International Journal of Art & Design Education

Art History in the Classroom: a Plea for Realism

Volume 6.2   1987



The wholesale retreat from child-centred methods in British art education has been brought about by a new interest in art as a teachable, learnable, examinable subject. Practitioners of the 'cognitive-developmental' approach are engaged upon a considerable programme of research aimed at finding out what can be taught about art and the practice of art at different levels of the school curriculum, and, correspondingly, how much of the previous paradigm of art-as-expression can be jettisoned as worthless baggage. This may be a useful moment therefore to voice some fears about the dangers of unreflective art-history in schools, as yet too little thought out, and in some cases provided at too early an age for the children concerned. It is argued that we need to abandon the practice of studying received 'masterpieces' alone, such as can be obtained in reproduction from museum bookstalls; and that modern culture in particular, far from representing the 'art of our time', constitutes a specialist minority culture that is frequently inappropriate, both technically and emotionally, for presentation to the growing child. Images of a much wider and more accessible kind must form the basis of primary and early secondary school visual education.