Society views art as recreational, a hobbyhorse for those who don’t take life seriously, those lacking capacity to train for ‘worthy’ careers, or those so rich money doesn’t factor in their decisions. In academia, art has often been labeled a ‘labor of love’, meaning that whoever engages in this field does so for reasons other than economic gain. Because societal perceptions set the tone for educational objectives, the aforementioned not only dictates the value attached to art education, it’s the bedrock for governmental policies. This ongoing dilemma is the focus of the recent anthology Debates in Art and Design Education, edited by Nicholas Addison and Lesly Burgess.
An anthological analysis by art education professionals, the book juxtaposes the different ideas in carefully organized sections and chapters. Though every argument is distinct from the other, the overall theme seeks to enlighten policymakers. The authors speak candidly on the implications of societal biases on art education. Theirs is a collision course between powerful opposing forces. Their language is firm and defensive.
Chapter two, “The Hijacking of Creativity: The Dilemma of Contemporary Art Education”, makes the point that “globalisation is forcing governments to harness education for competitive ends as capitalism once again begins to morph into yet another form causing instability and market jitters.” Essentially, governments set up policies to steer nations in paths of economic profit. However, legislators as products of society, always exhibit attitudes of their representative cultures. Thus, policies on education reflect societal attitudes towards specific disciplines. Thus, “public education is made a state apparatus to steer the institution towards a direction that would satisfy industry and the job market” (p23).
The view of the authors is that international business behaviors influence educational goals of individual countries. World Bank, for instance, has an initiative called “Education for the Knowledge Economy (EKE)”. It’s tailored to “cultivate skilled human capital so developing countries could compete in the global arena”. Quality is a simple comparison of different educational systems. Art education is required to prove its worth as a condition for funding, where ‘worth’ is the measure of direct economic returns. That’s strange in the sense that not all courses listed under instructive curriculum are quantifiable on such scales. Every piece of literature; every electronic gadget, and every classroom that provides an environment for teaching all other educational disciplines is a product of art, but evaluators of educational programs seem blind to such reality. When powerful bodies, like World Bank, dictate educational strategies for poor countries, it kills initiative and prevents them from developing homegrown solutions for their unique situations. That’s an attempt to unify dissimilar cultural and academic goals of different demographics.
Contrasted to Math and the Sciences, Art studies occupy the lowest rungs. In Britain and the united states, art departments are allocated diminutive budgets. What’s more, policymakers constantly threaten to sever arts from mainstream academic programs. To ensure their unit is not rendered obsolete, art educators are forced to work harder than their peers in other departments. Besides their normal workload, art teachers have the extra burden of fighting to preserve arts among mainstream programs. It’s a case of capitalism forcing nations to apply jungle rules to regulate educational programs.
Ludocapitalism is a word coined by the authors to describe the resulting scenario where artists form support networks. “The networker is delivered from direct surveillance and paralysing alienation… the worker becomes the manager of his or her own self-gratifying activity, that is, as long as that activity translates at some point into a valuable economic exchange; otherwise you are asked to leave the symbiotic network.” In other words, educators in art departments constantly worry about losing their jobs. Unless they can reverse the current societal drift their careers are in jeopardy.
Students venturing into the arts must reorient themselves to the trending attitudes. Design education, with emphasis on skillsets that incorporate digitalized technologies is the ideal. Applications like Photoshop, InDesign, Dreamweaver, architectural and video gaming software are a must-learn for aspiring artists. Here, another terminology—edutainment— exemplifies the symbiotic relationships between art and technology.
The title, Debates in Art and Design Education, could be misleading as a plot to rescue arts education from extinction. It doesn’t sound like the SOS it’s supposed to be. The extensive use of technical jargon doesn’t help either. If a book of this nature doesn’t easily convey its critical theme, it tells a skeptical society that art professionals aren’t able to defend their case. That said, the book raises pertinent issues on difficulties facing art education. Although it’s written for policy makers, the wider society could benefit by grasping underlined challenges. For parents and their school-going children with an interest in art studies, the book provides vital data. I highly recommend the book.