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.

8 responses to Opinion: Cheerleading for art, part 2

  1. Without wishing to go all pompous and earnest on a subject so wittily tackled above, it was a Swiss educationist in the late 18th cent who first developed a properly rounded system of education by and for ‘head, heart and hands’. It’s something we could still all do with today, regardless of which direction our own strengths lie in. Pestalozzi achieved amazing things, both for the poor and downtrodden and in terms of pretty well removing illiteracy from his country by 1830. His methods were practical and hands-on, with freedom of thought and action for pupils to develop independent minds and not just have things stuffed into them from above. Einstein went to a school based on such methods and credited it with giving him the power to visualise things he might never have got his head round. The Pottery and Art enabled the Maths. Tell that to Gove.

  2. AH ! Pestalolzzi ! I do remember being told about him and his methods during theory of education lectures. I’ve never been much of a theorist though. Mind you, my first teaching practice experience, in Everton in what today would be called a “challenging” all-boy comp., did accidentally bear out some of M Pestalozzi’s ideas. My tutor was a guy called Peter MacKarrell who could not only talk about art education, but do it, too. He said that the kids I’d be teaching wanted to know how to do things;that I’d have to find lesson ideas which proved that its not only the naturally talented who can do art;and to make sure I  proved to the kids I could do what I was asking them to do. It was ALL practical, aiming at a product from each individual which pleased them and me.

  3. Yup, exactly…(imagine here a paragraph break, still beyond me, though I do now see how to underline, indent, italicise etc)… Going back to my late friend/colleague K (mentioned in a comment on Pt I), who also managed to do exactly as described above, oddly, though all left his classes clutching the most superb artwork and creations, often the very best was done by those who thought they couldn’t draw, whereas those already recognised as ‘artistic’ and talented did achieve good things, but not necessarily the best.

  4. PS I know about Pesta-doo-dah only because I did a kind of gap year thing cleaning drains and shovelling snow in the Children’s Village named after him in Switzerland. Educ theory is the second biggest yawn, beaten to it by Educational Organisation and its History. Snooze.

  5. For years I thought Pestalozzi was a breakfast cereal additive. Good stuff Rupert. It’d be interesting to hear from non-cartoonists about their secondary school art experience here on the Blog.. You know – do you think it CAN be taught ? Is it just the province of the naturally talented ? Is it as useful as cheerleading ?

  6. Thanks Matt – yes, as I’ve said, comments are best here probably. Keeps ’em all in one place. That’s not to say comments elsewhere will be ignored, of course. It’ll be interesting, when we get younger members commenting, to see if the school experience of Art has changed.

  7. Bill, you might like this Ted talk from Ken Robinson – How Schools Kill Creativity

  8. Thanks Carole. Always interesting. I seriously doubt the likes of Gove would actually understand Robinson, let alone sympathise.

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