It’s that time of year again where education starts to fall under the spotlight. Not only are kids finding out if they got into their secondary school of choice but teens are looking at options for GCSES, vocational courses and A Levels as they forge ahead in their learning journey. One thing that annoys me though is the lack of respect and promotion the creative media and arts subjects get and a large part of that reason is the government drive to drop arts subjects in favour of the English Baccalaureate (EBacc). But why should we have to choose one over the other? Arts are something that are key to our heritage.
Let’s step back in time to William Shakespeare – one of our core subjects (English) draws upon the artistic and performance genius of this poet and playwright. He is world renowned yet the arts are still frowned upon by the government.
What about Henry VIII? He was obsessed with the arts. It is believed that he composed Greensleeves for Anne Boleyn. Even the artist Hans Holbein the Younger has an embroidery stitch named after him because his portraits often featured the Tutor family wearing clothes decorated in blackwork embroidery. The Holbein stitch is an amalgamation of blackwork and backstitch.
What about architecture? Without the arts we wouldn’t have the likes of St Paul’s Cathedral, West Minster Abbey or even Canary Wharf and The Shard. But the government fails to recognise how important the arts are and as their views are broadcasted over the news it begins to affect perceptions of the parents who help advise their children when making subject choices.
But that’s the thing, we seem to be a society that depend on the arts yet look at people with disdain for studying them. The media does little to help us by providing information that solidifies misconceptions around the arts subjects. They might be referred to as ‘Mickey Mouse’ subjects but I can tell you, from first hand experience, that fashion, art and photography are in no way the easy subjects that the government would like you to believe.
As a former teacher nearing forty years of age, I knew I was following my dream signing up to do fashion in a major career change but I was not prepared for the challenges it would throw at me. First and foremost, there is the research. It might sound easy but when you are handed a brief and you start your research you have to become skilled in not only locating the right type of information and images but you need to constantly sift through it and narrow it down to specifics. This process continues as you go through the design process. Why am I telling you this? Because too many people sign up to arts courses as the ‘easy’ option and fail to see the academics included within it. There is this idea that you draw, paint or make. The evaluation process that we follow is completely ignored by those who scorn arts subjects, again this is an ongoing process that is integral to grading.
My point is there are some very strong academic skills required if you want to do well in the arts and they shouldn’t be ignored. At Lambeth College, this is something that is strongly recognised and addressed by the Creative Arts and Media Department. The insistence of making sure your core academic skills are up to par is something I like about them because they know that a good career in any field must have the basic skills at a good quality and they constantly check up on it too.
Now I’m not a very political person but even I know that there seems to be an ongoing trend for budgets being slashed in arts sectors by the governments in both the US (please don’t get me started on Trump) and in the UK. Winston Churchill (who was a Conservative Party member) has been subject to a lot of misinformed memes when quoted about the arts. However, he did have an appreciation of the arts and in 1938 he said:
“The arts are essential to any complete national life. The State owes it to itself to sustain and encourage them… Ill fares the race which fails to salute the arts with the reverence and delight which are their due”
If he could recognise their importance, why can’t our Brexit leading government (of the same political party) do so? With us leaving the EU we’re going to need to be able to become more adept in different industries because we are unsure what the future will bring. This country needs to utilise the skills of people in all different fields to survive, not just the ‘academic’ and ‘logical’ people. Without creativity you wouldn’t have most of the products and gadgets you rely on.
So when you are picking your subjects for your next step up on the learning journey, don’t be seduced by the idea that there is nothing academic about the arts subjects. You’ll be amazed at how much history, maths and science play a role in our courses. But if you’re a staunch academic who doesn’t believe me, try watching a designer making a costume representing the medieval period to fit a size sixteen model but ensuring the fabrics are strong enough to withstand consistent wash and wear while light and flexible enough for easy movement. You might just be surprised.