International Journal of Art & Design Education

Critical Studies: a Trojan Horse for an Alternative Cultural Agenda?

Volume 12.3   1993



Swift locates critical studies as part of a broader pattern of educational and art educational thought which could be generalised as moving to a more theoretical, knowledge-based learning, which typifies to different degrees Discipline Based Art Education (DBAE) and Critical Studies. He argues the introduction of the term critical studies in British art education reflects art educators' views that the practice of art alone is insufficient to gain a full experience of art, and coincides with a political will to return to `traditional', teachable forms of content and knowledge. The first position is and has been widely shared; the second position is central to this paper – the potential that critical studies possesses for the manipulation and hierarchical ordering of cultural values and the consequent need for students to learn the languages of judgement, discernment and qualification and apply them to the `best' examples available education. Thus the choices made between `high' and `popular' art, between art, design and craft, between the art and aesthetics of the mainstream Western European tradition and that of other cultures past and present, between the work of the currently established (and largely institutionalised elite) and of minorities or cultural sub-groups, and between art objects that have stood the test of time and those that are new, by necessity reveal cultural predispositions and a view of the purpose of education. Swift concludes ‘Critical studies grew bottom-up from art teachers and art educators; its ‘new' approach brings with it continuing concerns in terms of content. We should be alert in keeping control of its integrative and organic structure, and its potential for the democratisation of art’.

This is one of a series of papers published in Volume 12, No. 3 that originated from a seminar held in the summer of 1993 at the University of Central England, Birmingham, entitled ’Critical Studies the Next Ten Years’.