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'Some of the over-ripe talk of murder most foul
may help to mask a more
important criticism of art and design education.'
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Dangers of fragmentation in art education


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Dangers of fragmentation in art education

  1. 1. ART SCHOOLS IN THE POLYTECHNICS: FINE ARTISTS RESIGNED EN MASSE FROM THE NCDAD P A N E L - B U T WHERE WERE THEIR PROTESTS IN THE REAL BATTLES OF 1968? Dangers of fragmentation in art education Tony Heath • The major issue in art education is the future of the 130 non-DipAD schools rather than the worries of those fine artists who resigned from the DipAD fine arts panel in protest at the merger of some art schools into the polytechnics. Mr Heath is a Surrey county councillor who took a special interest in the troubles at Guildford School of Art. The storm over the merger of a number of art schools with the poly­ technics has reached gale force in a remarkably short time. It is, after all, less than two months since The Guardian published the article by the distin­ guished artist Patrick Heron which first caused north cones to be hoisted. In his article Mr Heron sought to arraign the polytechnics on a charge of murdering the art schools which have become constituent parts of poly­ technics. Technocratic insensitivity and ad­ ministrative inflexibility were allegedly reducing the former schools of art to mere shadows of their past glories. Powerful support rallied to the prose­ cution's side within days when 20 of the 24 members of the fine art panel of the National Council for Diplomas in Art and Design resigned in protest against the homicides being perpe­ trated. The row has generated so much noise — the loudest voices coming from the fine art sectors of art and design education - that there is a danger of the wider concerns of the art colleges receiving even less attention than they have in the past. One important omission of the re­ signing members of the NCDAD fine art panel starts with a failure to state adequately the arithmetic of the situa­ tion. Of some 170 art and design colleges about 40 hold the degree- equivalent Diploma in Art and Design (DipAD) status. Sixteen of the DipAD schools are merged into polytechnics and a seventeenth - Hornsey - is des­ tined to follow suit. Less than half the DipAD schools are involved and it is almost exclusively to these that the anguished attentions of the present furore have been directed. What, it is being asked, is the future of the 130 non-DipAD schools which tend in some quarters to be regarded as the poor relations of the art education system? Their circumstances appear to be little understood by those now pro­ testing about the overwhelming and crushing effects said to be brought about by the merging of some DipAD schools in the polytechnics. Many of the DipAD schools con­ sider themselves the elite of art edu­ cation. This being the case it is perhaps understandable that the protests being voiced on their behalf carry clear sectarian overtones and concentrate obsessively on the fine art content of art and design education. It is perfectly true that as Mr Martin Froy, who resigned as chairman of the NCDAD fine art panel only ten days after his appointment, said 'great works of art are among the highest human achieve­ ments'. What is questionable is whether the pursuit of such a laudable objective should entail the perpetuation of a divisive education system which in­ corporates in its structure a few select ivory towers built so as to ensure that the occupants rarely see the growing urban squalor and the mounting detritus of a consumer society. These are the kinds of concerns which absorb the attention of many art and design students and teachers in addition to a broadly shared recognition of the value of fine art. And many feel that within the polytechnics art and design education can play a useful role in helping to improve the overall quality of life, a goal at least as desirable as painting beautiful pictures. Set in a multi-disciplinary institution an art college which sees itself as enriching a widely shared culture can come much nearer to attaining this objective than if it remains in comfortable isolation. Art and design education is in danger of fragmenting into three groups — non- Diploma schools, Diploma schools, and Diploma schools merged into poly­ technics. Such a situation is as wasteful and divisive as the old concept of three levels of secondary education — tech­ nical, modern and grammar. A much greater emphasis on comprehensiveness should be welcomed by colleges which define their function in terms of in­ fluencing society through involvement, rather than in terms of passively accept­ ing the benefits of patronage which is unlikely to be conferred without cor­ responding restraints. The current shouts of murder con­ trast strangely with the NCDAD's near-mute response to the joint report of the council and the National Advisory Council on Art Education published in 1970. Perhaps this was because, although the report concerned the future structure of art education, Education & Training, December 1971 405 © Emerald Backfiles 2007
