Rant 41: Art at School: Teaching to Create or Debate, Draw or Explore?

Rant 41: Art at School: Teaching to Create or Debate, Draw or Explore? Helen Higgins, Total Numpty, 2009. Cross stitch on linen. Variable dimensions. Credit: Helen Higgins

Does the UK school art curriculum place too much emphasis on being able to 'draw'? Is technical ability prioritised over experimentation and debate? A level student Jessica Salter has recently completed a week's work experience at Axis, through the Social Mobility Foundation, and tells us why she didn't continue with her art education after Year 9.

Draw or explore?

Despite never having studied art at GCSE or A-Level, I came to Axisweb feeling positive about the art industry.

I always took an interest in art and enjoyed the classes at school, yet I never saw myself as ‘talented’ or good enough to be an artist.

Within the current school curriculum students are not given the opportunity to explore and appreciate art as an ‘observer.’

The teaching of art in schools focuses primarily on traditional forms of art, for example imitating the work of influential artists, but not discussing it.

Furthermore, in my high school, the way you were identified as ‘talented’ or ‘good at art’ was through drawing wine bottles; you were graded according to how realistic the drawing was.

Should being able to draw a wine bottle and having the ability to draw determine whether or not you are an ‘artist’?

Create or Debate?

Art is usually seen as expressing oneself in a variety of ways, which means that being able to draw should not determine you as an artist. 

For example a student may be interested in sculpting or photography, but they are restricted by how and what they are taught. Modern art and contemporary art are not explored very much before GCSE level.

I believe everyone has the right to be an artist; to create in order to express themselves, their thoughts, emotions and experiences.

School students should have the freedom to create their own art work and not be limited in their opportunities to be an artist, whilst also learning to appreciate and explore art.

The problem I see, even at a young age, is that society has a stereotypical image of being an artist or studying art and associates it with being ‘cultured’ or ‘exclusive’; so you are made to feel that if you are not familiar with art you cannot appreciate it or comment upon it.

Nevertheless I find myself taking an interest in modern and contemporary art and exploring the reasoning behind the artwork; I enjoy finding out the explanation presented by the artist, but also having my own opinion on the piece, being able to relate to the work and discussing my thoughts about it.

I have found in schools that ‘art’ is only for those who are ‘creative’. But what about the students who are less obviously creative, but still have an enthusiasm for art?

Is appreciating and exploring art something only for the artists or the ‘creative types’ or is it something which everyone can learn and develop over time? 

Contributed by Jessica Salter

Jessica Salter is a 17 year old A level Student at Notre Dame Sixth Form College in Leeds.

The views expressed in The Rant are those of Jessica Salter and forum contributors and unless specifically stated are not those of Axisweb. See our terms and conditions


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