International Journal of Art & Design Education

Making Sense of the National Curriculum Attainment Targets for Art: a Philosophical Perspective

Volume 12.1   1993



It is the potential reading of the (English) National Curriculum art documentation as prescriptive (and as confused prescription) that concerns Nick McAdoo in his attempt to `make sense' of its attainment targets. When he unpacks them philosophically they reveal no clear organization of objectives, and the resulting confusion, he implies, will inevitably oblige teachers to take literally the non-statutory advice on implementation. He identifies two specific educational problems that are not clear in NC publications, namely an imbalance between the development of creativity and appreciation, and an ill-considered relationship of form and content (or rather advice which concentrates on either form or content and neglects to discuss their interaction, an essential characteristic of art). McAdoo claims the complex relationship between `investigating' the world and transmuting the results of this investigation into an aesthetic form is never clearly addressed by N C documentation. Nor is pupils' engagement of aesthetic form in appreciation, a lack which in his view extends to the fundamental principle of the pupil-artist's reflection upon his or her own work-in-process. He identifies an unresolved dilemma as between defending the inherent subjectivism of art – the principle that at the heart of artistic creativity and appreciation there lies a spontaneous element ungovernable by rules while at the same time professing a sort of rule-like structure for the subject as evidence of its educational respectability. McAdoo argues that aesthetics (as opposed to the vague concept of an `aesthetic' dimension) has been ignored as a potential provider of conceptual structure. It is this absence, he believes, that has resulted in a failure to locate educational objectives within a proper relationship, distributed as they are across hybridized attainment targets.