Comment on ‘Knowledge: a dirty word in arts education?

‘Education strikes a bargain with learners; trading innocence for experience. So, let’s not be in doubt: schools do kill a kind of creativity, but rather than ask how we can prevent this, perhaps we should be asking whether the creativity that they offer in its stead is more empowering, more liberating, more generous, more valuable.  Designing our curricula and classrooms for what children might be able to do next, rather than what they do now does force a compromise. A knowledge-based art classroom with increased emphasis on technical discipline requires schools to be less immediately demonstrative of the value of free expression, but, ultimately provides learners with greater ability to be in command of their desire to express themselves’.

Enjoyed Mark Londesborough’s post on the RSA blogs regarding arts education and knowledge. I wondered if the polarisation of knowledge and skills really applies to the arts, when we have a form of embodied knowledge that could be the meeting point of skills and knowledge. Martin Fautley was written about this debate in music regularly (for example, see this British Music Education Journal Editorial). Knowledge in arts might be exclusively construed to be factual knowledge, or knowledge of a canon of works. I do teach a selection from a musical canon, but this feels more emergent than historical: whilst I have no choice in what the set works might be for the syllabus I am teaching at certain age groups, the curriculum for those not pursuing a public examination can be peppered with musical works from my own emergent canon. Some might consider their curriculum to be more emergent in terms of how it responds to the students, and to take into account local concerns and the interests of their students. This emerging knowledge is a form of embodied knowledge.

Mark also hints at the purpose of an arts education: is it a form of training in the art form (do we start to call it training when a student is pursuing a course that might gain their access to an arts profession?), or an education through the arts (to facilitate the development of self-expression, creativity and communication) or an education in the arts (something Anne Bamford has written about more eloquently here).

We have an opportunity to demonstrate and articulate how arts education offers a trajectory through a knowledge/skills debate, and to champion the diversity and idiosyncratic arts curricula that exist in difference schools and phases. I think we can embrace the embodied knowledge that is present in all art forms (knowledge of how to apply a particular paint to a canvas, how to make a strong movement in a particular dance, how to capture the style of Argentinian tango etc.), and not feel we exclusively deal in skills. We have every right to be an essential component of a knowledge-rich curriculum, not only for the cultural capital we bring through engagement with an artistic canon (whether past or present), but also for the embodied knowledge of artistic skills that enable students to express and articulate their sense of the world.

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