Reviewing the Review – Part Two
In a recent review of the National Arts Curriculum Dr Donnelly and Professor Wiltshire argue that students in the arts should,
“Spend more time understanding great works of art rather than creating their own paintings, plays and songs.”
They argue that arts education has become too highly focused on “making” with too little focus on “responding”. I agree categorically. I think that we should also learn how to play soccer by reading books about it and learn how to cook by watching Masterchef. I believe we should also learn how to swim through researching it on the internet. Above all else, we should respond – as much as possible – we should write essays on plays, and complete multiple choice exams on which instruments are used in Mozart’s Adante Di Molto, and dissect and scrutinize and critique and analyse and synthesize and suck every bit of life out of that art stuff. We don’t need to be able to do it. We just need to be able to explain how others did it. Because understanding how someone else did it is the foundation of being able to do it. Right?
I mean think of it! Creative subjects where you are asked to create. Arts subjects where you can actually become an artist. Children aren’t able to create yet. What are these children’s qualifications as art makers anyway? Surely they have to study for years before they start spitting out plays and songs and dances?
Well, not really. No. Not at all, in fact.
It’s kind of something we did before we even had schools.
To understand loosely the three components of the creative process, indulge me just a moment. The cycle of creation starts with forming [artists]. These people choreograph, compose, direct, write and design. Secondly are presenting [artists]. These people are dancers, musicians, actors and the like. Finally, we have responding [artists]. These people view the works of the previous two groups through creative lenses in order to understand, evaluate and innovate. Now in many “creatives” all of these skills can be found in the one person – I know they are amazing aren’t they? They come up with an idea, realise it in action and then improve it and then go back to the drawing board or beginning of the creative process. It is an endless cycle of improvement that goes around and around and it never stops – unless you circumvent it by placing an artifice on it – like over-analysis. All of these areas need to be given equal importance if they are to work. They are a balanced creative eco system. A cyclical chain. Roughly one third each- forming, presenting, responding. Which is what the national curriculum did.
The importance of understanding great work is not lost on any artist.But unfortunately you can only really understand how amazing these “great artists” are by working in the same field that they have, and recognising the complexities, nuances and challenges of artistic work from both the inside and the outside.
It is here that you realize that music is not just a cognitive function of time signatures to be understood cognitively but also a spiritual, emotional, social, interpersonal, intrapersonal and physical act. It can be “understood” on a great many levels in accordance with the multiplicity of learning styles and preferences we have.
Quite simply, there are lots of ways of learning – this is well known so why are we arguing for a return to a style of learning that favours going back to the same quadrant of our brain yet again at the expense of the other ¾ of our brain, our hearts, our bodies, our souls and our world.
If you put me in charge of the review, I may have accidentally preferenced “making” more heavily. That comes from my personal preference and learning style. I believe I have always learned more from the experience of making and presenting than of viewing the works of others. I would speculate that this review has been conducted by people with a responding [or reviewing bias]. Presumably, that’s why they are identified as experts in doing the job they are doing- responding.
It’s a difficult gig because what it requires them to do is understand the broadest needs of the community, the field, the process of that field and the delicate balance that they are advising on. It also requires them to withhold their own orientations and preferences from their recommendations. Underpinning any educational or pedagogical piece of advice must be an understanding that not everyone is made in our mold and that the creation of future knowledge, skill and understanding is paramount– I hope this proves to be the case.