1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Art Teaching

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search

ART TEACHING. It is the tendency of all departments of the human mind to outgrow their original limits. Traditions of teaching are long-lived, especially in art, and new ideas only slowly displace the old, so that art teaching as a whole is seldom abreast of the ideas and practice of the more advanced artists. The old academic system adapted to the methods and aims in art in the 18th century, which has been carried on in the principal art schools of Great Britain with but slight changes of method, consisted chiefly of a course of drawing from casts of antique statues in outline, and in light and shade without backgrounds, of anatomical drawings, perspective, and drawing and painting from the living model. Such a training seems to be more or less a response to Lessing’s definition of painting as “the imitation of solid bodies upon a plane surface.” It seems to have been influenced more by the sculptor’s art than any other. Indeed, the academic teaching from the time of the Italian Renaissance was no doubt principally derived from the study of antique sculpture; the proportions of the figure, the style, pose, and sentiment being all taken from Graeco-Roman and Roman sculptures, discovered so abundantly in Italy from the 16th century onwards. As British ideas of art were principally derived from Italy, British academics endeavoured to follow the methods of teaching in vogue there in later times, and so the art student in Great Britain has had his intention and efforts directed almost exclusively to the representations of the abstract human form in abstract relief. Traditions in art, however, may sometimes prove helpful and beneficial, and preservative of beauty and character, as in the case of certain decorative and constructive arts and handicrafts in common use, such as those of the rural waggon-maker and wheelwright, and horse-harness maker.

Some schools of painting, sculpture and architecture have preserved fine and noble traditions which yet allowed for individuality. Such traditions may be said to have been characteristic of the art of the middle ages. It often happens, too, when many streams of artistic influence meet, there may be a certain domination or ascendancy of the traditions of one art over the others, which is injurious in its effects on those arts and diverts them from their true path. The domination of individualistic painting and sculpture over the arts of design during the last century or two is a case in point.

With the awakening of interest in industrial art—sharply separated by pedantic classification from fine art—which began in England about the middle of the 19th century, schools of design were established which included more varied studies. Even as early as 1836 a government grant was made towards the opening of public galleries and the establishment of a normal school of design with a museum and lectures, and in 1837 the first school of design was opened at Somerset House. In 1840 grants were made to establish schools of the same kind in provincial towns, such as Manchester, Birmingham, Glasgow, Leeds and Paisley. The names of G. Wallis in 1847, and Ambrose Poynter in 1850, are associated with schemes of art instruction adopted in the government art schools, and the year 1851, the year of the Great Exhibition, was also marked by the first public exhibition of students’ works, and the first institution of prizes and scholarships. In 1852 “the Department of Practical Art” was constituted, and a museum of objects collected at Marlborough House which afterwards formed the nucleus of the future museum at South Kensington. In 1853 “the Department of Science and Art” was established, and in 1857, under the auspices of Henry Cole, the offices of the department and the National Art Training School were removed from Marlborough House to South Kensington. Classes for instruction in various crafts had been carried on both at Somerset House and Marlborough House, and the whole object of the government schools of design was to give an artistic training to the designer and craftsman, so that he could carry back to his trade or craft improved taste and skill. The schools, however, became largely filled by students of another type—leisured amateurs who sought to acquire some artistic accomplishment, and even in the case of genuine designers and craftsmen who developed pictorial skill in their studies, the attraction and superior social distinction and possibility of superior commercial value accruing to the career of a painter of easel pictures diverted the schools from their original purpose.

For some time after the removal to South Kensington, during the progress of the new buildings, and under the direction of Godfrey Sykes and F. W. Moody, practical decorative work both in modelling and painting was carried out in the National Art Training School; but on the completion of these works, the school relapsed into a more or less academic school on the ordinary lines, and was regarded chiefly as a school for the training of art teachers and masters who were required to pass through certain stereotyped courses and execute a certain series of drawings in order to obtain their certificates. Thus model-drawing, freehand outline, plant-drawing in outline, outline from the cast, light and shade from the cast, drawing of the antique figure, still life, anatomical drawings, drawing and painting from the life, ornamental design, historic studies of ornament, perspective and geometry, were all taken up in a cut-and-dried way, as isolated studies, and with a view solely to obtaining the certificate or passing an examination. This theoretic kind of training, though still in force, and though it enabled the department to turn out certificated teachers for the schools of the country of a certain standard, and to give to students a general theoretic idea of art, has been found wanting, since, in practice, when the student in design leaves his school and desires to take up practical work as a designer or craftsman, he requires special knowledge, and specialized skill in design for his work to be of use; and though he may be able to impart to others what he himself has laboriously acquired, the theoretic and general character of his training proves of little or no use, face to face with the ever shifting and changing demands of the modern manufacturer and the modern market.

