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Is an Artistic Education Essential?

Illustration by Himarni Brownsword

You probably wouldn’t win much money betting on whether this article was written by a Courtauld student. But this question, is an artistic education, or an art historical education essential, fascinates me.

I grew up in an environment where knowledge was always valued, curiosity always encouraged. Growing up, however, there was a stigma I felt, towards those who did not enter the world of ‘STEM’- the strong, glistening, money-making degrees of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Maths. Instead, I chose a degree in history of art- a soft, non-abrasive, I-look-at-pretty-pictures option.

I have learnt over time that what I perceived was every word of a lie. The skills I have learnt as an art historian have made me look deeper into everything around me, and this in itself is an essential skill. Roy Prentice argues for the power of art as a facilitator for looking at the ‘intrinsic value’ of things, and this for me encapsulates the argument I present.

Art history is no politics degree- mathematical problems and complicated equations do not arise. However, without the arts, we would not understand integral parts of all cultures, we would not understand how people’s minds function, we would not understand so authentically yet emotively the different reactions of people towards events over time. The written word holds an immense amount of power, as do cold hard facts. But pictures have had the power to change minds, end wars, shape post memories of younger generations, and I think this makes art essential to an all-round understanding of politics, economics, and world affairs. Not to mention, art grounds people in their culture.

The 1982 Gulbenkian report ’Arts in Schools’ argues that the HMI and school councils have given too low a priority to the arts within the school curriculum, and that this should be taken as a ‘serious matter.’ Today, the National Curriculum states that children up until the age of 14 should have a continued education in how to produce creative work, but also in ‘knowing about great artists, craft makers, and designers’ in order to understand the historical and cultural implications of their works.

There is certainly more to be done, with 40% of secondary schools admitting to the BBC that art subjects are being ‘cut back’, due to lack of funding for materials in comparison to science and maths. STEM subjects are incredibly important in the new developments of technology and inventions which will inevitably boost trade and the country’s economy. But ultimately, I agree with Paul Wellings, as he concludes that the UK ‘urgently needs to invest in new ideas and support world-leading research in culture, languages, arts, social sciences and humanities to bolster trade and understand national priorities.’ Art is much more powerful than it may perhaps seem at first class, and should truly be an essential part of a child’s education.


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