CELEBRATING THE ACHIEVEMENT OF THE ART SCHOOLS: A NEW RESOURCE
Curator, CNAA Art Collection Trust
Bridget Riley, Study for 'Entice 1,
Somewhat more than five hundred years ago a rebirth of
humanism rekindled habits of enquiry and debate. Earnest
discussion, private research and repeated attempts to abandon
apprenticeship to an artist's studio in favour of formalised
teaching began to gel into the forerunners of the academies
and universities. Many famous painters and sculptors played
a key role in detonating those changes, which rolled out
across Europe in the centuries that followed. But painters
and sculptors had long wanted to escape the status of mere
artisan. Thus one of the goals of the academic approach
was to increase the status of the painter and sculptor;
but that same quest inspired some painters and sculptors
to claim personal charisma and mysterious talents, in due
course nourishing the idea of genius. These were notions
that came into conflict with the organising principle of
the academy, to which some artists became hostile. This
is important because ambivalence towards art education has
persisted through to the present day.
Collections of art works have long been assembled to promote
awareness of individuals, organisations and ideas, or to
enshrine them in memory. They have been devoted to wealthy
collectors, to booty accumulated during imperial conquests,
to artists, to periods and to themes (such as "Modern Art").
In the establishment of this National Collection we see a celebration
of what we might reasonably take to be the generator of Britain's
achievements in this field: the universities, colleges and academies
Art education in the UK
Britain's art education has its roots in the work
of itinerant drawing tutors. The first
attempts to formalise training have been traced to the early 17th century, but
they did not result in a fully-fledged academy until the second half of the
18th, which makes Britain's art education about a century younger
than that of France, which is in turn about a century junior
to Italy. Yet this country's achievements on the world
stage have been and remain outstanding.
in some European countries art practice has yet to achieve legitimacy as a
university subject, whereas in Britain its status has increased and the amount
of provision has continued to expand over much of the last 150 years.
system covering the art and design syllabus in England and Scotland developed through the 19th century and,
by the middle of the 20th, specialist national diplomas were being awarded in
painting and sculpture. In 1960 a
National Council for Diplomas in Art and Design (NCDAD) was established as a
body responsible for validating the bulk of the art and design courses at
degree-equivalent level in the UK.
It was decided that NCDAD should pass that responsibility to the Council
for National Academic Awards (CNAA) in 1974, at which time successful
candidates were able to gain an honours or Masters degree in art and design
subjects. That process of recognising
fine art's valid place within the higher education system culminated in the
award of the first PhD in Fine Art by the CNAA in 1978. 
Growth and diversity
The importance of Britain's commitment to the enhancement of its manufactures
was confirmed by the Great Exhibition and, despite competition
from the new medium of photography, the number of schools of drawing
grew rapidly. A century later more than a hundred schools of art
had an output of more than a thousand diploma holders across the
art and design fields.
By 1981 there were 45 institutions offering fine art courses at
degree level, with a total enrolment of 4,900.
The number of higher education institutions teaching fine art
practices rose sharply through the 1990s to more than 75 and the
number of undergraduate students of fine art to more than 14,000
in 2000-2001. In 1998
the Culture Secretary Chris Smith questioned assumptions about
the need to devote attention to halting the long decline in agriculture
and manufacturing and instead drew attention to a group of "creative
industries" - the fine arts prominent among them - that had been
booming. They had, he suggested, generated 50,000 jobs and £60bn
in revenues during 1997-98.
Meanwhile, over the same one hundred and fifty year period,
the number of artists to achieve recognition and exercise
influence on the international stage has also grown - in
proportion to the increase in the scale of global interest
in fine art. Those who believe in the spontaneous eruption
of "talent" might view this as no more than coincidental,
but it seems reasonable to suggest that Britain's achievements
on the international art stage point to the outstanding
quality of our higher education in fine art practice. British
artists have wielded extraordinary influence within the
rarefied atmosphere of the art world, have been greeted
with popular acclaim and exhibitions such as Sensation and
the rise of the Young British Artists have brought the British
art world notoriety.
