Inside the Art School: How the swinging ‘60s revolutionised arts education

In he first instalment of a series of articles written by staff and students from Blackpool School of Arts, senior tutor Gaby Wills gives us a history lesson and calls for past students to share their memories.
The history of arts schools

The expansion of art schools in the mid-20th century was a response to the 1944 education act and then the Robins Report of 1963. This new investment in education, meant that working and lower-middle-class people were for the first time given the opportunity of a significant arts and cultural education. This was a period of social revolution and the art schools of the time both shaped and were shaped by the accelerated pace of wider social change.

Art school was where the most advanced cultural debates and practices of the time could be encountered, with art school education typically seeking to encourage innovation and creativity through trial and error, experimentation, and discovery to produce the unexpected. Art schools of the time were a refuge for the people Frith and Horn, in their book Art into Pop describe as “malingerers, lateral thinkers and the institutionally maladjusted”, which doesn’t sound great until you realise that the description also fits cultural icons like John Lennon Freddie Mercury, and David Bowie who all spent time studying, or at least sometimes attending, art schools.

I don’t think I need to remind anyone that it’s no longer the swinging sixties and that a lot of things have changed since then, education definitely being one of them. I won’t bore you with facts and figures about the lack of investment in arts education but it’s safe to say that the arts have been pretty far down on the list of priorities in recent years, especially for state funded education.

This is despite the fact that statistics from 2020 revealed that the creative industries sector was growing more than five times faster than the national economy and that the skills gained on arts programmes, such as critical thinking, problem solving, initiative and entrepreneurialism, and effective oral and written communication have been identified as survival skills for 21st Century life.

What art school education looks like

Art and design educators typically seek to inspire innovation and creativity through an open curriculum that encourages students to produce the unexpected. At Blackpool School of Arts students learn digital, as well as traditional creative skills.

If you’re a student at an art school you’re likely to spend some time in the classroom, learning the theoretical aspects of art and design, as well as research skills and idea development, but you’ll also spend time in the studio honing your craft, whether that’s playing with materials, light, colour, composition, sound, movement, tone, texture… the list goes on, and is obviously dependent on whether you’re studying art and design, illustration and graphics, fashion, photography, media, music, or performing arts.

Contrary to popular belief, studying an arts programme isn’t easy, it requires a commitment to mastering skills, considering cultural contexts and responding to them, taking risks and sometimes failing, innovating and exploring. It’s about identity transformation and for graduates coming out of an art school education, it’s not just the acquisition of a plethora of skills and knowledge that will help you in your future prospects, but also the person you have become.

We haven’t even touched on the intrinsic value of engaging with the arts and arts education, its contribution to wellbeing or quality of life, but we’ll get to that over the next few instalments of Inside the Art School.

Next time, we’ll be digging deeper into the history of Blackpool School of Arts, with stories from students, lecturers and alumni about their experiences. We’ll also explore what some of our fabulous graduates have gone on to achieve.

If you have been a student at Blackpool School of Arts and have any stories or pictures you would like to share, please send them over to [email protected].

Follow Blackpool School of Arts on Instagram or Facebook.For more information about courses visit www.blackpool.ac.uk/school-of-arts

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