Pass Notes: A History of Art Attacks

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L.H.O.O.Q.,  Marcel Duchamp (1919)

What? Look, someone has attacked a work of art – they’ve drawn a moustache and beard on the Mona Lisa. Quick! Call Security…

Calm down dear! It’s only a postcard. That’s one of the artist Duchamp’s found object  ‘readymades‘, created in 1919.

Oh well you would know that wouldn’t you – you took Art History at A level. So, clever clogs, what do the initials in the title stand for?

I couldn’t possibly tell you that here – this is family tea-time blog post, but you could look it up here.

As an artist I know you’re probably can’t read, but I expect you’ve heard that the History of Art A level is to be axed and become a museum exhibition piece of the future, along with Archaeology and Classical Civilisation?

Ah yes. I blame that cheeky Michael Gove chappie.

Well apparently lip-smacking, cool-talking, brexit-lying Mr Gove has denied that it was anything to do with him, and said that he’s always supported such subjects, even though as Education Secretary he did absolutely nothing to help save them. And by introducing the EBacc he has caused a reduction in the number of students taking Art&Design at GCSE.

So whose fault is it then?

Most writers are blaming AQA – the last Awarding Body offering the subject – who have claimed that, unlike other leading brands of History, accurate and reliable marking of such a wide-ranging subject is impossible. And anyway they can’t recruit enough examiners with appropriate teaching experience. Or to put it another way, there are not enough entries to make it commercially viable and increase their overall market share.

Just a minute, you’re making it sound like examining is a business. I thought it was something run by the universities, and that their role was to support and promote the accreditation of the widest possible range of academic courses?

That’s what it used to be like in the good old days, but not any more I’m afraid. And anyway, it’s not strictly speaking entirely the exam board’s fault.

Proceed, I prithee. I’m listening…

Well the real question is, why has demand for these subjects fallen so low?

Forsooth!  I trust the answer will be shortly be forthcoming, my Lord.

Give me chance, and drop the fake historical Ye Olde-English One Foot in the Past act will you?  Back in the 1970s and 80s schools with expanding sixth forms were able to run courses such as The History of Art with relatively small numbers of students, but now, unless a certain number opt to take an A level subject to make it ‘viable’ in terms of the cost of employing a member of staff, the course just doesn’t run and then isn’t offered in subsequent years.

And with regards to the History of Art there’s another factor that most writers have failed to mention, and that is that GCSE and A level courses in Art&Design already contain a significant coverage of study of the historic and contemporary artists and art movements. So most students who have opted for an Art&Design A level are encouraged to choose other more ‘facilitating’ subjects that don’t contain the word Art in their title in order to increase their chances of getting into a good university. And of course at the same time improving the school’s qualifying position in the Df-ingE Champions League Table.

But what about the Sixth-formers who know they want to become artists or designers, and don’t want to go to an academic university?

Sorry, I don’t quite understand the question. What do you mean ‘don’t want to go to an academic university’? What other purpose is there for going to school?

Well, it’s just that if you know you want to be an artist or designer it’s actually quite difficult choosing A level subjects that you might be interested in doing, and taking an A level in History of Art as well would help prepare you for the history and cultural study elements of your college courses, as well as looking good on your applications and in interviews as you discuss the influences that have informed your portfolio of work.

As an Oxbridge PPE scholar I have absolutely no idea what you are going on about. Surely if you want to be an artist or designer you need a string of A* grades, just as you do in any other subjects?

Not really. There’s a lot more to Art & Design than just being able to write essays. Actually many colleges of art are cautious about applicants with high examination grades as they tend not to be very creative, self-motivated, risk-taking students.

Well, if you say so. You’re not one of these Bremoaners are you by any chance? Whatever next?

Just one other thing. While dropping Art History as an academic A level subject is bad enough, I can’t help wondering why it is getting so much media coverage when there are a lot more serious concerns about the curriculum. How often do we see concerned articles reporting the emerging crisis in the lack of our children’s experience in the skills they will need to survive in a highly automated post-Brexit economy where things like experience of open-ended project-based problem-solving, collaboration, business and marketing will be urgently needed?

Hmm.  Have you seen the latest Tate Britain exhibition? It’s awfully good, the paintings are so realistic – artists had real skills in those days. And I’m glad to say there’s none of this 20th Century Modern Abstract Art nonsense on show.

Do say:  Wait, I hear there’s a possibility a different exam board might start to offer A level Art History again.

Don’t say:  I wonder if it will be a readymade specification?