International Journal of Art & Design Education

Before the Vanishing Point: some perspectives on teaching Art History to Studio Practitioners

Volume 6.1   1987



The compulsory study of Art History in schools and colleges of art followed the introduction of the Diploma in Art and Design in Britain. Those who were charged with the task of teaching strove to win for their subject academic status and professional dignity commensurate with the prestige Art History had enjoyed in the universities ... in Germany at least ... for over a century. Yet as the Summerson Committee discovered and as the student demonstrations of the late-sixties proved, they incurred only discontent and, on occasions, overt hostility. The art education establishment capitulated: in ‘reviewing' the position of Art History as an obligatory 'core' discipline, the joint Report of the NACAE and the NCDAD entitled 'The Structure of Art and Design Education in the FE Sector', published in 1970, gave tacit consent and covert impetus to a devaluation of the subject in schools of art and design. As a result, many staff and sometimes whole sections were absorbed into departments of Complementary and Liberal Studies. In some schools of art and design the History of Art as an identifiable component of the curriculum has all but disappeared. This paper argues that rather than the History of Art aspiring to academic status as a sub-discipline of the larger intellectual field of general History, and therefore confronting the work of art as a form of historical documentation, the discipline should structure its syllabi around the current studio practice of students. If works of art from the past are capable of surviving as ‘events¹ coexistent with the existential present, then art history can be reoriented as a fundamentally critical process to explore the chains of ‘recurring artistic problems¹ (form-class) across time and into the present, thus becoming of direct relevance to the studio practitioner. It may be that the ‘professional art historian¹ is not the best model for the job and that Art History in the school of art and design should be taught by artists.