The School Curriculum of Art

Give a kid some crayons and they will sit down quietly drawing and colouring for hours. They will use their imaginations, and produce lots and lots of pictures, generally telling a story. That is what art should be about. Art should tell a story. But it seems that occasionally even schools are forgetting some of the most basic principles in their teaching these days. Actually, let me expand on that, the curriculum these days doesn’t allow art to be taught in a traditional sense.

Crayon Art
I still love crayons!

Of course, this may be a UK specific thing, (leave a comment if it is more widely spread, I would love to know) but I have spoken to friends around the world who tell me that art in schools has changed since the old days, and the change is not necessarily for the better. The old days were not that long ago either. Whilst art as a subject doesn’t necessarily mean that we teach young people to become great artists, teaching children about technique will eventually give them confidence, and in time with enough practice they may become great artists.

It seems that teaching art in schools is different to how it once was, there is a focus on the historic, and a focus on artistic styles of the Masters, but what has resonated with me over the last twelve-months, is that at an early age children are starting to disengage with the creative process of producing art, because they actually think that they’re not very good at drawing.

I remember a few years ago when I was a school Governor having conversations with children who were between the ages of six and eleven, when several of the children following a conversation around art, came up to me to say that they felt they were no good at art. They were all eager to draw, be creative, and had young and wild imaginations, they all had a story that they could tell visually. The problem was that they were spending so much time on the theory, the only time they had an opportunity to be creative was when they were asked to complete drawings at home as homework.

Even in the days of my time at school it was never always great. I particularly remember being asked to draw a steam engine on railway tracks using perspective and too not use a ruler. I did so, but then got in a whole heap of trouble because the teacher didn’t believe I could draw a straight line without a ruler. I could because it was actually easier for me as I am left handed, and by the age of six or seven had learned that I could rotate the paper to get something down. I have no idea if that is true of all left handed people, but even today I go to meetings and turn my book on its side and write downwards and to the side.

Art class
Art classes need to be messy!

 

I digress. At least in those days we all gathered around a table and produced a mess. What the children told me though was that they rarely produced anything artistic, they just had to listen to a teacher who would describe what the teacher wanted, and then they would go home without any artistic support mechanism.

The feeling expressed by the children was actually something they were too young to experience. In turn this put them off the creative process, and many became disengaged. I wondered for a while if things had changed in the last couple of years, and my daughter explained a typical art lesson at the age of thirteen.

Typically they will talk for 40-minutes of a one hour session about different artists, they will maybe look at some photographs on PowerPoint, and for the remaining 20-minutes they would need to very quickly recreate what they had seen and write up a summary of the art and the original artist.

Now to me, this seems a long way from what I call old school art lessons. It seems that children now think that they have to be great at drawing and painting to be any good at art. So I wonder if the problem is that there are actually two different art classes that need to take place. The historical context, and another very different type of class that actually allows young people to engage in a messy environment?

Evidence increasingly shows a link between arts participation, resilience and improved social skills in children. Creativity is important when maintaining health and well-being, and I begin to wonder if a very linear art history class will continue to engage children at this young age?

When I asked an art teacher his views, his response was that the curriculum had changed increasingly to become a mechanism to teach children how to pass a test, the results of which would be a key to determine their place in a league table of performance that would affect future funding of a school.

One of the other surprises was that this particular teacher had in fact enjoyed art as a child, but by the time he went to university, the curriculum had changed so much that in his final exams at school, he didn’t produce much art at all. Somewhere we lost the art in the subject of art. We focus on making children the art brokers of the future.

When I asked if that had been a problem in becoming an art teacher, he replied that in the last three years he hasn’t once actually created a piece of art himself in class, everything came from a text book, but the positive was that he had a Master’s Degree in the arts. He was though, no longer an artist, and although he enjoyed creating art whilst in school, he would never have considered himself to be an artist even then, he just enjoyed the creative process.

If you give children and adults permission to play without them being judged, many of them will connect with the arts. Giving them a linear track to follow that allows them only a short amount of time to scribble down something vaguely similar to what they have seen in a PowerPoint presentation or a book, doesn’t give them the imagination that they need to experiment with their own style, and it certainly does nothing for their confidence. My fear in all of this is that one day we will lose some great artists of the future, but we will have many young adults who could get a job in art brokerage and museums.

