Diggers and rows: profoundjoy of art

18th June 2004 at 01:00
Warring artists and hours spent watching mechanical diggers at work are among the consequences of a comprehensive arts curriculum, according to a schools inspector.

Writing in For Art's Sake, a new book published by the Institute for Public Policy Research, Peter Muschamp, an inspector specialising in art and design, draws attention to the educational advantages of regular school visits to museums and galleries.

He said: "The opportunity to encounter real art objects and other artefacts is often stimulating and memorable, contributing directly to ... their spiritual, moral, social and cultural development."

But this may have little to do with the gallery or museum visited. For example when one Year 6 teacher asked her class to name the highlight of a day-trip to the National Gallery, they replied it was mechanical diggers operating in Trafalgar Square.

Other arts initiatives have also had unexpected consequences. Mr Muschamp praised the collaboration between artists and schools, including artist-in-residence programmes.

But, he said, such partnerships between teaching and non-teaching artists often lead to creative tensions and jealousies, as artistic temperaments flare.

He said: "Problems include possible tensions when artists appear to be intolerant and uninformed about teachers' priorities, or where teachers, who themselves may be highly competent artists, feel uneasy or even threatened by the introduction of another artist into the school."

This situation is not improved by the fact that some artists-in-residence see schools as little more than ready-made exhibition space.

Mr Muschamp said: "An observation in a recent inspection report that a visiting artist was 'providing little more than playground curiosities for the schools which bought in his sculptural expertise, with little active involvement of the pupils', typifies what can and does happen."

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