Art in schools: the critical reaction (an article by John Berger)Posted: June 3, 2013
An article in the New Statesman magazine from July 1957, by eminent art critic John Berger, shows both the reaction of critics towards the emphasis on placing original works of art in schools, as seen in counties such as Leicester, and an evaluation of the artists and artworks involved in such schemes. In his New Statesman article, ‘Artists and Schools’, Berger describes a trip to Leicestershire, starting by contrasting old-fashioned church schools with the new, modern schools which were built in Leicestershire after the war. He outlines Leicestershire’s aim to create a visual environment for schoolchildren, most of whom would otherwise leave school without ever having seen a modern oil painting. Berger explains that Leicestershire’s county collection of artworks was funded using royalties from a school book produced by the county, building and decorating allocations, and school materials allowances, saying that the scheme relied on the enthusiasm, confidence and initiative of the county’s Director of Education, who organised an annual sale of works collected from London and persuaded artists to accept relatively low fees in return for having their artwork shown in a ‘living context’. If more Directors of Education had his vision, says Berger, a “minor revolution in the appreciation of the visual arts” could be achieved. Berger praises the standard of artworks by lesser-known artists who were represented in Leicestershire’s collection, especially singling out the sculptor Peter Peri for attention. Berger says that works such as Peri’s come into their own when seen not as part of the London art scene, but juxtaposed with the architecture of schools, exhibited next to a football pitch or gymnasium (Berger, 1957).