Challenging Assumptions: That Art cannot be taught?

Jordan, Peter and Hansen, Cordula (2008) Challenging Assumptions: That Art cannot be taught? [Conference Proceedings]


This paper challenges the assumption, prevalent in art practice, that “art cannot be taught”. This assumption has two sources – the first being that of the Bauhaus – the seminal twentieth century art school. In his founding manifesto of 1919, Walter Gropius claimed that ‘art cannot be taught’. He implied that whereas techniques in the utilisation of various media for creative purposes, and an understanding of previous ‘successful’ works of art could ‘lay the foundation’. The creative act itself he saw as intuitive and not learned.The second source arises from Modernist theory, as propounded by Clement Greenberg, the foremost American art critic of the mid-twentieth century. He maintained this emphasis on the intuitive capabilities of the practitioner, prizing the quality of originality above all else.In many art schools such authoritative views still govern the nature of art education. Students are largely left to their own devices, and teaching consists of critical assessment of their work. In our experience as art teachers (and previously, art students) such ‘tutorials’ are vague rather than insightful. This may reflect the discrepancy between the belief that art practice relies on intuition, and the attempt to 'transmit' the ability to make 'good' artworks to students.In the light of HETAC's current emphasis on critical rather than purely technical skills in Art and Design at Level 8, new demands are now placed on art teaching. These include the assessment of the thought processes involved in the making of art, and more emphasis on reflexivity and self-evaluation in art students.This paper gives examples of projects and modules which seek to facilitate the development of students' critical skills and their understanding of creative processes. If these skills can be developed, it does suggest that art processes can indeed be taught.

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