This piece came to be in conversation with fellow Beyond Education editorial collective member, now critical friend, David Ridley. It is an assemblage of the transcription, utterances, pauses and reflections from my discussion on the State of the Art(s). It felt important to attempt to reproduce a sort of aesthetic that comes from punctuating gnomic statements with affect towards a subject, a crisis, and a pedagogical inquiry, symbolising and signifying a basis for the emergence of critical attention and self-reflection (which arose subconsciously / spontaneously), harmonising values, beliefs, resistance, care and hope.
Feature Image: Artwork by 14 year old autistic artist
Art as power Art as right Art as unity Art as liberation When I speak of art as power, I think about the ability of teachers and educators to devolve all power to the agency and creativity of children. If we think about art as power, there’s often a lot of control in arts subjects in schools, and there's a fear to let go of that control. It's important to allow that power to flourish on the part of the maker. Art creates unity because it influences everybody differently and yet allows everybody to be united in an experience, though, that experience may be represented through diversity. There are sensory and emotional values that only art can provide. One of the biggest problems is that art is considered - in schools - as almost entirely visual and a lot less attention is given to tactile and material sense making. Less attention is given to time. And, more attention is given to ‘how long’ will activities take and ‘how long’ will it take to clear up. All of the freedoms that we hope art can generate and engender are dropped, in favour of some sort of enforced unwritten (desire for) practicality. Art is liberation Having opportunities to represent and make sense of experience should be promoted outside of what we might call curricular art. Dedicated time, dedicated space. Too often curricular art is separated from other subjects, completely separated. I've spoken to art educators who feel separated as humans. As individuals. There's usually one art educator and this art educator is often less visible in the staff room, more reluctant to be in conversations. There is a separation between getting resources ready and making art. Often children are not allowed to join the preparation period, but this again is another way of making sense of the material, and finding sensory values in materials that can be used in art. Another problem around art is that the arts are separated even in and within our lives. We consider everything to be separate. Music. Visual arts. Sculpture. Dance. All forms of art. Separate. Everything we do is art. When we teach, we're creating spaces that resemble some form of happening in order to foster learning. So even creating the environment is an essential part of being creative. Those who consider themselves creative are probably more assertive about calling themselves artists. But we're all creative, we get by everyday by being creative. I think it's also important to consider how children and young people might oscillate between expressions of experience and imagination. But only when given the time. You can't express yourself if you're forced to channel your sense of self-expression at a particular time in your timetable. I'm a firm believer that art materials should be available to children and young people in schools at any time. And if they want to create art during a history lesson to fix an idea, to fix a feeling that has emerged from hearing about historical moments, to make things concrete, then it is important to have materials readily available. Consciously or subconsciously, we think that students are inert and predictable. But that's because we don't allow autonomous thinking through material sense making. Something that I find very problematic. There is also the problem of curating children and young people’s work in schools, which can be quite patronising. There's a tendency to replicate all of the products of an art lesson as much as possible. Children produce very similar items, often with a lot of aid from adults, and that's incredibly problematic. Are we making art? Or are we checking in on children and channelling their creative impulses so that we have an outcome that is fixed and displayed or fits a desirable aesthetic that is not only adult-led, but almost compromises any future creative realisation on the part of the child? I've always curated children's work for what the work represented to them. To make art and to value it is one of the most important things we can do, and curating is a visible way of validating, valuing and affirming children’s self-expression. I think when art matters in a school it is visible. It is visible upon entering the physical building. It is visible in the way children's access to art materials is enabled, throughout the day, through curriculum subjects. It's very interesting to find how art is channelled during particular times of the week. For instance, sometimes non-specialist teachers will deliver art at the end of the week. And I think that's very clearly a lack of courage on the part of some educators and it definitely stems from their own early experiences with art that's been constricted and confined. I think it's almost a case of devaluing artistic experience in school, and that happens for children and adults in different, but equally important ways. Art authenticates and affirms subjectivities and hegemonic curricular decisions are not ones that favour subjectivity, self-agency, self-representation. The curriculum, as it stands, wants children to follow a very linear trajectory into exams and other formal recognitions of their time at school, not necessarily of their learning but of the period of time spent in school. And I think it's very easy and sometimes very challenging to unpack these issues when working in schools with pressures that are extremely political but often depoliticise purposely. I think art is a way of being free, self-conscious, authentic and active; and that's not something that is often encouraged in children and young people in school. To be free is considered to be a possible spark for difficult behaviour. To be self-conscious is not considered to be a way of exploring one's identity in one's own terms. It's considered problematic to be authentic. There is a tendency for authenticity to be perhaps a group thing, something that is part of belonging to a school. An individual’s own self-made identity is often left behind in the way that curriculum subjects are developed. Art education is part of an ableist landscape. Whether we're talking absolute ableism or more subtle forms of slow ableism. Art should be for everybody. Art should be accessible. I think, for me, one of the most important parts of art in education has been the involvement of parents whose children have learnt techniques or learnt just to manipulate materials and having conversations with parents and carers on esteeming those pieces in the same way that children do. Parents framing artworks, actually dedicating a wall in the house for their children's artwork, rather than having a very quick look at their work in schools, matters. When art matters, all of the subjects of education can matter in equal ways. But if other subjects are set against expressive arts, then the curriculum will remain hegemonic. One of the things I get quite itchy about is the idea that art is some sort of task you can do at some point in the day. We are also trained as educators to remove affect from the process of learning. To me there is very little difference between affect, process, creativity, autonomy and art. I think they're all synonyms. You can't have an appreciation of learning unless you're affect is involved in that. Whether it's because you use your favourite pen in history or whether you've bought special highlighters for geography, affect has to be a part of real learning By real I mean something that can’t be easily forgotten in time. All of us have a memory of something we’ve learned, even at a very, very young age, and it's likely to be associated with something tangible, concrete and material.