By Bethsheba Achitsa
Published September 4, 2009
Though art may be in the school curriculum, it is not given much respect when placed alongside other subjects. It is under-emphasised and underestimated. Being both a form of communication and means of expression, art ought to permeate the whole curriculum because a society that neglects art is dangerously sick.
Readings in Primary Art Education, a book edited by Steve Herne, Sue Cox and Robert Watts, sheds light on why many people tend to have low opinions about the arts.
Though Art is regarded as an occupation which interests children, keeps them busy and sometimes mildly therapeutic, it is unfortunate that when it comes to the basic purpose of schooling–transmitting skills–art is normally regarded as ‘non serious.’ For it is thought to have only one function: to provide opportunities for children to express themselves.
Though the range of the curriculum may be diverse, not all the subjects are treated equally. Mathematics and English have become the titans of the primary curriculum, towering above all the other subjects and leaving subjects like history, geography, design, technology, art, music and Physical Education sidelined.
Despite the importance placed on art in primary schools, art has often been and is subservient to other aspects of the curriculum; more seriously, most art teachers lack an adequate philosophy of art education. Lack of structured guidance has meant that the arts are often witnessed as one-off affairs. Teachers lack the enthusiasm to teach the subject leading to students learning theories.
With many subjects in the national curriculum jostling for time and art being considered a foundation subject, it is always allocated time in the afternoon. As a result many children are usually tired in the afternoons so art becomes a relaxation, as they are never at their best when doing it.
Many people–art teachers, parents or any other person who should enable children see art in a different manner–have misconstrued facts that artists are born and not made thus proper art is only produced by proper artists. This notion and other restrictions placed upon young children has resulted into the withdrawal of children from participating in art activities as a result their sense of self artists withers in their emerging identity as learners in the school contexts.
One of the difficult issues to deal with is sex and sexuality. Obscene language presents a similar problem that is thought a more difficult issue with younger children. Thus most parental views are always conflicting and limiting especially with regard to work that may appear sexually explicit. And unless parents are ready to accommodate contemporary art practices art will still be faced by more resistance as parents may only approve the participation of their children in art projects that are deemed to be of success.
The book brings together a selection of the most significant and informative papers on primary art education. As a collection it captures key moments in the development and practice of the subject and will inform readers who wish to reflect on and evaluate art and design education in schools. The authors explore paradigms that have conceptualized and theorized the arts. Postscripts are included in some of the chapters which identify further readings and in some cases contain new commentaries from the original authors reflecting the shifts that have recently been observed in teaching the subject.
At a cost of US$40 per copy, this book is invaluable to reflective practitioners who wish to develop their art and design teaching, students embarking on education teaching courses as this will support their tutorial thinking and evaluation of their classroom practice and above all it may be of importance as a source of reference for researchers in the fields of art as it is to policy makers, artists and art teachers.