Such claims are of course predicated on the idea of a national
dimension to art education. But it may be argued that this
perspective on art practice is threatened by what might
be seen as a dissolution of the nation state.
Fountains Abbey, Yorkshire,
John Sell Cotman
| It is certainly true that the character
of art education has been changed by the increasing volume
of student exchanges and by the fact that institutions have
been recruiting overseas for many years. More important is
the profound change in the makeup of the population and an
accompanying cultural shift.
The world portrayed by artists such as John Sell Cotman
and Paul Nash is as specifically of its country as the music
of Elgar; it is also reasonable to anticipate that, as the
National Collection expands to reflect the current makeup
and concerns of art schools, a very different and more diverse
picture will emerge. This is to associate the shift away
from the traditional idea of the nation state with a departure
from what was experienced as a singular culture.
The term "multicultural" began to enter the vocabulary
of the art schools in the early 1980s, some time after the
ethnic mix of the art school intake began to change; by
the early 1990s the character of the degree shows and courses
also began to reflect increased cultural diversity.
Sunset over the Malverns,
Paul Nash, 1944
A National Collection
The achievements of UK art education have been marked in various ways, including
showcase exhibitions of the work of graduating artists (the Young
Contemporaries in 1950s and '60s, more recently the New Contemporaries
and Fresh Art) and some exhibitions that focussed on particular
Many of our colleges and universities have also established their
own institutional collections to support or to celebrate the educational
Chris Ofili, 1992
|But it was not until the mid-1970s that there
was a conscious effort to bring into existence a collection
of works by artists who studied or taught in the art schools:
the NCDAD passed on not only its validation work but also
a collection of paintings, sculptures and fine prints. Indeed
it purchased these works specifically for the purpose. The
CNAA collection is important for three reasons. Firstly, it
has its roots in the tradition of art and design education
for which Britain has gained such a high international reputation.
Second, the collection shows the strength and confidence with
which artists in Britain embraced the prevailing abstraction
of the 1960's and early 1970's (prominent among them being
works by Sean Scully, Robyn Denny, Bridget Riley, John Carter
and the late Kenneth Martin). The third and most important
reason is that the collection carries a message: it underlined
the main principle underlying the Coldstream reform of the
early 1960's - that practising artists and designers should
exercise a controlling influence over higher education in
The last Chairman of the NCDAD was Stewart Mason. He convinced
nervous assessors at the Department of Education and Science of
the propriety of a project to assemble and bestow an art collection:
he selected paintings, sculptures and prints to create a visible
symbol of the achievements and vigorous independence of the art
schools. They would, he believed, 'immediately demonstrate the
impact of the art design sector upon what had hitherto been a
strongly technologically-oriented body.'
The art schools had developed a strong tradition, an ethos, and
it was that ethos that the collection was to embody.
It is around
the nucleus of the CNAA collection that we are launching what is intended
should grow now into a comprehensive showcase for art education in the UK.
Nine of the institutions that responded to an invitation to participate
in the initial phase are represented in this first phase of the virtual
collection, selected by a national hanging committee, to be accessed via the
web. The works are accompanied by a
database of information that can be interrogated using specially-developed
software. Until now we have had a patchy and fragmentary picture of the
achievements of the subject in Britain, but the new National Collection will
begin to bring together increasing amounts of material; it is also intended
that it should stimulate a reappraisal of the history and significance of the
teaching of fine art practice.
The idea of
building a National Collection was put forward by the CNAA Trust when it
convened a seminar accompanied by an exhibition of the CNAA collection in 1999.
The proposal gained the support of a number
of university-level fine art courses and of the subject association.
One of the challenges identified during the
seminar was that of acknowledging and representing the diversity of competing
approaches to art education and the corresponding diversity of criteria used to
judge the quality of its outcomes.
Reflecting the Scope of Practice in the Art Schools
commissioned a feasibility study that revealed that the strategy was consistent
with the aims of a body established to encourage the development of new
resources for higher education.
It was decided that a virtual collection
should be created as part of the range of services, tools and mechanisms being
established for colleges and universities to exploit fully the value of online
resources and services. The organisation
commissioned to carry out this work
established a hanging committee to determine criteria with which to begin to
set the scope of the collection. The
topic is one of immense potential scope and complexity, but it is not intended
simply to make a portmanteau of university art school collections.