Art should be less about the chosen gifted few who have an already natural ability to put pencil to paper, sure they should be encouraged, but we also need to consider that art is and should be for everyone regardless of their ability, and no one becomes great if they don’t have the opportunity to practice, and have the support and encouragement to try out new techniques.

If we can re-engage young people in the creativity, they will be more eager in the future to understand the bigger art scene. It wasn’t until I was around 21 that I started to learn the intricacies of the art world, and it has been a continuous voyage of discovery ever since. Had I have been taught art history from a book at age 7, there is no doubt in my mind that I would not have enjoyed creating art, I needed to have that hands on creative experience before I could fully understand the finer points. I needed to find myself as an artist, not to be taught to pass an exam almost by rote.

Come to think of it, that’s also probably why I never enjoyed math, we were taught by rote that 2x2=4, 3x2=6, 4x4=16, but never had to really work things out. So even back then, we had a way of learning that taught us to provide an answer, but we did at least get to be messy with art supplies. It seems that today though, we are all about teaching the answer and classrooms it seems are much cleaner as a result. Just don’t even get me started on common core math. That’s a whole new blog post.

FRANCIS BACON

According to Spanish news reports, five paintings produced by British artist Francis Bacon together worth an estimated €30m (£23.2m) have been stolen from the home of their owner in Madrid.

Sources close to the investigation told El Pais last weekend that the theft had appeared to have been carried out in a highly professional operation, taking place whilst the owner was away with the perpetrators disabling the alarm system.

But what is surprising is that the theft wasn’t recent, in fact it was only reported last week, despite the paintings being stolen in June 2015.

There could of course be a lot of reasons behind this, but I would imagine that the paintings are going to be quite difficult to sell on an open market. Selling any piece by Francis Bacon raises interest from collectors all over the world, such is the rarity of his work on the market.

Born in Ireland, Bacon died in Madrid in 1992 at the age of 82. His expressionist-surrealist works are often raw and emotional, and are highly collectable. Bacons death significantly enhanced the value of his works. The sale of his 1969 work, Three Studies of Lucien Freud managed to collect a total of $142,405,000 (£90m in 2013) at auction, and I expect that was actually a bargain. I would also expect that if it was to be sold today, the value would be even higher.

TIME FOR WINE

 

Wine Lover
Wine lovers from a new generation

Millennialist's or millennials are the generation born between around 1982 and 2003, depending on who you ask.

They often get a bad press, a generation unappreciative of life's finer nuances. Give them a smartphone and suddenly it suddenly becomes glued to their hand, texting at about 200 words per minute, and either still living with their parents, or taking u residence in funky looking apartments.

So who would have thought that Millennials are pretty much single handedly propping up the wine market?

The Wine Market Council have produced a report crediting this over text group with being some of the most "highly involved" wine drinkers. They drink more wine, beer, and spirits, in fact some 40% more than the general adult population. High frequency was another term used to describe this particular demographic, consuming a mind blowing 159,6million cases of wine in the last year alone.

There is probably a reason why wine is so loved by this group, drinking it leaves one hand free for texting.

SCALING EVEREST

In 2015, no one made the journey to the summit of the worlds highest peak, Mount Everest. Climate change, route closures, and a catastrophic earthquake all played a part in closing down the mountain.

Mount Everest
VR will make Everest accessible

Everest is on my bucket list, not to get to the summit, even in not that crazy enough to believe that I'm in that kind of physical shape, but certainly visiting base camp which for the most part is a difficult enough trek as it is. Also I'm not keen on rocky overhangs with precarious drops.

Solfar Studios have recently demonstrated Everest VR. Put on a VR headset rather than a few layers of North Face clothing, and you can experience the climb from the warmth and comfort of your home. You can even summit without strapping oxygen bottles on your back.

To be released across a number of forthcoming Virtual Reality platforms, users will also gain insightful historical facts on the ascent. Crossing crevasses on ladders, experiencing the look of life in the mountains death zone, this is certain to be one of the most beautiful games/experiences to date.

I imagine in the next few years there will be other mountains, but I can see this being used in training for the real thing. If you can visualise the climb before you go, surely that is going to be of benefit when you do start the climb for real.

Forget using VR for Call of Duty scenarios, museums, art galleries, and a virtual Everest mission will be the defining points of VR over the next few years. Oh, and roller coasters. Alton Towers in Staffordshire UK, will be upgrading their Air a roller coaster this season, adding VR headsets to the ride. No doubt we will see roller coaster experiences on the VR headsets too. Extreme activities in your living room without any risk. I can't wait.

 

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