The current crisis in art education and its long-term impact: Tazie talks to Art & Museum Magazine

In May of this year, the incredible Rockefeller art collection went up for sale at Christie’s in New York, with proceeds going to a wide variety of philanthropic causes. This great act of charity went on to spark wider reporting on the importance of art and culture within society; a timely reminder for us all. The likes of the Rockefeller collection, encapsulating exemplary brilliance throughout art history, from Impressionist delicacy to statement Chinese ceramics, reminds us that art comes in many forms: iconic and accepted, as well as confusing and new. Art is a record and a reflection of contemporary culture. Sometimes its true value only becomes visible from the standpoint of history.

We are all saddened and outraged when historical art falls victim to global conflict and strife, as Artnet reported recently, with reference to ISIS, ‘UNESCO considers the intentional destruction of cultural heritage a war crime, but ISIS has been known to ostentatiously do just that. The group considers representational art idolatrous, and as a result, works of art at museums, mosques, and churches have become targets of its hammers, axes, bulldozers, and bombs.’

Artists themselves are also reacting to the delicate state of global culture and the invaluable nature of defined creation expression. Iraqi-American artist Michael Rakowitz’s winning commission, The Invisible Enemy Should Not Exist, displayed on the 4th Plinth in Trafalgar Square, is a series of works using irrelevant and found objects to recreate artefacts lost or destroyed through war.

Those who understand the value of art in the present day, as well as through history’s lens – particularly educators, curators, academics and artists themselves – understand the importance of protecting the birth of art practice, right now and into the future, via art education. In 2006, the 84-year-old Kurt Vonnegut wrote a letter to a class of schoolchildren who’d asked him to visit. He was too ill to travel, but offered the following lesson for life: ‘Practise any art, music, singing, dancing, acting, drawing, painting, sculpting, poetry, fiction, essays, reportage, not to get money and fame, but to experience becoming, to find out what’s inside you, to make your soul grow.’

So, art has a personal and spiritual dimension, as well as a cultural one, but the arts also have massive financial clout, a fact seemingly and strangely being ignored by governments. Generating almost £9.6 million an hour and accounting for 1.8 million jobs in the UK alone, creative industries were worth £92 billion to the economy last year, whilst the UK also saw a 48.9% increase in export value from this sector between 2009 and 2004, compared to just 29.6% by UK industries as a whole.

So how is it that the English baccalaureate is currently being proposed in UK schools, constituting little more than a state-run slash on the arts, with English Literature, Maths and Sciences taking complete precedence over Art, Design and Music? Cuts to these latter subjects have already had a drastic impact, with compelling reports showing the biggest decline in take-up of arts subjects for decades.

A fully-supported, strengthened arts education programme in the UK would also impact on our health and wellbeing as a nation. The 2017 All Party Parliamentary report recently joined the arts conversation with some astonishing findings. For example, 67% of dementia sufferers had a reduced need for medication when engaged in art activities, with every £1 spent on arts education saving up to £13 in future costs. Art’s ability to impact positively, and even transform people’s physical and mental health, is only sustainable if education provides an entry point into the creative industries. It’s crucial, as the report outlines, to recognise that the conditions into which we are born, grow and work have a profound and lasting effect on our health and wellbeing.

If the arts are to survive, we must certainly seek to protect what already exists, but we must also keep making, creating and inspiring future generations. On May 8th, more than 100 of the UK’s leading artists (including Tracey Emin, Rachel Whiteread, Phyllida Barlow, Anish Kapoor, Jeremy Deller and Antony Gormley) wrote an open letter expressing their grave concern over the exclusion of arts subjects from the new English baccalaureate. ‘This means that young people are being deprived of opportunities for personal development in the fields of self-expression, sociability, imagination and creativity’, the letter said. The truth is that the value of art in education is already proven for anyone who cares to look. To oppose that evidence is an act of wilful destruction that will bequeath a cultural void on our children. We must fight it at every step.

Read the article in Art & Museum magazine here (pg 36-37)