It has been and will remain essential to
create a National Collection that will not only show some of the works that art
school collections continue to build up, but also that it should assemble
information that can be knitted together to reveal some of the narratives that
make up the pattern of studies in this field.
through which the collection is accessed provides the user with a timeline on
which works are presented. In this first
phase of the National Collection we begin to get some flavour of each period -
for example the contrast between the last decades of the 19th and 20th
centuries, and the earnest abstraction of the early 1970s.
However, works are by artists whose own
studies and subsequent (direct or indirect) impact on the educational system
widens the relevance of the collection.
An example is the body of works by Richard Hamilton, who began his
studies at the Royal Academy in 1938, taught until 1966 and continues
to exercise considerable influence into the 21st century.
a challenge from the outset. Hogarth, Gainsborough and Reynolds (each of whom had been
apprenticed in England) took part in the struggles that
accompanied the academies of art established in the 18th century but, in the
early 19th century, the question of art education took on a new urgency.
In the wake of the Napoleonic wars Parliament
was asked to encourage the practice of drawing and design to strengthen manufactures
for export. The Government School of
Design was founded in South Kensington in 1837, followed by other, regional schools. The following is a description of one school
that will serve to give an idea of the character of provision in the mid-19th
Government Schools ran courses in elementary drawing, shading from the flat,
shading from casts, chiaroscuro painting, colouring, figure drawing from the
flat, figure drawing from the round, painting the figure, geometrical drawing,
perspective, modelling and design. All
these courses were introduced from the start at the Glasgow School apart from that of design. The course in
design was the 'summit of the system' . . . After 1853 the above pattern of
courses was extended to 26 stages which formed the national curriculum for art
schools. This system was known as the South Kensington system."
Examples from the collection give an idea of the character of
student work in the late 19th century and the level of polish
expected. It is clear that drawing formed the essential channel
into practices that reached back to classical Greece and renaissance
Italy. In general, whilst a great many subjects were studied in
great detail, students were not encouraged to stray far from the
closely prescribed syllabus and models provided. The art school
described above is one that would still be familiar to those who
studied in art schools through to the middle of the 20th century.
However, that syllabus was abandoned in favour of the encouragement
of the development by each student of his or her personal art
practice; as this era of personal development progressed so the
range of those practices greatly increased.
Teaching and learning
Drawing was taught in Britain during the 17th century by travelling
tutors whose students sometimes sought diversion but often needed
the skills with which to record their observations, particularly
on military campaigns and voyages of discovery.
Interior, Norwich School of Art,
James Munnings, circa 1897
|It has been suggested that the first attempt
to formalise the teaching of art was supported by the Treasury
of Charles 1. Later,
when Parliament decided that art practice should be harnessed
to design for industry in the cause of trade and the national
economy, the authorities sought a suitable model. When a report
was made to Parliament it was to recommend not the French
but the Prussian approach. The Prussians lived up to their
military reputation, and Clive Ashwin has given a hilarious
account of the regimentation of a drawing class - students
chanting a response reminiscent of the training sequences
in Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket as they wield their drawing
instruments in unison.
In 1836 the House of Commons voted the sum of £1,600
to enable the Board of Trade to set up a "Central School of
Design" and The Government School of Design was duly opened
on 1 June 1837 at Somerset House. Reflecting the Prussian
model, art and industry were expressly linked and the approach
to teaching was didactic in character, seeking to impose supposed
standards of aesthetic excellence.
Regional development proceeded vigorously in the mid-19th century.
As a premier centre of industrial development Birmingham was a
focus for social and political debate, visited frequently by John
Ruskin. It was also the first Municipal School of Art, enjoying
some degree of autonomy and so able to challenge some national
policies. The School adopted an Arts and Crafts approach to working
with materials and became closely associated with the Pre-Raphaelite
Brotherhood. Ruskin and Morris directed attention back to Nature,
but artists such as Turner were showing how imagination could
reshape what we perceived as "natural".
