In response to the government announcement, July 2021, of 50% cuts to arts subjects at higher education level, Paula Orrell the Director of Contemporary Visual Arts Network commented “They (government) need to find an economic solution to empower the future education choices of the next generation rather than continuing to eradicate arts throughout the education system, which has systematically happened from primary to now higher education”.
At last they have come clean. After years of continuous erosion of arts funding the present government, under the banner of the Covid pandemic, has informed us that arts courses in higher education in the UK “are not among its strategic priorities”. In his letter to the Office for Students on 20.07.2021, Gavin Williamson said that they “should re-prioritise funding towards the provision of high-cost, high-value subjects.“ The words suggest that a lower value is placed on arts courses. At least we know where we stand, there is no obfuscating ere. In the circumstances, this may seem rational but, as always, there is a lack of understanding of that most precious value of arts in society: that of the intellectual rigour that the act of making, participating in and studying the arts, can engender. This is usually under-estimated and often unconsidered. The elements of art education that are intrinsic to all subjects chiefly concern the thought processes. A flexible approach to problem solving developed through the processes and act of making, in all art forms, requires an enquiring and analytical mind that can employ practical skills with vision and imagination, to manifest an outcome.
If thinking skills are radically developed from a cohesive, connected and inter-related base, they will be appropriate to all subjects in the learning trajectory. We need to engage everyone in creative thinking in order to tackle the challenges the future will present. If we want to change the way we work and live and make a fairer, better and sustainable world, then surely the clues are there and that this is the moment that we need to act, but we cannot do this without a culture of thinking.
I believe that the arts are an essential component in a healthy society. We belittle, at our peril, the worth of the intellectual development gained from including the arts on an equal footing, from primary to higher, in the education system forming an inclusive and coherent approach to learning.
Former Lecturer in Visual Studies
University of Greenwich