Primaries told to stop copying the great artists

23rd April 1999 at 01:00
IT IS an unusual primary school that does not have children's versions of Van Gogh's sunflowers, Monet's lilies or Matisse's goldfish decorating the walls.

But according to the Govern-ment's curriculum quango, this homage to the masters is a travesty which has to stop.

The work of some of the most passionate and individual painters of the past 100 years has been reduced to "formula and pastiche", says the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, as schools scramble to satisfy the requirements of the art curriculum.

Along with many art educationists, the QCA is calling for a radical shake-up of the way art is taught in schools.

In its recommendations to Education Secretary David Blunkett, the QCA says that the art curriculum should be simplified and clarified for teachers - many of whom at primary level have had little special training. It also recommends that there should be a shift towards improving drawing skills and broadening the child's own visual experience.

In the current, congested art curriculum, critical studies had degenerated into a crude copying of style. It had been intended to help children understand the work of artists, craftspeople and designers, which they should then apply to their own practical work.

Margaret Talboys, principal officer for art at the QCA, told a recent conference that children who were being introduced to aboriginal art were "taking the surface qualities without understanding aboriginal culture, beliefs and values".

Sir William Stubbs, chair of the QCA and rector of the London Institute - an umbrella body for some of the country's leading art schools - told the same conference, organised by the National Society for Education in Art and Design, that drawing should no longer be optional in the art curriculum. A recent board meeting of QCA, he said, had agreed unanimously it should be compulsory.

The QCA also wants "level descriptors" - as with literacy and numeracy - to try to clarify "what it means to get better at art" and to help teachers' planning.

The conference, held last weekend at Bretton Hall College, Yorkshire, was one of three being held by NSEAD to debate new approaches to the art curriculum.

During the first, at London's Tate Gallery, a group of art education lecturers called for a radical rethink of the art curriculum to close the gulf between what is taught in schools and developments in contemporary art and the ideas of post-modernism. They called for less prescription, less predictable and formulaic work and more risk-taking and experiment.

While Sir William agreed that there should be greater flexibility in the art curriculum he countered that the skill in art and design was "to make something worthy of recognition" rather than experimentation for its own sake.

He said: "To travel and not to care about the destination ... is to become an ill-informed speculative tourist."

John Bowden, president of NSEAD, emphasised that not all schools are doing "predictable and schematised work" but that teachers needed greater opportunities to develop more stimulating practice.

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