The art of the matter

Tom Hardy

An excellent new guide sets out a rationale for the inclusion of arts subjects at the heart of curricular planning. Managing the Arts in the Curriculum by Michael Marland and Rick Rogers (Heinemann, pound;17.25) includes a useful collation of research and an account of the history of political interference, as well as offering subject-specific planning guidance.

A wide range of art forms is covered (including book design and radio drama). The suggestion that other subject areas might make a contribution to the arts syllabus turns on its head the perception of the arts as a "below stairs" service industry to the "nobs" at the curricular core. The wealth of data here should convince any headteacher to plan for the arts to take their place in the curricular drawing room where they belong.

New chapters recording the state of black art and culture at the turn of the 21st century are included in two welcome updates to the invaluable World of Art series (Thames and Hudson, pound;8.95 each). African Art by Frank Willett concentrates on and celebrates the folk roots and emblematic styles of key regions of the continent. Misuse of the word "primitive" as a generic descriptor is dismissed in the opening chapter, as is the early anthropological supposition that tribal art is unsophisticated and "child-like".

The author apologises for generalisations that are unavoidable with such a wide brief. However, as a broad introduction to the arts of Africa, it is an engaging read and a useful gateway to further study.

Black Art by Richard J Powell focuses on the arts of black diasporal cultures during the 20th century and the subjective responses of individual artists to their own "dark centre". This new edition includes a chapter documenting the resurgence of black cultural consciousness at the turn of the 21st century and the concomitant impact on visual arts.

Powell documents the argument that the "black" label can no longer effectively describe such a diversity of cultures and political stances in a "post-black", post-modern era of cultural assimilation. However, he concludes that, with two major museums dedicated to black art and culture to be built in Paris and Washington, African diasporal arts will "persist in the collective and cultural imagination well into the 21st century".

Both books are academic in tone but easily accessible. They are also well illustrated and, between the two, go some way to redress our entrenched Eurocentric viewpoint.

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Tom Hardy

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