Anger is growing among Britain's creative sectors about Michael Gove's attempts to move the education curriculum back to what was taught in grammar schools in the 1950s. A survey by NSEAD this year has found that 50% of art and design teachers reported that the numbers taking art and design at Key Stage 4 had reduced and 57% said that funding for their departments had been cut.
Gove may regard art and design as inferior subjects but they are the bedrock of Britain's creative industries - one area in which Britain is still a world leader. The most successful company of recent times, Apple, is famously built not just on design but on the work of a British designer, Jonathan Ive. Will Gove's changes prevent the Jonathan Ive's of the future succeeding?
The critique of Gove's short-sighted approach is put brilliantly by the artists Bob and Roberta Smith on their website
and I copy their letter below:
Letter to Michael Gove MP ~ 25th July 2011
Feel free to copy this letter, and post or email it firstname.lastname@example.org
to Michael Gove
Rt Hon Michael Gove MP
Secretary of State for Education
Department for Education
Great Smith Street
London SW1P 3BT
In memory of Lucien Freud and Amy Winehouse who died this weekend.
Your destruction of Britain's ability to draw, design and sing.
Dear Michael Gove
Art, images, artifacts, songs; culture are the principal means by which Human beings define themselves.
Michael, a look at your tie and shirt combination in images of you online informs me you are not a visually minded person. You do not care how you look. Like many men of your generation you probably disdain the modern media's obsession with 'image'.
Look around you. What do you see? Everything is made. Everything has been fashioned by human beings who have considered all aspects of what they have made. Human beings consider the function in the system of commerce of what they make but at the same time their work creates images. Image is everything; visual worth, commercial value, moral virtue, authority and integrity.
From birth Human beings seek to understand, find their place in society and control their worlds. Through looking and understanding the child interprets the world. Give a child a piece of paper, a brush and some colour and you put them in control. Children's art is so appealing because they have no problem with being in control of images. As school progresses, poor teaching in some schools, impresses on the child that they are not in control. Not only are they not in control, but they are the most insignificant cog in a system of control in which they may never play an important part. From Galileo to Darwin, from Caravaggio to Amy Winehouse creativity is rebellion. Even Free Market economists recognise that wealth creation is based on questioning, innovation and improvement. Creativity is non-acceptance of the status quo, and rejection of the Academy.
Your initiative awards conformity and will cause stagnation. Ebacc creates orthodoxy where your un-evidenced view of what will be important to future generations is given an unnatural emphasis. Ebacc is more suited to a planned economy. The rebellious child, the innovator, the inventor, the engineer, the artist, the architect clings on to their prowess with paper, does art at school, goes to art school, studies design or enrols at Imperial College and contributes to the library of images and forms. The relationship between sheets of blank paper, pencils and innovation is undeniable. Art should be the centre of a National curriculum based on creative thinking. Pity the obedient child in a system of Education obsessed with ‘vocational skills'. He or she caves in. The child who becomes inhibited is inducted into the mediocre majority of the visually illiterate of which you, Michael Gove, (in your ill fitting shirt and unmatched tie) are a part. But even those who have creativity beaten out of them by educational systems of the type you advocate, need, enjoy and consume images. Ebacc least serves, what people in the media call ‘content provision'.
The ability to fill ‘new media' with images will determine who has power. Everything is made. Everything is visual. Art, yes but also design, money, numbers: even the ebb and flow of commerce has to be made visual. The English landscape is a creation of human design. In your language 'Brand Britain' is visual and cultural. In recent years China has opened 400 schools of art and design. Your Government has whittled Britain's once diverse, varied culture of schools of Art to just 12 institutions. This reduction is a disaster for British design, British commerce, British Art and Britain's ability to compete in the world. Does Britain's image mean nothing to you? Your reforms will cripple future British design. In advance of your reforms Roehampton University has withdrawn its courses training art and design teachers, this is disgraceful.
Take Art out of the National curriculum and belittle art in your distorted Ebacc system of categorisation of significant subjects and you will emasculate British Culture. Where are our future designers, architects, craftsmen, engineers, technicians, software designers and mathematicians going to come from if no one can draw? Your thinking and the thinking of your Government is provincial. You want to jump onto a 'Far Eastern' bandwagon that has already left town. The crazy dream of turning the UK economy into Singapore is not available to you. You should realise Britain is amazing. In cultural, visual, democratic, musical, design, product development and literary terms Britain is a giant. Art is now part of the language of freedom and democracy. Repressive, ideological regimes restrict Artists. You must realise that art is not a choice made at secondary school rather we are all cultural beings.
Your creation of Ebacc promotes modern languages. This is a good thing. On holiday in Italy you will have visited regional museums. The Italians cram their children into museums, they say, ‘look, this is Italy, this is your culture, your are Italian'. Human beings have culture. Your government's adoption of the last government's ‘Mandelsonian' Browne review with is desire to monetize the episteme and its assault on the Arts and Humanities coupled with, your inclination to remove Art from the national curriculum is deeply concerning. You will be opposed by all people interested in Art, design, free speech, freedom and democracy and probably also by a few bankers and investors interested in British products and exports who are concerned about the colour of their money. Michael Gove, ditch Ebacc. It is mistaken; Education is about sewing seeds not setting standards for the shape of bananas.
Bob and Roberta Smith - Artist