Following up on Alex Massoura’s review of the first day of The University of Cambridge Graduate Conference on Art Education: From Antiquity to Present, here is a brief account on the numerous and eclectic papers given on the second day, Friday 13th May 2011.
Sarah Salomon started the day by complicating the conventional picture of art education in ancien régime France, describing the political, economical and aesthetic conditions that brought to the development of non-governmental art schools alternative to the Parisian Académie Royale. The Académie de Saint-Luc flourished as a powerful alternative: it was financially backed by the influential guild of Saint-Luc and oriented towards a training that focused on drawing and painting from the model, rather than on the study of historical painting.
Jocelyn Anderson broadened the scope of the theme of ‘art and education’ by examining two British country houses that, between late eighteenth- and early-nineteenth-century, were by their owners re-invented not just as tourist destinations, able to welcome a growing number of genteel visitors, but as sites of education, through the publication of sophisticated guide books. Those guides included texts describing the works on display, as well as essays addressing broader topics bearing a clear pedagogical intent.
Halona Norton-Westbrook gave an insightful paper on the history of curators courses in early twentieth century, looking at the training imparted at the Harvard’s ‘Museum Course’ by Paul Sachs and the one developed at a similar time at the Courtauld Institute of Art. Interestingly, the paper referred to a speech delivered in the first decade of the twentieth-century in which Frederick Lucas, the president of the American Association of Museums, asserted his disbelief that individuals can be taught to be curators. Such position clearly mirrors the one reiterated within the art school throughout the last century, and it is not surprising that most curators of the time, at least in the USA, were initially trained as artists.
Colin Cavendish-Jones tackled the subject of art education from another angle, looking at Oscar Wilde’s American tour of lectures on art and aesthetics, delivered throughout 1882 all over the USA and Canada. Despite the fact that, at the time, Wilde’s presentation skills seemed to lack the verve of his conversational artistry, his persona generated a much stronger response than his lectures. While his theories and ideas on the establishment of art schools attached to museum remained unfulfilled and fell into oblivion, he became a sudden celebrity, publishing as many as 98 interviews in newspapers and periodicals during his tour.
Sam Rose gave a fascinating paper on the aesthetic education of Roger Fry, dwelling between the conception of art as a channel for aesthetic emotions - travelling from the artist to the viewer - and the rejection of an emphatic approach to art in favour of a disinterested aesthetic vision. If the emphasis on aesthetic perception remained the dominating force of his position, under the influence of theories of scientific evolution and historical formalism his aesthetic project shifted from a more personal approach to a model of aesthetic education that could be accessible for everyone. Nevertheless, Rose’s careful reading of Roger Fry’s latest work shows that the development of his position was less clear-cut than is often acknowledged.
The second keynote address of the conference came from Christopher Frayling, who gave a generous overview of the history of the Royal College of Art, where he worked for some thirty-five years as tutor, Professor of Cultural History, Pro-Rector and finally Rector, leaving the institution in 2009. His paper was full of inspiring anecdotes and precious pieces of information. Particularly inspiring to me was to hear about Sylvia Pankhurst’s paintings and writing on the condition of women workers, which she developed after graduating from the Royal College of Art, where she studied between 1904 and 1906. See some of the works realised as part of this project.
Frayling’s reading of the history of art schools as a transition from the model of the academy, to a Bauhaus-inspired format, up to a contemporary type defined as ‘Institutionalised avant-garde’, echoes Thierry de Duve’s influential analysis of such a history. De Duve’s text ‘When Form Has Become Attitude - And Beyond’, first published in English in 1994 as part of a collection of texts on issues of Fine Art Education, has already proved pivotal in at least two important published researches on the history of higher art education: Howard Singerman’s Art Subjects: Making Artists in the American University (1999), and Lisa Tickner’s Hornsey 1966: The Art School Revolution (2008).
Elizabeth Melanson took the concept of art education back to the tradition of the French Salon, exploring the practice of patronage of the influential Countess Elisabeth Greffulhe between 1900 and 1914. Her work included the organisation of numerous exhibitions of modernist art in Paris, New York and London, functioning as a link between two epochs and two models: the one of a eighteenth-century Salon lady and the one of a modern, twentieth-century fundraiser. Melanson discusses Countess Greffulh’s activities of a cultural educator as strategic actions geared towards political intents. Despite such an incredibly busy life, the countess still managed to find the time for what can be considered a vast vanity project: sitting for an extraordinary number of portraits by contemporary painters and photographers.
Carl-Henrik Bjerstrom’s paper investigated the role of propaganda and public education in Spain under the Second Republic, between 1936 and 1939. Bjerstrom identified and discussed two meaning relating to the notion of ‘popular education’: the ambition of broadening public reach through forms of cultural participation; and the growing role of mass media in the establishment of mass democracy. Through fascinating examples of educational material and posters, the paper explored the way in which the government harnessed the visual expression of the Spanish Communist movement, transforming it into a mass organisation.
The last paper, by Sabrina Carletti, tacked childhood education, discussing the ‘Reggio Emila Model’. The project was developed in the city of Reggio Emila, in the aftermath of World War II, by a highly driven primary school teacher: Loris Malaguzzi. In the conception of his school for young children, Malaguzzi was at least partially influenced by Jean Piaget’s theories on children’s cognitive development and the development of children’s conception of space. The ‘Reggio Emila Model’, relying on specific architectural models and structures, aims at fostering an experience of space as a site crossed by social and relational vectors, enabling processes of learning that contrast with the ones shaped by modern urban architecture.
I truly enjoyed the breath of the papers presented, addressing art education beyond the academic world, and left the conference buzzing with ideas and inspiration for my own research!