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02 May, 2009

Art A-level isn’t just for artists

Posted by: admin In: Guardian

Schools focus too much on the creative side of the subject – but you don’t have to be great at painting or sculpture to love art, writes student Tim Davies

A recent Ofsted report suggests that boys perform significantly worse than girls when it comes to art exams, but work much better when given a computer or camera. There’s a simple logic behind this: you can labour over a painting for eight hours, as I will be doing in exactly a week’s time for my AS-level exam, or you can take a picture in 1/50th of a second. Which is the easier option? The same goes for computer graphics packages: you can create some amazing effects in Photoshop, and it’s fun to experiment with new media – I’m planning to make a film for one of my art projects, for instance.

But I wonder if there’s more to it than this. Perhaps another reason for art being so negatively received by boys is that it is often derided as not being a “proper” subject. This is, of course, wholly unfair. I can tell you from personal experience that art is by far the most work of any of the subjects I have ever taken; it’s simply not correct to dismiss it as airy-fairy.

It is true that even at A-level, art is focused primarily on practical and creative learning – making things, in other words. Art history is not extensively covered by the A-level art syllabus (although some schools do offer history of art as a separate subject). Knowledge of movements, styles and theories is acquired via the study of artists who influence the work that students make. A-level students are not required to write essays or read specific works, and it’s entirely possible, in fact, to pass the exam without knowing your Romantics from your abstract expressionists.

This seems a missed opportunity. You don’t have to be great at painting, drawing or sculpture to love art, and, when it comes to getting inside the subject, visiting galleries or enjoying Vasari, Gombrich and Fried is every bit as important as learning to sketch.

Of course, many people are happy to ignore the books and get on with some painting. Even though I now adore art history, it wasn’t what initially drew me to study art – in the first few years at secondary school I used up what felt like all the school’s paints. And although I’m fortunate enough to have had creative and enthusiastic art teachers, I can see that it’s not always feasible to take 120 11-year-olds to an exhibition.

But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it. Most students are under the impression that galleries are just rooms full of old pictures of dead people. Many will be able to name Van Gogh and Picasso, and at a stretch may be able to tell you about Picasso’s wonky faces. But I suspect that is it. Countless times I have heard fellow teenagers saying things such as: “It’s just a blank canvas, isn’t it? I could do that – so why is it in a gallery?”

Maybe that’s why so many people – not just boys – are so suspicious of modern art, because they don’t know much about it. Rather than being their fault, perhaps it’s the system that’s to blame. “I can’t draw,” they say, “so what’s the point in me taking art any further?”

That’s exactly my point: when has art been about just being able to draw?

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2009 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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