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Opinion: Cheerleading for art, part 2

September 25, 2013 in Comment, General

Bill Stott at the Shrewsbury Cartoon festival

Bill Stott at the Shrewsbury Cartoon festival @ Procartoonists.org

Bill Stott continues to put the case for better art education in schools.

You can read part one here.

Of course, Michael Gove could be a keen and knowledgeable student of the arts – first in line when there’s something new at Tate Modern, burning his thumbs on disposable cigarette lighters at Glastonbury, and clamouring for Bob Fosse retrospective tickets at the Albert Hall. Could be. He could be utterly distraught at the arts’ demotion.

Maybe he removed the arts from the core curriculum because he simply had to make cuts. Something had to give. And he couldn’t possibly cut maths or English or the Blessed Sciences could he? Couldn’t he? Why not? Well because there’d be a national outcry wouldn’t there?

And he couldn’t dare cut P.E., not after the glorious Olympic Games and their glittering, noble legacy. And we simply must have more physicists. We’re way behind Norway here, and standards in English literature in the UK are bettered by kids in Japan.

How about standards in arts education in the last 20 years? Anybody bothered looking at those in comparison with other countries? The UK would probably do well enough. But doing well in arts education overall, certainly in the secondary sphere, has never counted for much in the UK, mainly because those who judge it had a meagre arts education themselves.

So in demoting arts education to the fringes of the National Curriculum, Mr Gove is on safe ground. The majority of the enfranchised population will not rise up in horror. They are drip-fed the notion, mainly through the popular media, that dance is only for the naturally violently talented Billy Elliots of this world and that their dogs could do what Tracey Emin did to become a millionaire.

And yet, while we all know that nobody can expect to live a fulfilled and rounded life without having studied compulsory geography, the arts will out. Arts workshops, nearly always run on a shoestring, abound. Successful arts professionals give their time for not much money, and often for nothing at arts festivals, like – dare I say it ? – the Shrewsbury International Cartoon Festival.

Their workshops are always full, not with the naturally capable but with all ages who want to know how. Is that how geography workshops operate? At geography festivals? Is there a “Big Geog” jostling for a place in the nation’s affections with the evangelic barnstorm that is the Big Draw? Of course not.

Who’d go to a geography workshop? Don’t need to. That’s all looked after in school after cheerleading on Tuesday afternoons. The Big Draw probably doesn’t ask for tick-box answers about Jasper Johns, but it IS hands on.

Making communicative marks is probably the one thing the human animal can do which other animals can’t. Yes, some humans can draw well naturally. But by the same token, other humans like Sebastian Vettel can drive cars naturally well. Their prowess doesn’t put the majority of us off learning to drive. But we do that for socio-economic reasons. We don’t learn to draw for the same reasons.

© Bill Stott @ Procartoonists.org

© Bill Stott @ Procartoonists.org

So why do we/should we do it? Why should Mr Gove do it? Its because its EDUCATIONAL, that’s why. To “educate” means to “bring out”, and I’d bet a pound to a penny that an arts workshop or a practical, hands-on Big Draw session will bring out more hitherto unseen natural ability than would a geography festival.

I suppose I’d better apologise now for having a pop at geography. Its probably down to Mrs Leeming fifty-odd years ago. She was very keen on my class knowing all the facts and figures surrounding worldwide ground-nut production in countries that are no longer part of the British Empah and have names of their own now. It was hugely boring.

Mrs Lemming (her nickname) was a bit limited. There’s nothing limited about the arts education potential in this country. Sadly, should the essentially inexperienced, non-drawing, non-painting, non-sculpting Mr Gove get his way, that will all get booted into the long grass (quite close to where they’re practicing core curriculum cheerleading).

And who’s fault is it? Let’s start alphabetically: The Arts Council?

Editor says: Thanks,  Bill. Feel free to join the debate by commenting below.

Opinion: Cheerleading for art

September 20, 2013 in Comment, General

Bill Stott at Big Board

Bill Stott at the annual Shrewsbury International Cartoon Festival

Bill Stott writes:

Remember your school reports? They become ingrained. Like your first snog. Mine weren’t bad. English, history, art, even P.E. (he was a bully) were all good but then they fell into the maths abyss. That bit was never good. I really didn’t care how long it took six men with rubber teaspoons to fill six wheelbarrows etc.

Last week I saw my 11-year-old grand-daughter’s report . She’s in Year 7 (that’s first year in old money and is a term thought up by some non-teaching think-tanker to give the impression that the learning process is seamless. It most definitely is not.) It was a good report apart from maths where the rubber teaspoon brigade didn’t quite click.

But there were a couple of subjects Grandad didn’t quite understand, i.e. why they were being taught and how they being taught. One was, you won’t believe this, cheerleading. That’s right, cheerleading. I mean, dear God, this is an all-girl comp. What on Earth is the school encouraging here ? Cheerleading is where a group of comely young women wiggle about celebrating male sporting prowess, isn’t it?

And the other was – gimme an A, gimme an R, gimme a T – Art, art art! (See? We got there eventually). Emily – for it is she – got a good comment in art. So I asked her what they did in art. “Well,” she said. “We’ve just done Jasper Johns.”

Now, I think that art, unlike cheerleading, is useful and teachable, and I’m all for the Big Draw events. But Emily and her 11-year-old chums don’t get all hands-on with clay, ink and paint. No. They DO Jasper Johns. She did say that “sometimes” they were allowed to draw. But mostly they DID artists. Don’t misunderstand me, nothing wrong with history of art. But exclusively? With 11-year-olds?

So who’s the villain here? I will tell you. It is Michael Gove, that’s who. I know that cheerleading sneaked in under the common-sense radar because apparently it’s accepted as being an alternative to P.E. Do they do history of cheerleading too?

Mr Gove doesn’t care about the arts subjects – quite possibly because his own art education was a bit thin. He sees dance, drama, music and art as hobbies. Pastimes. They no longer merit a place in the core curriculum (from September 2014) but because it bumps and grinds in under the P.E. banner, cheerleading does.

A pound to a penny Mr Gove believes that being able to draw is a “gift” and cannot be taught. He probably believes he can’t draw. I could teach him.

Ed adds:  We hope Mr Gove takes up Bill’s kind offer. We think a lesson would make some fine Reithian-style television for the British Broadcasting Corporation or similar. Don’t miss part two of Bill’s thoughts on art in education which is due next week.

Cartoon © Bill Stott @ procartoonists.org

© Bill Stott @ Procartoonists.org

 

Whither the art

November 20, 2012 in Comment, General

Whither the art - at school. Considered by UK @ procartoonists.org

© Bill Stott @ Procartoonists.org

Our wise old cartoonist Bill Stott contemplates the state of the, er, art.

Interesting discussion on the Radio 4 Andrew Marr slot (19 November 2012) all about arts, arts funding, art in schools, and the new National Curriculum, which doesn’t include art and design as a compulsory subject.

The artist Antony Gormley and others sang the praises, quite rightly, of all the craftspersons and technical experts who make artists’ work possible, but the bit which stuck with me was that fact above about the National Curriculum.

I know a bit about art education in secondary schools, having been a teacher in the past. Its standards and performance nationally are much like that of maths or biology. i.e. good, bad and indifferent.

However, it always struck me that decisions about what subjects should be taught were never the remit of art teachers. It was fine for a head teacher, or a head of curriculum as they became known (usually a deputy head) whose specialist subject was English or physics, to decide how many periods of maths, geography, history, science, languages, PE, RE and art etc, should be taught.

It was always taken as read that maths and English were the most important and I’ve no argument with that. What does make me wonder is the grasp, or lack of it, that these decision-makers have of good art teaching. My experience is: not a lot. When I was teaching art, there was still a deeply irritating belief, from those who didn’t teach it, that being good at and enjoying art was a “gift”– the stamping ground of the very few. Which is nonsense. Just as having a “gift” for geography is nonsense.

Bill Stott cartoon

© Bill Stott @ Procartoonists.org

OK, some kids are naturally able. But some kids are naturally able at PE, that doesn’t mean that all kids don’t get the opportunity.

So, given the new non-compulsory nature of art in schools, and the fact that curriculum decision-makers in schools were rubbish at art when they were at school, I fear that art may soon be relegated to after-school clubs. A pastime. How sad.

If you have something to say about BIll’s opinion please jump into the comments below.