At the beginning of the 20th century drawing from the antique began to give
way to drawing from life ? at, for example, the Slade School.
Britain's art schools nevertheless remained somewhat conservative
in character while the seeds of Modernism were being sown in France.
A search for realism was still under way when, in 1937, Claude
Rogers, Victor Pasmore, William Coldstream and Graham Bell published
a prospectus for a private art school in Fitzroy Street, later
named The Euston Road School. They taught their students to consider
urban subjects in an objective way, but could not be said to teach
from a theoretical position. After 1945 they continued teaching
and their methods had an enduring influence on British art, not
least through their participation in the re-shaping of the system
whereby institutions and courses were validated.
Changes that stemmed from the 1960 "Coldstream Committee"
report gave impetus to the new ideas that had already been
fermenting in some of the art schools in the 1950s. A preoccupation
with craft gave way to a world of ideas, such as those of
D'Arcy Wentworth Thompson ("On Growth and Form"), Norbert
Weiner ("cybernetics") and Walter Gropius (the Bauhaus),
from which new curricula began to emerge. An example is
provided by the energetic Harry Thubron, who taught in the
1950s at Kings College at the University of Durham with
Victor Pasmore, Tom Hudson, Richard Hamilton, Alan Davie
and Terry Frost. All sought to articulate the basis of their
teaching: Harry was concerned to get his students to experiment
in a constructive manner and favoured the basic design principles
articulated during the life of the Bauhaus. He did not have
a theory or formula for his teaching; his model was Paul
Klee and his goal was to engender a vital awareness of colour,
shape and of the materials to hand. Like many other influential
artist-teachers, Thubron's influence was felt through the
many institutions in which he held teaching and leadership
Harry Thubron, 1962.
One of the
factors that increased the diversity of practices in the art schools was the
development of what we now refer to collectively as the media.
Back in the mid-1960s there was a vogue for
technical experiment in the art schools - for vacuum forming, spray painting
and photographic silkscreen printing. It
was even suggested that painting and sculpture might take a step back in favour
of the creative experimentation with light, sound, film, computing, etc.
In the following decade Peter Fuller argued
passionately that art is impoverished when the artist is distanced from the
artefact by technology. Art and
technology nevertheless became firmly wedded in most of the art schools, where
new technologies continue to be introduced alongside those of painting and
beginning of the new century we begin to gain a perspective on the development
of some of the newer media within the art and art educational worlds (e.g.
video at Dundee), but there will continue to be a challenge to find effective
ways of building into such a National Collection the growing range of
conceptual, telematic and interactive modes of art
In this first phase of the development of the National Collection the gender
balance in representation is 77% male. Until recently women formed
a high proportion of the art student population while the museums
and galleries included few examples of womens' work.
Rachel Whiteread, 2002.
Figure Study - Seated Female Nude,
Florence Camm, 1897
The art schools have contributed to progress towards equality of opportunity:
women formed a high proportion of the many winners of awards and
medals gained by students of Birmingham School of Art over the
last twenty years of the 19th century, and the Slade School was
the first English art school to offer female students equal opportunities
to study from the life model. A dramatic change has taken place
over the last 30 years ? a change that has been informed and underpinned
both by contextual and studio work in the art schools, several
of which have now been led by women artists.
At one end of
the spectrum fine art as a subject is simply a part of mass higher education,
while at the other it exists to launch successive generations of artists into
practice in a contemporary world of art that is Brobdingnagian
? matching in the scale of its ambitions the worlds of Michelangelo, Titian and
Rubens. Young British artists have
famously claimed a place in that vigorous new art world and some of the art
schools have made it their business to shape themselves as springboards into
art practice. It may therefore be that
the collection will in due course come to reflect some of the reciprocal impact
of the educational world and an art world buoyed by celebrity, wealth,
promotion and style.
education institutions have their own art collections, some place them in
galleries and some put them in the care of curators.
But the accumulating tide of work as some
4,000 students graduate in fine art practice each year is daunting: annual
showcase exhibitions and institutional curators face an improbable task as they
try to filter the huge potential volume of work to be represented.
Philosophy, Research and Controversy
and indeed the National Collection itself is provisional.
