Environmental engagement student case study 1: Capturing the moment

Education for sustainable development


Sarah Wicks, Cardiff University, BA Single Hons English Literature

Practical details of the visit

Early in November 2010 my creative writing class and I went to the National Museum Cardiff in the city centre. We went to gain insight into various situations and to view different scenes in the forms of paintings and artefacts within the museum. The trip was organised by the creative writing module leader and our teacher accompanied the group and set the writing tasks that we completed.  We broadened our imaginations when thinking about describing setting and characterisation in our writing and trying to ‘capture the moment.’ There were about fifteen of us in my group but about four other groups went too at another time. We spent about an hour and a half in the museum and everyone walked there as it is close to the English department and student housing.

How it enhanced your learning and/or how your university studies affected your visit experience

I feel my learning has actually been enhanced by this trip, as it has enabled me to focus on new settings in my creative writing work. Although I only wrote about four paintings, I viewed many more and so when it comes to work my imagination has be inspired and I am able to focus on certain images of places I have seen. I wrote descriptive pieces in the museum about scenes I had never considered writing about before based on paintings that I viewed. Here is one of the paintings in the National Museum Wales that I wrote about:

Date: 1849, oil on board, 33.0 x 44.4 cm

Viewing a painting like this in the museum really made me get a sense for the location and the earlier time period which inspired new imagery to my writing. I would have never have considered writing about this is a normal classroom environment. The visit to the museum definitely paid off in widening my sense of imagination and ability to write about different settings in a different time period. It allowed me to get a better perception of the time, which being Victorian, has helped me in other parts of my course.  Here is a piece of creative writing that I wrote in the museum whilst looking at this painting:

A violent wind billows up from the sea; the windmill is encouraged and its jovial revolutions are speedy and frequent as a result. Seagulls overhead chirp with delight watching the mill’s carnival. Bushes line the coastal path and their flapping leaves work hard to hold onto their branches. A hunchbacked figure in a red cloak struggles up the path towards the mill, aided by a crooked stick. She is accompanied by a loaded shire horse and a collie dog, whose tail wags incessantly. His black coat seems to dance, as the hairs on his back sway in the wind. Three hens pluck the ground at his paws hoping for some lost nourishment. In the background a chimney, belonging to a thatched cottage whistles, like a kettle on a stove, accompanying the party.

I also wrote about some other paintings and here is an extract from one of those pieces:

The mother’s rosy skin matches her baby’s; whether caused by the heat or genetics it cannot be told. Her curvaceous figure perches on the clay-coloured rock while her eyes survey the scene in front of her. She seems to have robbed the countryside of its life and fertility. The blue smock that she wears hangs loosely over her body superfluous to her shape. The man-made cotton juxtaposes her natural surroundings as the vibrant blue penetrates dying the scene. Her bosoms form a pillow for her infant’s delicate skull and her firm hands support its body. The fresh ears of the baby collect the noise of the hooves, the rushing water and tweets from the birds, familiarising the infant with one of its new senses.

Not only did the visit enable me to be more creative when writing about the paintings, it also helped for characterisation purposes. Not only from the artefacts and paintings in the museum did I learn but I also wrote about other people who were there. Being out and viewing people in a public environment really gets the creative juices flowing when it comes to writing about people and forming believable yet unique characters. The visit has shown me that I can use the Cardiff Museum and art gallery, and other similar places, in research for my work and I can study in places other than the classroom and the library. It has opened my eyes to a varied way of learning and so now I will be far more likely to go to an art gallery or a museum by myself for educational purposes as I know I will gain knowledge about various time periods in our history. The visit has furthered my insight on certain scenes and eras.

Another of the modules I am taking is The Victorian Novel and so viewing the paintings from that era has enabled me to develop my understanding through a means other than reading about it. I found this has really broadened my perspective when it comes to learning and obtaining information. I now know that for future study I can use Cardiff’s museum and there are paintings there from various countries, time periods and of different people, so if I ever need to gain a better insight for topics, I will now head to the museum. I wait to see if we go on any other class trips and, if we do, I am eager to see whether they will be as valuable to my understanding and creative mind as this one has been.