Sector News


A Report From a Debate at The Art Party Conference in Scarborough, 23 November 2013

Posted: 10/03/2022

Based at the beautiful sea side town, the APC took over a spectacular beach venue, The Spa, complete with its very own Victorian vernacular railway.

Provocations from Bob and Roberta Smith, and Lesley Butterworth, NSEAD (and others including Susan Jones from an The Artist Information Company) started the conference. Bob and Roberta Smith read his letter from 2011 to Michael Gove. Stating that Britain is a cultural giant, and questioning what the government offers young people, ‘everything is visual’ and indeed in our modern world ‘image is everything’. No one lives in a cultural vacuum ‘we are all cultural beings’.

NSEAD was established 125 years ago. General Secretary Lesley Butterworth states these changes are the most toxic thing to have happened in her life-time. In response to the changes in curriculum, NSEAD have developed their own, with everything Gove has left out; including, she says, the 21 century. This will be live very soon.

The rest of the afternoon was spent listening to the conversations, including: HOW SHOULD ART BE TAUGHT IN SCHOOL? With Lesley Butterworth, Mark Hudson, Sam Cairns, Sheila Mcgregor, and Richard Wentworth.

Sam Cairns, Cultural Learning Alliance, asks ‘Why do we teach art?’ She says that it is a legal duty to, and it contributes to our economic well being- if you want to reduce it to money. Why else? She summarises it is because it improves children lives and it improves our lives.

Mark Hudson, curator of the recent Transitions exhibition, at Yorkshire Sculpture Park, sets the scene with a bit of history. In 1954 there was another event in Scarborough, a summer school. People at the time had an appetite for new ideas and innovation. However, some were still hoping that modern art of the time would blow over and traditional teaching would remain. Victor Pasmore, Tom Hudson and others developed ideas to bring British art education up to date. Hudson concludes it was based on the idea that art is an opportunity to develop our own visual language and fundamental to society.

Sheila McGregor, Axisweb, sees arts education as being too prescriptive. She gives an example of her daughter who had no preparatory studies to go with a finished art piece, and had to work backwards to demonstrate a supposed linear progression of learning. McGregor talks of a need for more emphasis on thinking, ideas and exposure to wide media including film; resonating with Passmore’s 1954 aims, and ButterworthÂ’s provocation to update art education. She feels it is important to have opportunities to experience work of living artists and it needs to be easier to organise school trips. This all requires, she says, changes to teacher training.

To the artist Richard Wentworth, the most shocking thing is professionalisation. With emphasis on the status of the artist, he fears there is no room for curiosity. He wants an atmosphere in school where it would be possible to go outside and demonstrate how to light a fire: space to ask: I wonder what would happen if? In agreement with McGregor’s call for more visits to contemporary artists; he states the power of seeing something done as ‘fantastic’: it is how we learn. Art, he asks, why is it special? It is part of how we are.

During the Q&A a teacher spoke of her frustration of short lessons, another person adds that people are encouraged in society to have short attention spans and be stupid, and they aren’t. Cairns spoke about the difficulty of trying something different in school, and the fear of how it reflects on statistics and results. It is the need of status for the school, not only seeking the status of an ‘artist’ that could be affecting how the arts are taught.

So, how should art be taught in school? Our speakers suggest: with relevance to the 21st century practice; visiting and seeing art happen; with curiosity; with emphasis on thinking, ideas, and exposure to a wide range of materials. This enables students to relate to, share and influence our culture.

With restrictive timetables, fear of the wrong results and status, it is increasingly difficult for teachers to have the freedom to teach art at all. Perhaps if we do want to be less prescriptive, and/or more focused on arts in school, it is the structure of the school week and term, and expectations of what education is, and why we teach that also needs to change.

By Artist and LEAN Membership Development Officer Elizabeth Murton

"Just to say a huge thanks ... I am looking forward to progressing with this project thanks to your support, advice and guidance"

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