All schools should be art schools

I was very privileged to be asked to present at the recent symposium ‘All schools should be art schools’ organised by Kaldor Art projects and UNSW Art and Design faculty. Over 200 people attended the symposium including arts educators, artists, researchers and creative industries practitioners.  It was also live streamed and is available here. Worth watching.

The topic was of course the slogan from the 2016 artwork by British artist Bob and Roberta Smith. It's a wonderful provocation aimed at opening a discussion about the importance of arts education in all schools. Often the singular focus of success is the ATAR and thus the arts programs are neglected in favour of subjects which scale better for the UAC ranking system.

As Bradfield is a school that specialises in the creative industries this is a particularly important topic. The keynote speech was by Sir Nicholas Serota, Chair of Arts Council England, who is an advocate for art education, and recently launched the Durham Commission for Creativity and Education, designed to explore the benefits of creativity for young people across the UK. Serota spoke about how ‘the arts are vital as we move from an era of information to an era of invention’. He provided some background to the struggle that has taken place in the UK to protect these creative programs in every school.

 Minister for Education, Rob Stokes, spoke about the history of art and literature from Ancient Greece and Rome through to the Renaissance and the Enlightenment. He outlined the importance of these creative movements in our history and how arts education was critical to humanity.

Mark Scott, Secretary of Education for New South Wales also spoke to the changing workplace, the future of work for young students and how art education can play into a well-rounded and broad education.

My presentation centred on the premise of creative practice and how much of the progressive teaching and learning at Bradfield is based around what happens in art schools. What happens in art school - in art classrooms - and in most creative colleges, mirrors what happens in the workplace:

  • Design thinking process - inherent in major works art making, music composition, dance
  • Dedicated studio time to allow deep immersion into creative practice
  • Feedback from peers, industry, all teaching staff and community which helps students learn how to receive criticism and think critically
  • Greater freedom of creative expression building confidence as an artist
  • Deep and singular reflection on a concept for a prolonged time.

What's important about these creative processes is that for many of the students who are completing major works require an element of the design thinking process and a very different way of learning other than the traditional one or two hour classroom delivery with the teacher at the front of the room. Major works are across all learning areas including English Extension 2, Community and Family Studies, Society and Culture, Fashion, Photography, Design and Technology and Visual Arts.

Ross Harley, Dean of Studies at UNSW art and design describes an art school as ‘alive and a bit unruly’ which is an evocative description of what a school can be and a little bit like Bradfield. We’ve all read the statistics about 23 jobs in 5 careers. As a vocational high school we can’t ignore those statistics. We cannot have a singular focus on the ATAR and preparation for the HSC exams because we know that the ability to sit an HSC exam is not what will make them successful in work and further study. Because I came out of the creative industries and because of Bradfield’s work oriented mandate I know that taking an art/music/film/fashion school approach could strengthen the learning culture overall.