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Facts are fine but prize the pleasure

Higher Art and Design: Official SQA Past Papers 2000-2003, with model answers Leckie amp; Leckie pound;6.99

Two things have happened this year which I never thought I would see. The first is a textbook for Higher art and design; the second is the SQA asking art teachers to submit ideas for an alternative course model.

What should we teach 16- and 17-year-olds about art and design? This book suggests there is a fixed canon of knowledge with little insight or empathy required. It leans too heavily on the physical attributes and visual impact of art as described dispassionately and objectively, discouraging a pupil from participating in personal appreciation. In a postmodern era, should we not be contextualising art within our own experience?

This book gives an overview of the exam and the factual information that gained marks. Yet surely regurgitation of facts does not necessarily prove knowledge. It is wrong to suggest that art contains fixed objective truths, for that removes the receptor from the equation. We should challenge pupils to make connections as it intersects with their experience.

If the book attempted to provide insight into how to address a work of art imaginatively or how to evaluate the usage of a designed object, it might be worth having as a textbook. Even as a collection of past exam papers, its biggest flaw is the description of practical outcomes and criteria related to the marks awarded. Last year hundreds of teachers had great difficulty using these descriptions, so any pupils will be misled by the apparently clear requirements.

Rab Walker is principal teacher of art and design at Dunfermline High, Fife

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