The art of perfection

16th May 1997 at 01:00
Art 7-11 Developing Primary Teaching Skills By Linda Green and Robin Mitchell Routledge Pounds 14.99

Books about teaching art fall into two categories - the "500 ways to use a paper plate" variety and, at last, a growing body of serious work. Linda Green and Robin Mitchell's book is definitely in the latter category.

Ms Green and Mr Mitchell devote a chapter to the definition of art and another to an analysis of the subject's knowledge base. It is a shame they need to defend the place of art in the key stage 3 curriculum. But this book will help many to understand that, as Bernard Shaw put it, "fine art is the only teacher except torture".

The structured approach for developing a programme of art in primary school confronts the vital component of teacher development. It tackles the lack of confidence many teachers feel, faced with the challenge of teaching art rather than simply providing opportunity and encouragement. A series of excellent activities follows a clear development path, guiding and supporting teachers towards heightened perception, clearer analysis and increased communication skills. The elements and process of the visual language are clarified and illustrated through works by children and artists.

The strength of the book is its focus on individual development, but from this base the process broadens to suggested routes by which school staff might arrive at a programme for teaching art.

It is right to leave lesson plans and classroom work for the final chapter. The lesson plans are valuable in themselves, and offer a secure base on which teachers can build personal approaches.

The only disappointing section is the one that touches my work most closely. Children need to experience real works of art. Looking at a reproduction is the equivalent of reading a precis of a great novel. The book's suggestions for work in a gallery are mundane and make little mention of the help offered by experienced museum teachers.

But as a whole, this book is a brave attempt to bridge chasms of misunderstanding. It will be a valuable aid to teachers who wish to develop their grasp of an area of activity that lies at the heart of cultures and which should lie at the heart of all teaching.

Frances Sword is education officer at the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge

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