Around this time of the year, and every year, I am involved in an advertising campaign. My third-year pupils (aged 14-15) are busy pondering their exam programme choices. It is the point where pupils have to choose which subjects they will continue to study to exam level at the end of their Dutch secondary education. Pupils in the Netherlands take a still very broad collection of subjects through to the age of 18, so you would think that there would be plenty of scope to choose an arts subject. This is indeed the case, virtually every student could find the space for art in their timetable. So why the need for an advertising campaign to push my subject forward and encourage it to be chosen?
It is an effort to win hearts and minds of those in the classroom (the children themselves) and those beyond (parents and colleagues). It is, broadly speaking, a two-pronged attack. Firstly, and perhaps more obviously, there are the children would have particularly strong and well-developed abilities where just maybe the studying of an arts related subject may help them in their route into further education and ultimately a career. In these cases, I don’t have to do too much, they enjoy the subject, they want to extend themselves and they want to see just how far that they can push themselves.
The second group however, potentially a much larger group, is a much harder sell. They too may well have a high level of artistic ability and interest. However, somewhere, even at the age of fifteen a decision has already been made that an arts subject is a wasted and unnecessary choice on the railroad to their future and prestigious career. The idea that everything has to be in the service of their future university study and career is a deep-seated one. It is a perspective that is undoubtedly pushed by over cautious parents wanting the ‘best’ for their children. But it is also reinforced all too often by the general advice that is consciously or unconsciously given at school. This is the playing-field for the art department’s advertising campaign.
To this group of pupils my message is normally pretty straight forward to deliver; it is perfectly acceptable to choose a subject to follow for three years simply because you like and enjoy it.It might give you a good feeling, it offers a different perspectives and activities to many other subjects on the timetable, it broadens you view of the world, it combines theory, practical, creativity, design, social issues, history and so much more.
Would I dare to add to this that it can increase your sense of well-being? Well maybe, and I wouldn’t be alone in doing this:
It is ironic that the views that are presented in this article (that I whole-heartedly support) run counter to the difficulties experienced in the arts, be that the pressures creative subjects are under within educational institutions or funding towards our broader arts organisations across society.
The arts as a wide field of creativity offers so much to those directly involved as artistic practitioners, but infinitely more to the broader public. Those of us involved at all levels of the cultural world shouldn’t be shy in pushing our agenda, it is a constructive and at fulfilling one.
Two further articles exploring this area: