This is a personal reflection on an encounter with the works of the nineteenth-century painter J. M. W. Turner in London’s Tate Britain exhibition ‘Late Turner: Painting Set Free’. The article discusses the deeply subjective nature of engaging with artworks, and touches upon theories that might account for the ineffable but moving experiences that sometimes occur in such situations, often unexpectedly, and analyses the associations that might prompt them – in this case the details of dogs in some of Turner’s works. There is a discussion of the theoretical frameworks that may provide an insight into these deeply subjective, personal and yet significant encounters, and how they can provide a means to a richer understanding of an artwork. The article considers the conditions that might be conducive to these contemplative, affective experiences, and how they might occur in educational settings with appropriate forms of pedagogy. The article concludes by contrasting slow, idiosyncratic and subjective learning through artworks, with the dominant, data-based and reductive trends that currently prevail in mainstream education.
A paradox that art educators often encounter in their work is that the arts, just as they are recognised for their universal and inclusive values, may also inadvertently reinforce elite and exclusive practices. Similarly, while the development of pedagogies for critical approaches to culture has positively impacted on a broad and diverse range of learners in all phases of education, the apparently democratic space of arts studio or classroom can also be a space that is governed by assessment regimes and educational conventions, and one which may also be characterised by reproduction, routine and a reliance on entrenched pedagogic practices. Such are the ways in which current arts-based educational practices may on one hand enable and include, but on the other disable and exclude. Given this state of affairs, to what extent can arts education promote an inclusive participation in ‘art for life’, and in what ways can it widen this participation? These were the questions and issues that delegates from sixteen countries at the 2013 iJADE/NSEAD research conference, held 15–16 November 2013 at the University of Chester Research and Innovation Centre, assembled to explore.
The place of the creative arts in the school curriculum is sometimes fiercely contested, but across the world they have enduring importance and there is a wide consensus over their value for general education. However, there has been a tendency of late to rely on an economic justification for their place in the curriculum. A key problem with this strategy is that many of the economic arguments may prove false, as was pointed out by Grayson Perry in one of his BBC Reith lectures, where he pointed out those studying arts subjects are often at the bottom of the economic table for future earnings potential. Grayson does go on to say, however, that this is should be a ‘cause for celebration’, since the enduring popularity of arts courses implies that people still want to go to study art despite the lack of an economic incentive, testament to the values of art education. This draws our attention to the nature of creative experimentation, of finding time to make mistakes, which is of great importance to pedagogy in the arts, reminding us of those other purposes of education that once seemed so fundamental, prior to onset of economic and market dogmas.
Herbert Read’s belief in the fundamental importance of education to human culture and society, and with it the subordination of economics to state education, might sound extraordinary to us now. This is especially true for those of us in England defending the place of the arts in the education curriculum in an era of political thought defined by the ascendency of neoliberalism. What were once common philosophical ideals rooted in the confidence of an expanding democratic citizenship, might today be interpreted as profligacy, and the arts in education have become marginalised and subordinated under this malign influence in England. Mantras such as ‘value for money’ have become the condition of all practical and intellectual endeavour, and the creative imperatives of children, as well as those of us who practise as educators and artists, are suffering the consequences, the most damaging of which is our inadvertent complicity in the concept of the arts-as-service.
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