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Stop All the Clocks

Opinion piece: AQA axes History of Art A-level

The abolition of the History of Art A-level will be met with the same indifference north of Watford than as if a Martian were told the Thai king is dead.

Regardless of what Jonathan Jones or Griselda Pollock think, regardless of Jones’ stoic ignorance or Pollock’s unintelligent polemic against Jones (not I (yet)), the speed and sloppiness of Art History’s defence is interesting. Less than 20 state schools ran the History of Art A-level. Over 90% of British pupils attend state schools. This whopping, gargantuan disparity in A-level choice is not reflected at the Courtauld, where our state-private intake ratio is roughly 50/50. Clearly an A-level did not hinder people from applying to the Courtauld; I daresay not having the A-level could level the playing field. Often students are anxious they did not study History of Art at A-level, and see it as a disadvantage - one of the reasons many people are always alert to someone being ‘posher’ than them - like social-anxiety dominos.

Many of us are at the Courtauld without an A-level in History of Art. Those two facts are not exclusive of each other. Rather the field has larger problems. Internships are often exclusive forms of competitive slavery. The concentration of national collections in London means millions must travel to see the collections. Today a staff member reminisced that in the early 2000s the Courtauld used to ask applicants ‘what was the last art gallery you visited?’. Many children live nearer to the coast (never more than 100 miles away in the UK), than they do to a gallery displaying more than 20 artworks.

The cruces of it is: there are far more pervasive, off-putting elements to History of Art and the art world than a missing A-level. The art world we inhabit is decadent and lumbering, and off-putting to many. It is divided between dizzying international sales, and deeply insecure academia. Is it any wonder History of Art is taking on water?

Our clocks are stopped, but the telephone still only rings for certain people, and the dog hasn’t been silenced. It is very sad that students will not learn of History of Art until degree level, but A-levels aren’t the be-all and end-all.

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