Education through Art, Design and Technology

All Change Please! has recently read several accounts of the distinction between Art & Design and Design & Technology as separate school subjects. Obviously they are not exactly the same, but at the same time they do share a great deal in common, and their similarities and overlap seem to be being ignored and thus marginalised. Too many schools have completely separate departments which could just as well be called ‘Painting and drawing’ and ‘Resistant Materials Technology’. The two subjects are inter-dependent, with each informing the other, and we need to be reflecting that in our primary and secondary schools.

All Change Please! is not suggesting here that the two subjects should be merged into one – but it would be good to occasionally hear a D&T teacher reminding a class to apply a concept they have covered in A&D, and vice-versa, and to think that the departments sometimes get together to discuss and plan their curricula for their students that connect and develop the concepts and skills they have in common. To deliver Art & Design and Design & Technology in a way that encourages the perception that they are entirely un-related is not in the best interests of students.

Perhaps the most obvious similarity is that – to a greater or lesser extent – both subjects involve students in creative problem-solving, being it deciding on the composition of a painting or the arrangement of components of a 3D product. They both involve developing approaches to thinking and doing with an open-mind, and being willing to explore and iterate solutions through critical analysis and decision-making. Like all open-ended project-based work that occupies more than a single teacher-led lesson, they require learning how to plan and organise actions and resources. They both involve the use of a range of modelling skills to develop and communicate ideas along with the acquisition of knowledge of the properties and working characteristics of a range of different materials. Meanwhile the understanding and application of the ‘formal elements’ – line, tone, colour, texture, shape, pattern and form – are entirely common to both. Meanwhile Art & Design and Design & Technology together involve students exploring contemporary and historical issues and learning about them in other cultures.

There are differences of course. Perhaps the greatest difference is that Fine Art is, quite rightly, primarily concerned with self-expression whereas Design & Technology is orientated towards a client and meeting the needs of others. While A&D involves developing considerable expertise with a variety of graphic media, D&T demands a broad knowledge of a wide range of 3D materials – though many sculptors and craftspeople can benefit from this too. Paintings and sculptures are usually ‘one-offs’ – unless the work is specifically intended for a reprographic process – while many of the products of Design & Technology will be developed for either batch or mass-production.

Back in the 1970s and 80s the thinking in schools – derived largely from the mid 20th Century influence of the Bauhaus Basic Course – was to bring Art, Design and Technology together to explore and develop their connections rather than their differences. Art teachers often included work in graphics, fashion, textiles, theatre, interior, architecture and product design, while ‘CDT’ teachers directed children to produce high quality artefacts using woods, metals, plastics and ceramics. A few schools had the vision to go beyond that and take on board the fact that Art, Design and Technology are dimensions of the whole school curriculum and have much to offer, and learn from, every other subject.

But of course the reality is that the present move towards the separation of the two – which actually began with the introduction of the discrete National Curriculum subjects, Attainment Targets and Programmes of Study in the late 1980s – is actually about their survival in the school. Heads of Art and Heads of D&T are often required to justify their individual existence at the expense of each other, lest they be merged or disbanded in the rush for urgent economies in staffing and resources.

While an education through Art & Design and Design & Technology has its own inherent value, some children will go on to become professional artists, designers and technologists where they will discover that the two so-called ‘subjects’ do not exist as separate disciplines, but closely interact with each other, and we need to be reflecting that in our primary and secondary schools. At the same time, Art, Design and Technology have an essential contribution that they need to be making to STEAM – the inter-disciplinary approach to education through Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics.

And finally… All Change Please! recently came across this post:

Welcome to the intelligent twenties, or why Art Teaching isn’t ready for the new era

which poses some interesting, and doubtless controversial, challenges for teachers of Art, Design and Technology in the future.

“What can art teachers teach kids who will spend their lives working alongside robots and who have to change career every few years? What skills will art teachers need to teach for this emerging world?”

“Art teachers need to rapidly re-skill….to understand more philosophy and how to operate in a world where their children operate across silos, where boundaries don’t exist between subjects and where this third presence of intelligence is now working alongside us. They will also need to feed into their approach the changes…[to] our understanding of art and creativity wrought by the explosion in neuro-scientific research. Once we actually know what creativity actually is, how will we change our approach to teaching it?”

“The age of mass production was one of power, control and certainty, the coming era is one of mathematical chaos, systems and emergence. The art teachers of the next decade will have to tackle and work out how to teach art for this new age of unnatural intelligence.”

Or, as someone once said, “All Change Please!