.

    Richard Billingham is a 30-year-old artist from England's midlands; he takes pictures of the less happy times. He has exhibited photos of his parents fighting, getting drunk even eating TV dinners inside their shabbily furnished high-rise flat.

    Why might he create this art?
    Ask students why they think he might want to make art based on a childhood many people would want to forget?

    Main activity

    An annoying event
    Think of a very small event that has annoyed or frustrated you on the way into school or so far during the day. E.g. Someone too slow getting off the bus, something annoying on the radio or TV, someone rushing in the corridor - keep it small - something you would not normally bother to think about.

    Recreate the event
    Do this on paper, either writing or cartooning, or working in pairs act it out. Include the following to give it some structure:

  • Your feelings before the event
  • During the event
  • How you felt after the event
  • Why was it annoying?
  • What would you have liked to say?
  • How would you have liked it to happen?

    Reconsider the event
    Does anyone find they are less annoyed by it? As long as one person says yes you have a working example of how creative activity can help people resolve their feelings.

    Extension activity

    Make a diary for the next week and think of three new creative activities for each day, it doesn't matter how small they are. Remember telling a joke or arranging furniture can be creative.


    Think about Billingham's work.This artist is not thinking about a small event he is looking at how he feels about his family. The fact that they are poor his father drinks too much and can be violent. He knows that these things have shaped him; he makes art to understand how he feels. How might his work help other people?


    Creative activity can help you understand why you feel the way you do, write a joke about your family.

    Teachers' Background

  • Billingham was born in Birmingham in 1970
  • He went to university in Sunderland and started taking photos to help with his paintings
  • He has published a book called 'Ray's a laugh' that includes a picture of his dad Ray passed out drunk on their toilet floor
  • He says 'I have been taking pictures of my close family in part as an attempt to comprehend myself and them more fully'

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