Art education needs basic bias

It was interesting to read Jeremy Myerson’s article Make the Grade (DW 2 July). For some time I have been concerned about art education in its broader sense because those who go on to become art students have generally, at some point in their lives, been inspired by making objects, using paint, experimenting with various materials and all the other activities covered by art and craft classes from primary school onwards.

Week after week I see headlines such as Play is out, early learning is in (The Guardian, Wednesday 23 June) clearly inferring that play, which should be creative, encouraging eye/hand co-ordination, observational skills, development of tactile values, decision making and so on equates with a “waste of time”.

Nowadays art and craft, particularly in primary education, often have to share their allotted time with design technology – an excellent and important subject, but sometimes approached in a prescriptive way. The creativity of art and craft now needs to be encouraged even more.

Obviously, new technology has to be taught, but are the children of the future going to learn to recognise shapes by seeing them on a screen and not to experience them “in the round”?

In secondary schools the art curriculum – and what is required by GCSE and A-level boards – seems to give little credit to careful objective drawing. Learning to draw takes time and a great deal of patient teaching and the results do not always look particularly exciting to an outsider.

Nowadays, it appears that a flashy eye-catching piece of work is required. A magazine photograph cut up and re-arranged – David Hockney-style – can look good. A mediocre pencil drawing, can be scanned into a computer and printed in varying colour schemes. This all looks inventive and new to the uninformed, but how much has the pupil who produced such work really gained, apart from a fleeting moment of interest and surprise at what can be created so easily?

School children who have been encouraged to work in this way will indeed find it difficult to learn drawing skills or be willing to spend time doing research when they reach art school.

It is interesting to note that, apparently, the most successful and exciting work produced by students is work using new technology, as these are the very skills that have been encouraged to the detriment of other more traditional skills. Even those who excel in the use of technology would gain by having been taught to draw and to observe their own personal environment in a first-hand objective way, understanding line, tone, colour, composition and the use of three-dimensional materials. This could only enhance their later work.

Sue Varley

Middlesex UB8 2PS

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