Art is History

on the newly scrapped Art History A-Level

Image: Carole Raddato

Image: Carole Raddato

My first experience of the art world was no great epiphany in an art gallery, just crayons and rough paper. Should my curiosity and enthusiasm have ended there?

With the recent scrapping of the Art History A-Level by AQA as an extension of Michael Gove’s educational ‘reforms’, the benefits of the arts are being perilously sidelined.

Of course, art has never been safe in academia: students across the arts have been warned for decades that they’re doomed to a life of unemployment. With only 56.3 percent of 2014 Art History graduates in full time employment within six months, it’s not so difficult to see why Gove might have had a point. No one can deny STEM students can generally expect higher pay and employment rates. Arts students hardly need reminding.

Yet does this justify abandoning art? Viewing an Art History A-Level as lesser than a Chemistry A-Level is ultimately a null point: the two develop completely different skills, and lead to completely different careers. Art History, and other ‘soft’ subjects require creativity, fine-tuned analytical skills and communication, preparing students for careers in the civil service, heritage, PR and multitudes of other sectors that STEM students would be unsuited for. Nor am I clutching at straws to justify myself: the Art History A-Level counts David Cameron amongst its alumni, while Michael Gove studied English Literature at Oxford. Art History students may not cure cancer, but Biology students don’t run for prime minister.

Scrapping the Art History A-Level exposed a hypocrisy in our culture. Famous writers and artists are viewed as the pinnacle of high society, yet those wishing to pursue those skills are actively discouraged in the education system. We pride ourselves on being the nation of Shakespeare while students of English Literature are forced to justify themselves at every turn. Visiting an art gallery for pleasure makes you worldly, while visiting for education makes others question your intelligence. To have “culture” – that is, films, media, theatre, literature – someone has to create it, and someone has to perpetuate it.

Abandoning the arts in education not only hinders the talents of millions of students, but hinders the development of our culture as a whole. Claiming that arts students have lesser career prospects does not negate the need for those careers: we need our art historians in business, media and politics just as much as we need scientists in labs. After all, a society of scientists alone would not have culture outside of a petri dish.

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