Last week the art world celebrated as Gove did a U-turn on his plans to introduce the English Baccalaureate Certificate, and announced that creative subjects are to be included in his new eight subject measure of GCSEs. His decision followed mounting pressure from school staff and cultural leaders up and down the country who had spoken out about the need to safeguard the future of cultural production and the creative economy.

Not everyone was in on the celebrations though. Many of those I spoke to outside of the visual arts sector, mainly family and friends, knew little to nothing of the proposals and – as with cuts to the arts – remained fairly indifferent once they did. So before we celebrate too hard, we perhaps need to take the time to ask ourselves some tough questions about why this is the case and why it was that our discipline came under threat in the first place.

For most people, art education at school revolves around the learning of skills. There are exceptions as with every example, but for decades most value has been attributed to the practices of painting, drawing, copying and life-like representation.

Few pupils at this stage learn of contemporary art, its range of media and of the creative process that might lead one day to producing it. As a result, many first recognise contemporary art through its portrayal in the media. Without this learning experience, contemporary art can seem alien, elitist, inaccessible and irrelevant. It is easy to see how its validation can make people feel as though they are having the wool pulled over their eyes – and easy to see why few would stand up for it.

Yet speak to anyone in the visual arts who has done a foundation course in art and design and they will likely tell you that it was the best educational year of their lives. For many it is a transformative year that expands their view of what art is and can be – and one that develops their ability to not just read but also to make contemporary art. For most, it enables them to think for themselves, to question, to look at and critically engage with the world and culture, to have the space to make ideas happen, and to discover their passions.

An education that does all of this should be available for all. And yet it is little known about, and offered primarily to those who found themselves to be good at representational drawing and painting at school.

Since completing a foundation course myself, I have often wondered why it is that aspects of it are not introduced in the school curriculum. If this were to be the case, I wonder how many more people – including those who rule themselves out of art because they ‘cannot draw’ – would find a new relevance in and empowerment from the subject? If art education was seen by many, rather than a few, as holding the aforementioned qualities, there might be more people willing to campaign when it is under threat. There might also be a more widespread engagement with and acceptance of contemporary art – and even less likelihood of it facing such attacks in the first place.

Maybe it’s because the art world likes its secrets. It likes to keep people guessing and it appears to pride itself on its ambiguity and its mystique. Perhaps it thinks that letting too many people in on the foundation trick will ruin its exclusivity.

The reality, though, is that art has come under attack twice in as many years, with cuts to university budgets and Arts Council England funding. But as with any strong industry, maybe this threat can be turned into an opportunity to look again at how art is taught in schools and how as a sector we can better communicate to the ‘outside world’ about our subject.

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