  2. 2. 'Some of the over-ripe talk of murder most foul may help to mask a more important criticism of art and design education.' the one thing that was not discussed was the structure of the NCDAD. As a body with a rather restricted member­ ship - both the National Union of Stu­ dents and the Association of Teachers in Technical Institutions have com­ mented on the need to widen repre­ sentation — which seems not to produce written reports when a college's DipAD prospects are assessed, it would appear to be in need of precise terms of reference and a reform of its member­ ship. The joint NACAE/NCDAD report was a result of the art college upheavals in the summer of 1968 when two major concerns expressed centred round the differences in standards between Diploma and non-Diploma schools and courses and the narrow confines into which many courses were strait- jacketed. Neither of these problems claimed much attention from those quarters now protesting against the circumstances of the polytechnic- merged schools. Indeed, it was pre­ cisely when help was most needed — during the crucial weeks when the LEAs were treating their colleges as centres of rebellion instead of as a positive force for reform - that voices which might have got through to even the most obtuse local government mind stayed silent. The prim horror now being expressed at the prospect of working in the same institution as white-coated technologists is the more difficult to understand because three years ago there was no support from these quarters for a call to refurbish an education system that was patently failing to meet students' needs and aspirations. And, of course, some of the over-ripe talk of murder most foul may help to mask a more important criticism of art and design education. The vast majority - over three- quarters of the 170 institutions - of art and design schools remain in the hands of the local education authorities. The view of these bodies is simple enough. Designers and artists, the liturgy runs, are needed to supply the wants of industry (particularly local industry in many versions), to help in the export drive, to recycle themselves as future art teachers, and to paint and carve for the delectation of whoever attends exhibitions. When limited ob­ jectives are translated into reality it is not surprising that the growth of art and design education is so slow. For nowhere is there a place for the sorts of visions which were observed during 1968, the year of crisis for the LEA art colleges and the year when students and lecturers carefully constructed an educational model in which creativity and concern could flourish. The narrow ladder up which students were intended to progress was found to have dry rot in almost every rung. Those who managed to struggle to the top emerged clutching a piece of paper bearing some such legend as The Loamshire Diploma in Graphic Design; far from being a passport to a job it was taken by some employers as to indicate that the holder was not good enough to acquire the elite DipAD. So the ladder was to be discarded and replaced with a network of inter­ related disciplines in which many permutations would be possible and flexibility of courses would be funda­ mental. A comprehensive ideal was formulated which could have helped towards creating greater concern for the visual and aesthetic content of life as it touches everyone at work and at play. It was a concern that went beyond the narrow specialisms of designing trendy packaging to sell more cereals or painting a handsome scene to adorn a gallery wall. If greater support for this ideal had been forthcoming from the lofty heights of the art and design establishment perhaps today's outcry would not have taken place. For the colleges by now could have been well on the way to establishing themselves in cooperation with schools of architecture, faculties of construction and engineering design, town planning and environmental studies, as pacemakers in a movement to reverse the present drift towards a garish, consumer-dominated society which may profit but is increasingly displeased with itself. Art and design education could have led. Instead, it seems doomed to remain split, undecided and inward looking. The resigning chairman of the NCDAD fine art panel posed the question: will the independent art schools survive? Those with more than a nodding acquaintance with the 1968 sit-ins and their aftermath may smile wryly and ask: what independence? There have been marginal gains, of course. Staff and student participation is increased, new articles and instruments of govern­ ment formulated, a greater role for academic boards, all help to give the colleges in the LEAs' control some measure of internal advance. But the dominant forces still meet in remote committee rooms and the testing time will not come while the art and design colleges stay grouped apart like football teams of diverse skills. Appreciating the difficulties of the LEA colleges it is hard to conceive of the polytechnic-merged schools wishing to enter the municipal fold. To talk in terms of survival is simply to ignore the sheer destruction visited on the Guildford Art School three years ago when the complementary studies de­ partment, acknowledged to be as good as any of its kind in the country, was almost obliterated by an irate Surrey County Council, or the equally severe though more subtle decimation at Hornsey conducted by the Haringey burghers. Some of the present outburst sounds rather shrill and not all informed opinion agrees with Mr Heron's con­ tention that Leeds Art School's in­ fluence in Europe is as great as that of the Bauhaus. Revealingly, the argu­ ment is presented in terms of 'destroying' the art schools in exactly the same way as upholders of selection for secondary education seek to dis­ credit comprehensives by talking of the destruction of grammar schools. Both are the philosophies of elitists. Increasing support for the creation of a comprehensive network of post- school education cannot be ignored in this debate. Once the preoccupation with status recedes and greater empha­ sis is placed on the need for equality in terms of concern and resources then the climate inside all types of higher education institutions for such a concept should be favourable. The anguish of the art schools merged with polytechnics is a diversion from the situation of the majority of art schools - and of the majority of art students. Further, it will not assist the development of art and design educa­ tion in the last quarter of this century if the colleges remain isolated from the rest of post-school education. It would be an act of considerable folly if sectional pleading - sincere no doubt, but thoroughly misconceived — for an isolation which is mistaken for inde­ pendence was allowed to hold back progress towards comprehensiveness in higher education any more than similar pleading should delay such a move­ ment in secondary education. ■ 406 Education & Training, December I97I © Emerald Backfiles 2007