Today it has been confirmed that by 2018, Art History A Level will be dropped by AQA following on from Michael Gove’s curriculum changes. The reasoning behind this seems to alternate between Art History being either ‘too soft’ or ‘too complex’ for students to achieve good results. Neither holds a particularly solid answer.
Art History, for me, turned out to be a complete revelation at A Level. I loathed going to art galleries and museums during my teenage years, groaning inwardly (and outwardly) whenever my parents announced we would be taking a cultural excursion to see Van Gogh at the Tate. For sixth form, however, I chose Art History as my final subject selection on a complete whim as, ‘I was good at writing’. I decided that, worst case scenario, I could drop it after AS but hopefully still get a decent mark. What was there to lose? Instead, that one impulsive decision turned out to be a life changing one. I discovered I loved art and all its forms, becoming fascinated by the beauty of Renaissance, the bizarre nature of Surrealism and the political context of Dada. The theory that surrounded these numerous art movements and artists was staggering and addictive. By my last year of school I had swapped my ambition of studying English at university to reading Art History instead. Never have I made such an excellent decision.
Seven years later, I am still completely hooked. I have completed my undergraduate degree and also a Masters in Modern and Contemporary Art Theory. I have even been contemplating going on to do a PhD. Furthermore, I am currently in the middle of creating a business which focuses on the necessity and positivity of Art History in schools and the community. Providing workshops and classes which use Art History as a tool to engage people of all ages with the culture and issues surrounding them.
A vast amount of people, upon hearing the the term ‘Art History’, instantly pull a face and imagine either a gormless faced youth looking at pictures or a boring and borderline senile old man, dressed in a tweed jacket. Few seem to realise that Art History actually encompasses an array of subjects, whilst also shedding light and giving expression to a huge amount of people. Politics, Philosophy, History, English, Science, Religion. These are all subjects which are explored in Art History and the context in which they are delivered is visual, subjective and open for debate. It is a subject which continuously evolves and changes and it is an exciting world to be caught up in.
When the final Art History exam concludes in 2018, it will be a sad moment and students will be all the poorer for this lack of choice. Less inclined to engage in the fascinating culture, history and theory that surrounds them; unaware of the opportunities and benefits found within the cultural sector. It will be increasingly difficult to capture people’s interest in such a sector. However, although dire, it is not all doom and gloom. There are fantastic organisations out there such as GEM, Engage and Association of Art Historians (to name a few), all of whom continue to promote Art History within education. Support them and your local museums and make sure that children and teens are still shown the knowledge, fun and creative experience that Art History can provide.