Andrew’s Blog #2 February 2014

 In Andrew's Blog

Dear Friends

What is wrong with art education in England?

I can’t talk about anywhere else in the world, but I think I have a pretty clear view of what’s not right here. Perhaps you think it’s good where you are, or perhaps you think it’s good in England. If you do, I would like to hear from you.

life model taking a break by Andrew Aarons

Life model taking a break

I did this drawing of a life model taking a break, almost exactly 60 years ago when I was 14 and in my second year at Camberwell School of Arts and Crafts in London. I was a full time student from the age of 13 in the Junior Department where we were taught to draw. It was only after we had finished three or four years in the Junior Department that we were allowed to go on to become students in the senior School of Art. We were expected to know how to draw before we started there. And that is the first thing that’s wrong today. Very few of the teachers think drawing is worth teaching. Being original is more important.

The second thing is that students now arrive at art schools needing remedial education. Would anyone accept a student into the first year of any degree course if that student didn’t have the basic tools? Wouldn’t you expect a potential Mathematics student to be able to count?

The third problem is, that because art schools are now degree granting universities, of one sort or another, the students who are qualified for entry have had to conform to a secondary education system that has largely knocked any rebellious non conformity out of them.

Art Schools should be places for the rebel.

And that, in a nutshell, is the fourth, and most important, thing that’s wrong. The rot set in when Art Schools became degree granting. It was all to do with government funding. If an institution was degree granting it received more government money. That’s because the English look down on any educational institution that doesn’t grant degrees. Making art schools degree granting, and part of an academic tradition has lead to a state of affairs where the written content of a body of work has become the primary sign of an art student’s worthiness. The quality of drawing, painting, skill, and craftsmanship are beyond the academic mind to assess critically, and therefore best not considered. Words have become paramount. The concept has taken over and become the end product.


If you’re reading this you are already on my website, so click on home and take a look at what’s new on the site, or go to the contact page and tell me what you think.

With all best wishes,


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Showing 6 comments
  • Nige

    Andrew – I agreed with blog 1 about the irrelevance of having to describe art, and would agree with the conclusion on blog 2. But I’m not sure I agree with all of blog 2. I suspect all potential maths students can count, though not all may be competent in broader areas of arithmetic. But real mathematics is much, much more conceptual – and skills in arithmetic aren’t really relevant.

    I would argue that maths – like art – requires its leaders to be people who can question existing values and have the imagination to look for patterns that work for them. Both need to be competent in the existing skills and orthodoxies to reach that position, which is your point. For maths they need to be able to carry their peers in rational argument too, though this is not necessarily so in the arts. The degree model in art and sciences cannot measure that, and it’s a shame that it has become a standard for post-adolescent attainment. Higher degrees may be able to, but they’re not so relevant in art.

    So we’re stuck with a model that has narrow assessment after 3 or 4 years, but only experience thereafter. Maybe not so bad if we can accept it?

    Of course, for the Government Gove wants to test against narrow parameters from age 4 ad infinitum. This tells us nothing, as nearly all schools monitor attainment throughout a pupil’s development without formal testing anyway. So does a degree tell us anything either?

    Testing – at age 4 or 21 – is only a crude indicator. Art schools have only recently become encumbered by the ‘degree’ status. It’s easy to see why that has happened. But we can only regret the fact and hope the pendulum swings back from the current belief that eton knows best. Just look at etonian prime ministers over the years and see how poor and blinkered they have been. Present incumbent included.

    • Andrew

      Thanks Nigel, I wasn’t really talking about arithmetic as a necessary skill for a mathematics student. I was suggesting that the ability to count for a mathematics student (perhaps for any student, if they are going to be able to find their lecture room) is as basic as the ability to draw for a first year art student. Unfortunately a lot of the art students can’t draw and nobody thinks it matters. The only thing that seems to matter, and I think this is your point, is falling in line with the government requirements no matter where that takes us. Who is there to rattle the gates of the educational establishment?

  • Scott Wolf

    You are creating art just by doing the blog. I know how therapeutic and freeing it can be. Art is the redheaded step-child in todays Universities around the world, it plays second fiddle. Its funding is the first to go and is held captive to the funding of its few patrons. Ironically, depicted in the movies…its the first thing to be saved in an apocalypse before food.
    keep on trucking. I hear you.
    Scott Wolf

    • Andrew

      Thanks for that Scott. The only problem is that I can’t really accept that my blog should be considered as art. But you’re right, it does feel good to get it off my chest.

  • Beth O'Brien

    I really enjoyed reading the Feb. blog. It was very thought provoking and relevant to all elements of education today. No wonder there is talk of going back to some of the old ways e.g. “O Levels”.

  • Ben Coleman

    Dear Andrew
    Now days ,Its not about being a “rebel” anymore anyway as the prime objective of the poor students is to put together over £9000.00 per year in tuition fees alone?? that is the hard reality which is putting so many people off they cant afford to be rebels even if they really want to..

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