Practical skills

1st July 2005 at 01:00
Social and Critical Practices in Art Education Edited by Dennis Atkinson and Paul Dash Trentham Books pound;18.99

This book explores art as a vehicle for social and critical commentary. It is a compelling mixture of chalk-face experience and academic writing, with contributions drawn from authors around the world.

In their introduction, Dennis Atkinson and Paul Dash make it clear that they do not advocate the abandonment of traditional skills but give examples where their acquisition has been a natural consequence of ideas-based practice.

Tim Rollins writes of his work with disaffected students in New York's south Bronx. He warns that teachers must avoid systems which do not respond to people's needs. This sets the tone for subsequent chapters. John Johnston describes the way the visual arts in Belfast encourage students to "look beyond the parameters which define their social existence", and Henry Ward, an art teacher in a south London secondary, talks of encouraging students to engage with contemporary art practice.

Two perspectives are given on"Room 13", an outward-looking art department run as a collective by students at Caol Primary School in Fort William: one by a very self-assured student, Danielle Souness, and one by teacher and artist-in-residence Rob Fairley, who expounds the importance of teaching philosophy from an early age.

Other chapters explore different cultural perspectives on the use of comics, work with young offenders, and the importance of children having a stake in the curriculum. A particularly vivid insight is given into the work of the Robben Island Museum in South Africa and the part it is playing in the truth and reconciliation process.

In the final chapter, Nick Addison and Lesley Burgess examine the connection between school art and contemporary practice, using PGCE students as research subjects. One student asks: "How can you be a better teacher by being an artist?" He might well find his answer in Tim Rollins's dictum that education can "serve as a kind of artistic medium with the potential of making a direct imprint on the happiness and progress of individuals and communities".

Tom Hardy is head of art at North London Collegiate School

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