This is because it is launched in an initial
phase of development, presenting work from around 10% of the institutions now
offering degrees in fine art in these islands.
It is provisional also in that it can be read as a prospectus for a
programme of research aimed at revealing the rich conceptual legacy of our art
education, together with a pointer towards and point of access to dozens of
university and college collections in which are held early evidence of the work
of students who have subsequently risen to prominence.
It is for this reason that there is likely to
be a long-term association between the collection and the work of the Arts and
Humanities Research Board.
philosophical issues raised by art education are fundamental: we have already
noted the issue raised by those who doubt that art can or should be
taught. Even for those who do accept the
premise that art practice can be advanced by educational means there remains a
significant challenge. Ours is a culture
built on the premise that what we know is that which we can explain in word and
number. Hence the adage that ?a picture
is worth a thousand words? points to those things that are best perceived as gestalten or patterns.
However, this does not tell us what it is that we know or even if the
act of recognition constitutes (non-verbal) knowledge.
of the subject is its history. Pevsner described the Academics of Art,
but history needs not only to accumulate but also to be kept under review.
Bretton Hall College of the University of Leeds has hosted important archives since 1985,
but the subject is served by controversy as well as by scholarship, a fact that
will no doubt be reflected in the development of this resource.
The plan is to
develop the collection as a national resource to which all higher education
institutions are able to contribute. But it is also likely that those already
represented will in time revisit and reshape the representation - the story ?
told here. It is not only the collection
that will grow but so also the commentaries that provide a critical
accompaniment to it: high on the agenda will be an assessment of the sheer
vigour of contemporary practice at the interface between Britain's art schools and the wider world of
The author is
grateful for valuable comments received from Alan Brickwood,
Adrian Lewis, Gavin Ross and Chris Wainwright.
In the specialist
area of sculpture, at Leicester Polytechnic (now De Montfort
114 art schools submitted candidates in all of the subjects forming the
curriculum of the National Design Diploma.
The output of fine art graduates stood at 1,085.
Statement No. 1 - Art and Design (paper drafted by Registrar for Art, Design
and the Performing Arts), 15 September 1983.
Creative Britain, Chris Smith, Faber & Faber, London 1998
Developing Process, an exhibition held at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, London, in 1959.
A catalogue was published by Kings College, Durham.
(1987), A Good Deal of Freedom: art and design in the public sector of higher
education, 1960-1982. London: CNAA.
Education of Vision, an exhibition that inaugurated the Wingfield Gallery in Suffolk to accompany a national seminar
documented in a resum? edited by Stroud Cornock, published in June 1999
Association for Fine Art Education (NAFAE)
Information Systems Committee (JISC) is an independent advisory body that
supports further and higher education by providing strategic
guidance, advice and opportunities to use Information and Communications
Technology (ICT) to support teaching, learning, research and administration.
Arts Data Service
School of Design, Journal of the Scottish Society
for Art History, Volume 4, (1999). A
history of early art education was researched by Marjorie Allthorpe-Guyton
at Norwich School of Art and published as A Happy Eye (Jarold:
Norwich), in 1982
Gilbert Benthall, a
manuscript on the Early Art Schools in London, circa 1965.
(Held by National Art Library.)
Clive Ashwin Drawing and education in German-speaking
Europe, 1800-1900. Ann Arbor, Mich. : UMI Research Press, c1981
Report of the
National Advisory Committee on Art Education, HMSO, 1960.
Stroud Cornock, Forms of Knowing in the Study of the Arts.
In Marks, DF, Richardson, JTE and Russell, DG (Editors). Imagery
2: Proceedings of the Second Imagery Conference, Human Performance Associates,
1986, 202 - 207
Pevsner (1940) Academies of Art. Cambridge: University Press.
The National Arts
Education Archive was established in 1985 at Bretton Hall College to provide a
documentary trace of the development of Arts Education, in the UK and
worldwide. It is based in the Lawrence Batley Centre.
E.g. David Thistlewood's document dealing with The Developing
Process. Also Madge, C. and Weinberger,
B. (1973) Art Students Observed. London: Faber.