A growing conviction of the inadequacy of the schools of the Science and Art Department (now the Board of Education), considered as training grounds for practical designers and craftsmen, led to the establishment of new technical schools in the principal towns of Great Britain. The circumstance of certain large sums, diverted from their original purpose of compensation to brewers, being available for educational purposes and at the disposal of the county councils and municipal bodies, provided the means for the building and equipment of these new technical schools, which in many cases are under the same roof as the art school in the provincial towns, and, since the Education Act of 1902, are generally rate-supported. The art schools formerly managed by private committees and supported by private donors, assisted by the government grants, are now, in the principal industrial towns of Great Britain, taken over by the municipality. Birmingham is singularly well organized in this respect, and its art school has long held a leading position. The school is well housed in a new building with class-rooms with every appliance, not only for the drawing, designing and modelling side, but also for the practice of artistic handicrafts such as metal repoussé, enamelling, wood-carving, embroidery, &c. The municipality have also established a jewelry school, so as to associate the practical study of art with local industry. Manchester and other cities are also equipped with well-organized art schools.

The important change involved in the incorporation of the Science and Art Department with the Board of Education also led to a reorganization of the Royal College of Art. A special council of advice on art matters was appointed, consisting of representatives of painting, sculpture, architecture and design, who deal with the Royal College of Art, and appoint the professors who control the teaching in the classes for architecture, design and handicraft, decorative painting and sculpture, modelling and carving. The council decide upon the curriculum, and examine and criticize the work of the college from time to time. They also advise the board in regard to the syllabus issued to the art schools of the country, and act as referees in regard to purchases for the museum.

Of other institutions for the teaching of art, the following may be named: The Royal Drawing Society of Great Britain and Ireland, which was formed principally to promote the teaching of drawing in schools as a means of education. The system therein adopted differs from the ordinary drawing courses, and favours the use of the brush. Brushwork has generally been adopted for elementary work, too, by London County Council teachers, drawing being now a compulsory subject. Remarkable results have been obtained by the Alma Road Council schools in the teaching of boys from eight to twelve by giving them spaces to fill with given forms—leaf shapes—from which patterns are constructed to fill the spaces, brush and water-colour being the means employed. At the Royal Female School of Art in Queen Square, London, classes in drawing and painting from life are held, and decorative design is also studied. There are also the Royal School of Art Needlework and the School of Art Wood-carving, all aided by the London County Council. The City and Guilds of London Institute has two departments for what is termed “applied” art, one at the South London School of Technical Art, and the other at the Art Department in the Technical College, Finsbury. The Slade School of Drawing, Painting and Sculpture, University College, Gower Street, confines itself to drawing and painting from the antique and life, and exercise in pictorial composition. There are also lectures on anatomy and perspective. The Slade professorships at Oxford and Cambridge universities are concerned with the teaching and literature of art, but they do not concern themselves with the practice. There are also, in addition to the schools of art named and those in connexion with the Board of Education and the London County Council in the various districts of London, many and various private clubs and schools, such as the Langham and “Heatherley’s,” chiefly concerned in encouraging drawing and painting from the life, and for the study of art from the pictorial point of view, or for the preparation of candidates for the Royal Academy or other schools. The polytechnics and technical institutes also provide instruction in a great variety of artistic crafts.

A general survey, therefore, of the various institutions which are established for the teaching of art in Great Britain gives the impression that the study of art is not neglected, although, perhaps, further inquiry might show that, compared with the great educational establishments, the proportion is not excessive. Now that the Education Act 1902 has given the county councils control of elementary and secondary education and charged them with the task of promoting the co-ordination of all forms of education in consultation with the Board of Education, it is probable that an elementary scholar who shows artistic ability will be enabled to pass on from the elementary classes in one school to the higher art and technical schools, secondary and advanced, without retracing his steps, thus escaping the depression of going over old ground.

The general movement of revival of interest in the arts of decorative design and the allied handicrafts, with the desire to re-establish their influence in art-teaching, has been due to many causes, among which the work of the Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society may count as important. From the leading members of this body the London County Council Technical Educational Board, when it was face to face with the problem of organizing its new schools and its technical classes, sought advice and aid. Success has attended their schools, especially the Central School of Arts and Crafts at Morley Hall, Regent Street. The object of the school is to provide the craftsman in the various branches of decorative design with such means of improving his taste and skill as the workshop does not afford. It does not concern itself with the amateur or with theoretic drawing. The main difference in principle adopted in this school in the teaching of design is the absence of teaching design apart from handicraft. It is considered that a craftsman thoroughly acquainted with the natural capacities of his material and strictly understanding the conditions of his work, would be able, if he had any feeling or invention, to design appropriately in that material, and no designing can be good apart from a knowledge of the material in which it is intended to be carried out. It should be remembered, too, that graphic skill in representing the appearances of natural objects is one sort of skill, and the executive skill of the craftsman in working out his design, say in wood or metal, is quite another. It follows that the works of drawing or design made by the craftsman would be of quite a different character from a pictorial drawing, and might be quite simple and abstract, while clear and accurate. The training for the pictorial artist and for the craftsman would, therefore, naturally be different.

The character of the art-teaching adopted in any country must of course depend upon the dominant conception of art and its function and purpose. If we regard it as an idle accomplishment for the leisured few, its methods will be amateurish and superficial. If we regard art as an important factor in education, as a language of the intelligence, as an indispensable companion to literature, we shall favour systematic study and a training in the power of direct expression by means of line. We shall value the symbolic drawing of early civilizations like the Egyptian, and symbolic art generally, and in the history of decorative art we shall find the true accompaniment and illustration of human history itself. From this point of view we shall value the acquisition of the power of drawing for the purpose of presenting and explaining the facts and forms of nature. Drawing will be the most direct means at the command of the teacher to explain, to expound, to demonstrate where mere words are not sufficiently definite or explicit. Drawing in this sense is taking a more important place in education, especially in primary education, though there is no need for it to stop there, and one feels it may be destined to take a more important position both as a training for the eye and hand and an aid to the teacher. Then, again, we may regard art more from its social aspect as an essential accompaniment of human life, not only for its illustrative and depicting powers, but also and no less for its pleasure-giving properties, its power of awakening and stimulating the observation and sympathy with the moods of nature, its power of touching the emotions, and above all of appealing to our sense of beauty. We shall regard the study of art from this point of view as the greatest civilizer, the most permeating of social and human forces. Such ideas as these, shared no doubt by all who take pleasure and interest in art, or feel it to be an important element in their lives, are crossed and often obscured by a multitude of mundane considerations, and it is probably out of the struggle for ascendancy between these that our systems of art teaching are evolved. There is the demand of the right to live on the part of the artist and the teacher of art. There is the demand on the part of the manufacturer and salesman for such art as will help him to dispose of his goods. In the present commercial rivalry between nations this latter demand is brought into prominent relief, and art is apt to be made a minister, or perhaps a slave to the market. These are but accidental relationships with art. All who care for art value it as a means of expression, and for the pleasure and beauty it infuses into all it touches, or as essential and inseparable from life itself. Seeing then the importance of art from any point of view, individual, social, commercial, intellectual, emotional, economic, it should be important to us in our systems of art-teaching not to lose sight of the end in arranging the means—not to allow our teaching to be dominated by either dilettantism or commercialism, neither to be feeble for want of technical skill, nor to sacrifice everything to technique. The true object of art-teaching is very much like that of all education—to inform the mind, while you give skill to the hand—not to impose certain rigid rules, or fixed recipes and methods of work, but while giving instruction in definite methods and the use of materials, to allow for the individual development of the student and enable him to acquire the power to express himself through different media without forgetting the grammar and alphabet of design. Practice may vary, but principles remain, and there is a certain logic in art, as well as in reasoning. All art is conditioned in the mode of its expression by its material, and even the most individual kind of art has a convention of its own by the very necessities and means of its existence. Methods of expression, conventions alter as each artist, each age seeks some new interpretation of nature and the imagination—the well-springs of artistic life, and from these reviving streams continually flow new harmonies, new inventions and recombinations, taking form and colour according to the temperaments which give them birth.  (W. Cr.)