In October 2016 there has been an announcement that History of Art is to be axed from the state school A-level curriculum by AQA, the exam board, due to it being considered a ‘soft subject’.
I had seen a few of the comments concerning this announcement and the general view seems to be that it is disgraceful. Art institutions are up in arms about this decision – The Courtauld Institute of Art and The Association of Art Historians just being two of them plus numerous teachers, professors and lecturers and students. The decision has been deemed classist or elitist and a great loss to the art world as well as students but sadly it is just one of a number of creative subjects being dropped including archaeology.
As a History of Art student I find the decision abominable and it is certainly not a ‘soft subject’ – like many I find that description without foundation and also totally demeaning. Having studied the subject as part of my textiles degree the subject is far far from ‘soft’ – the number of times my fiance, Dave, has seen me getting frustrated through struggling to understand a certain period or concept goes beyond counting on one hand! Through my own studies Dave has gained his own interest and his own opinions – neither of us ever thought that just 3 years ago before he had found me OCA that we would be having the lively conversations and arguments about a certain artist or work that we do now. I never thought in a million years that Dave and I would enjoy going to galleries as much as we do, or exhibitions, or come to that matter that we would be discussing them for several days following. Due to my studies we joined the National Trust as my course module mentioned Kedleston Hall for a country house visit and luckily for us it is just a few miles from where we live – we have been back several times just looking at the art and the architecture as well as having the joy to meet a Japanese artist Takamasa Ono whose work we have started to collect (… mmm that reminds me to write a short piece on him!).
When I decided to take History of Art as my third module I did so with the hope that I would be able to incorporate my love of history into my textiles work and the fact that I was told it was a lot of reading was influential too …. but no-one told me THAT much reading! When I read the first chapter of our course textbook World History of Art, The Greeks and Their Neighbours, I had no idea of the journey throughout the ages of Western art it would take me – I have visited Greece several times in my childhood but did I know what a kouros was or the different types of capital? come to that matter what was a ‘capital’? I then moved onto Hellenistic and Roman Art and the Greeks suddenly made sense!! By the time of the Renaissance I was starting to get an idea of what I was studying but still struggling to write analysis pieces – academic writing and critical skills could easily be a separate course for any student but trying to get to grips with it in one module certainly makes for a steep learning curve which I am still on!
I have discovered artists I thought I disliked, including Caravaggio, but now adore as I now understand and could happily sit in front of one of the works all day just happily studying it. I have also discovered artists I never knew of including Artemisia Gentileschi and whose work I am passionate about now. I confess to still disliking the Rococo period because although I did not know what the style was called I found the over exuberance a little too much for my personal tastes but that does not mean I do not understand it. I have learnt about art from this country and the way the European styles or even Eastern influences have affected our own artists or how the use of perspective in art has changed from its first invention or how photography has influenced art and become an art form in itself. I had realised before I took the subject of the influence of political, economic and social factors but only to an extent but now have an understanding of how these all correlate to each other and influence the diverse culture of the arts and our subsequent interpretation of it – this diverse culture includes the writers, the dancers, the artists, the sculptors, the architects, the metal workers and so on.
History of Art has brought a richness to my own life and to that of my fiance too and he is now considering his own classical studies – one module has changed us both. After completion of this course I intend setting up a new History of Art academic blog which I hope to run alongside my remaining degree courses to be used as a reference in its own right and also to record visits to various country houses or galleries – this is a blog that will further my own studies and enable me to continue to indulge a passion that I never knew I had.
My own daughter is studying History at A-level but it is heartbreaking to know now that if she had studied History of Art she would be in the last group of students able to do so – this is wrong. This is not the ‘soft subject’ it has been deemed to be but one that can enrich the lives of our young people and enable them to work in a sector that brings far more than just job satisfaction. History of Art enables both young and older students to appreciated and understand the world in which we live in both a wider context and in our towns and cities too as it helps us understand the great cathedrals down to the smallest Norman churches or the styles of architecture and art that are all around us. According to one academic losing this subject will have serious consequences for the art industry as it becomes the subject of the wealthy elite and by reducing the number of people in the pool it means that the those people hold all the money and again this is wrong – this is not a subject for one group of people but a subject that all levels of modern society should have.
I will be forever grateful for the opportunity to study this subject and will continue to do so long after the end of this course – I only wish students of all ages could do so at A-level whether they want to do with a view to a career or purely for personal development and enjoyment.
UPDATE: January 2017
According to the BBC website in December 2016 the Art History A-level has been saved and the exam board Pearson has announced a new course is being developed in order that it will start being taught from September 2017. According to the article campaigners and experts, who were against the decision to drop the subject, are understandably delighted and the course is now just subject to approval by Ofqual with a new emphasis on global specification and this means the subject will be inclusive of other cultures and religions.
Burns, J. 1 December 2016. Art history A-level saved at the last minute [online]. [Date accessed: January 2017]. Available from: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-38172253
Freeman, L. 13 October 2016. Why I don’t buy the History of Art A-level was axed for being ‘soft’ [online]. [Date Accessed: 2 November 2016]. Available from: http://blogs.spectator.co.uk/2016/10/dont-argument-history-art-level-axed-soft/
Grosvenor, B. 13 October 2016. A-level art history axed [online]. [Date Accessed: 2 November 2016]. Available from: http://www.arthistorynews.com/articles/4192_ALevel_art_history_axed
Guardian readers. 13 October 2016. ‘A miserable and short-sighted decision’: readers defend axed art history A-level [online]. [Date Accessed: 2 November 2016]. Available from: https://www.theguardian.com/education/2016/oct/13/a-miserable-and-short-sighted-decision-readers-defend-axed-art-history-a-level
Kennedy, M. 12 October 2016. Last art history A-level axed after Michael Gove cull of ‘soft’ subjects [online]. [Date Accessed: 2 November 2016]. Available from: https://www.theguardian.com/education/2016/oct/12/last-art-history-a-level-axed-after-michael-gove-cull-of-soft-subjects?CMP=Share_AndroidApp_Tweet
Pells, R. 13 October 2016. Cutting Creative A-levels allows art industry to be ‘dominated by the wealthy elite’ [online]. [Date Accessed: 2 November 2016]. Available from: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/education/education-news/cutting-art-history-dr-janina-ramirez-a-levels-allows-arts-industry-to-be-dominated-wealthy-elite-a7360346.html
Swallow, D (Professor). 14 October 2016. Response to A Level Art History Being Axed [online]. [Date Accessed: 2 November 2016]. Available from: http://courtauld.ac.uk/response-level-art-history-axed