All the way through my schooling, optional creative subjects were deemed inferior to the core curriculum. I skipped double maths to work on music compositions, scheduled my guitar lessons to coincide with physics and avoided lunchtime trigonometry revision by camping out in the art room. Each time, I was given a verbal scolding for wasting time on something that was not worth its ink on my exam certificate.
I carried on regardless because art mattered to me. It still matters to me now. If I’m waiting for a train, I’ll origami a forgotten scrap of paper from my handbag. If I’m shampooing my hair, I’ll join the dots of steam on the cubicle door to make an image. If I’m feeling antsy while on hold on the phone, I’ll doodle or tap out a beat with a pen. Art is there, somewhere, in almost every part of my life.
I’m not alone in believing art is crucial in education. Nor am I alone in recognising its place in history, identity and modern politics.
In 2011, Bob and Roberta Smith (the creative pseudonym of Patrick Brill) kicked back against former Education Minister Michael Gove’s calls to remove art from the syllabus. The artist’s upcoming feature film, Art Party, documents his protest against the sterilisation of the curriculum in a visual and, unsurprisingly, creative way.
This may seem a controversial statement, but I think that the arts are as critical as respected, centralised subjects. Art gives so much more than number-crunching alone could provide. It is an open door to expression, both of the self and others. It allows people to comprehend weighty things that trouble the world and convey them visually, audibly or physically. For many, art is a gateway for releasing anxiety, for voicing an opinion or simply taking time out.
An education in art is an education in life. The trials and errors of colour mixing and balancing compositions, the degree with which artistic effects are scrutinised, the rethinking and reimagining of shapes or approaches to reach an end goal – all of these are life lessons that walk with you long after you leave the art room.
If it wasn’t for art in school, I don’t know where I’d be now. It was my favourite subject, but also my hobby, my retreat and my social. Rejecting the typical high-achiever route of medicine or accountancy, I had space to see that what matters to me also matters to society.
Without creative thinkers, artists, musicians and wordsmiths, everything we know would crumble to pieces. Sure, you can add numbers up, but can a number show emotion, offer commentary or provide an alternative perspective? I don’t think so. Then again, I did skip maths class.