Tuesday, 14 October 2008

Apols for interrupted service

Faithful readers, thank you for persisting. I haven't given up the blog but lately have been away and enplumbered -- I didn't realise that having the bathroom done prevented anything else happening in the flat, including at the computer desk.

I'm away again next week, too (well, I am retired), but after that, if not before, I intend to restore prolificity.

Thursday, 2 October 2008

Art schools, as was

The climate I was trying to create with my scruffy disaffected 4th and 5th year mixed-ability Humanities groups in 1975-7 (that’s years 10 and 11 for those of you under 85, and humanities was English plus history/ geography/ sociology) was that of an art school of the time.

Art school (old style) was what many of them needed -- not to learn art (lots of art students never did that) but to be in an institution that was geared to their age group, that didn’t force a curriculum on them (no timetable, no absolutely obligatory assignments) and in which interests could emerge and be pursued. Often the art students’ interests were in music: a huge proportion of British pop and rock bands came out of art school. I didn’t particularly want my students to become musicians, but I did want them at 14-15 to choose to learn or, failing that, to live in a civilised environment free of teachers’ shouting and nagging and appeals to duty (to do homework, to pass exams); to talk a lot and have interesting stuff around.

I'm not saying I was right in wanting all that, just that the art schools stood for teachers like me with kids like mine as a symbol of a regime that ran on quite different lines and actually had a chance of getting education to happen -- which the standard curriculum and exams had no hope of achieving with many.

Jarvis Cocker recently had a good radio series about the art schools and pop music. Much of it was about the art schools regardless of music and lots of well-informed commentators featured. Angela McRobbie, a terrific sociologist of, amongst other things, youth culture, described how British art schools came into existence in the mid-19th century largely as a result of the tireless efforts of one campaigner, whose name I forget. The result was a system of art schools (strictly, colleges of art, for students older than the statutory school leaving age) more widespread than in any other European country: every respectable town had its own. You could get in without any academic qualifications right up until, I think, the late 1970s or even 80s -- and they were autonomous institutions and not, as later, departments of polytechnics and then universities with all the deadening academic accountabilities to which undergraduate teaching is subject.

The one constraint on the art schools from the beginning was that they shouldn’t presume to trespass on the Fine Art territory of the posh Schools of Art like St Martin’s, the Slade and the Central School of Art; hence they emphasised design and the craft skills -- printing, pottery, illustration etc. Under that cover plenty of real art went on.

Do you know Eric Ravilious and Edward Bawden? Terrific artists.

(Those are all Ravilious : see especially this collection)

Well, Eastbourne College of Art, both of them. Eastbourne! Off the top of my head I can’t reel off many other names -- there are plenty -- but here’s one more, David Hockney: Bradford Art College -- sooty, smoky Bradford, headscarves and flat caps -- and Hockney stalking the Swan Arcade in gold lamee jacket.

Jonathan Gould (Can't buy me love: the Beatles, Britain and America -- see previous entry) has a nice bit about provincial art schools in John Lennon’s time: