International Journal of Art & Design Education

Who is to do this Great Work for Canada? South Kensington in Ontario

Volume 12.2   1993



Chalmers discusses a Canadian outpost of the South Kensington System of Drawing Education that pervaded the empire of Victorian elementary schooling. The paper is structured around the characterisation of the Department of Science and Art at South Kensington provided by Walter Smith on a visit to Canada in 1882 and a description of the Canadian art education scene in the late nineteenth century, where a highly centralised (inter)national curriculum was rigidly copyist and mechanically skills-based. Chalmers describes the obsequiousness and cultural snobbery that sustained it, and points to the irony in that was intended to be the system's greatest benefit – an even transmission of knowledge from a `centre of excellence’ towards the periphery – was perverted to serve the interests of a very few administrators. Those who `knew the system’ and its means of operation automatically established criteria that preserved the system. The author concludes that art educators everywhere still have difficulty seeing and implementing art education as a potent social force for the disempowered. Instead they cling to a few narrow controlling objectives, to exemplars from one dominant culture, and to simple non-solutions to difficult educational dilemmas.