Why do it? Tom Hardy recommends a book on the purposes of art

9th December 2005 at 00:00
WHY WE MAKE ART AND WHY IT IS TAUGHT. By Richard Hickman. Intellect Publishers. pound;14.95

With companies such as Google tapping the creativity of even the lowliest mouse-pusher, it is timely that this book sets out the rationale for enlightened entrepreneurship, asserting that "to be creative is quintessentially human and such ability is common to all".

In the first of its four sections, Richard Hickman gives a brief overview of the nature of art and its relationship to education, and charts children's creative development, comparing the findings of researchers, psychologists and philosophers. He takes a balanced view. While excoriating the lazy post-war fad for the promotion of free expression, he bemoans the sidelining of the needs of individual students with a contemporary curriculum which values only the measurable, and warns of the danger of "valuing the subject rather than the learner". Section two comprises a series of mini case studies from a range of professional artists and amateurs who describe their own school experiences and share what art means to them. In section three, he explores questions thrown up by these testimonies, proposing the phrase "creating aesthetic significance" in an attempt to give a pan-cultural catch-all definition of art making.

Controversially, Hickman suggests that schools are structurally and temperamentally "antipathetic to creativity". He points out that, although schools demand it, efficiency is a virtue we tend to reserve for tasks we do not enjoy.

In section four, discussing art as a fundamental human urge, he goes on to posit that schools would be well advised to use the successful art room, where the full range of learning dispositions are accommodated, as a model for schooling in all subjects. He contends that "the person educated to experiment, accept mistakes, try new ways of looking at and inventing things, will also be someone who questions the status quo and contributes to the dynamism of society".

Although academic in tone, this book is essential for PGCE students and art staff rooms, a handy crib for the Open Day ritual of questioning the purpose of our subject.

Tom Hardy is head of art at North London Collegiate School

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