Paper at International Standing Conference for the History of Education, Porto, 19 July: Pictures for Schools: Critical education in the art gallery and the classroom

I am delighted to have had the following paper accepted for the International Standing Conference for the History of Education at the University of Porto next week.

Pictures for Schools: Critical education in the art gallery and the classroom

Pictures for Schools was founded by the artist and educationalist Nan Youngman (1906-1995) to sell affordable works of art by contemporary British artists to educational establishments across the country, including schools, teacher training colleges and local education authorities.

One aim of the scheme was to change the physical spaces in which children’s education took place by making them visually stimulating. Another, equally important motivation, was to develop children’s skills as critical observers, which could then be applied to the places which surrounded them, and the consumer choices they would make as the citizens of the future.

At the first Pictures for Schools exhibition, which took place in 1947 at the Victoria and Albert Museum, children who visited were asked to express their preferences by voting for their favourite exhibit. These preferences were later discussed in accounts of the exhibitions by the organisers, and received with great interest by the press. At later exhibitions, which took place annually at various London art galleries until 1969, visiting school groups were given questionnaires which aimed to encourage them to look closely at the artworks on show, with the questions varying slightly each year. Some questions placed the artworks in relation to children’s own experiences of creating art, encouraging respondents to identify and compare elements such as technique, media, subject matter, styles and genre. Others positioned children as critics, asking them to discuss the artworks they felt were most successful. Children were also encouraged to imagine themselves as future patrons and consumers of the arts, by stating which artwork they would like to take home with them if they were able to.

This paper will explore the ways in which Pictures for Schools offered children a critical education across two types of educational spaces, the art gallery and the classroom. It will visit a series of educational spaces where, in the decade leading up to the Second World War, Youngman established the value of the active, participatory form of art education which would be promoted through Pictures for Schools. These include Youngman’s teacher training at London Day Training College, her time teaching art in girls’ schools in the 1920s, and the decade she spent as peripatetic art advisor to Henry Morris, Director of Education in Cambridgeshire, from 1944 onwards.

The critical education offered through Pictures for Schools will then be placed within a wider context of post-war Britain. After the Second World War, the formal education system was extended. At the same time, opportunities for informal education and cultural experiences went beyond the school, museum and art gallery to encompass public and leisure spaces such as town centres, shopping centres, libraries and housing estates, where citizens were asked to be critical observers of the places and objects which surrounded them every day. This paper will explore the role of artworks as a pedagogical tool and argue that Pictures for Schools played a part in developing the skills of future citizens who were required to play an active, critical part in post-war reconstruction and society.

For more information about the conference visit http://www.fpce.up.pt/ische2019.

I will be taking part in session 4.10, which takes place on Friday 19 July from 9am-11am.

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Book review: The Architectures of Childhood: Children, Modern Architecture and Reconstruction in Postwar England by Roy Kozlovsky

kozlovsky_series 1324 cover.QXD_the architecturesI recently reviewed Roy Kozlovsky’s book The Architectures of Childhood: Children, Modern Architecture and Reconstruction in Postwar England (Ashgate, Farnham, 2013) for the Journal of Historical Geography and the review can now be read online at http://authors.elsevier.com/sd/article/S0305748814001376.


Pictures for Schools: educating the aesthetic citizen 1947-1969 (paper at the New and Emerging postgraduate research in historical geography session, RGS-IBG conference)

I have recently been accepted to do a 15-minute paper in the New and Emerging postgraduate research in historical geography session, sponsored by the Historical Geography Research Group, at the RGS-IBG summer conference in London at the end of August. Abstract below.

Pictures for Schools: educating the aesthetic citizen 1947-1969

This paper will show how Pictures for Schools, a scheme which has been the subject of little previous research, aimed to develop the so-called ‘aesthetic citizen’ and emphasised the part that making aesthetically-informed choices could play in the development of a new ‘design for life’ for modern, post-war Britain.

The inter- and post-war years saw an increased emphasis on developing British citizens’ awareness of their power to improve their own environments. Matless (1996) has identified a form of ‘aesthetic citizenship’, prioritising visual education and aesthetic appreciation, which, whilst partly linked to enjoyment, tied into ideas about the responsibilities of the citizen, their role in the reconstruction process and the creation of a future vision of Britain.

Part of the nation’s visual education was the move to make art and design more accessible to the population in the post-war period. One scheme for widening access to original works of art was Pictures for Schools, an annual series of exhibitions of artworks by British artists which took place between 1947 and 1969. Pictures for Schools was aimed explicitly at developing the visual skills and discernment of the next generation of citizens, targeting works for sale to schools and local education authorities and highlighting the individual and social benefits of exposure to original works of art as children grew up.

In this paper I explore how the organisers of Pictures for Schools emphasised the importance of environment on children’s education, prioritising modes of education which encouraged children develop their skills of looking, seeing and describing what was around them; skills they could then take forward into their adult lives as citizens capable of making effective taste judgments and actively shaping their environments.


Reflections on Pictures for Schools research seminar

Pictures for Schools Research seminar coverLast night I did my first talk about my research, for a research seminar in my school, the Grenfell-Baines School of Architecture, Construction and Design at the University of Central Lancashire. Due to the diverse nature of the department – although I am in a sub-department of geography, a lot of the research is based around earthworms and ecology – I had to tailor my talk to people who might not have much knowledge of art and design. This made me really think about how to present my work into Pictures for Schools clearly and logically, and which bits I needed to focus on in order to tell the story of the scheme and why I am looking at it. This proved to be a useful exercise, which made me really think about what to leave out as much as what to include.

I decided to start with a broad overview of Pictures for Schools and its founder Nan Youngman (using the 1967 and 1969 catalogues I was given at the start of my project as a visual aid), covering what the scheme was and the types of artworks which were included, before setting out my research context. I decided to go about this by unpacking the title of my research project, Pictures for Schools: Art, Education and Reconstruction in Post-War Britain, starting by setting the context of the post-war period and working my way outwards by explaining the interlinked developments which took place at the time around art, education, reconstruction and citizenship, before discussing some of the current work which has been done in these areas in the fields of art history, geography and educational history and how my project can add to this.

I then shared some of the empirical research I have been doing over the first year of the project, discussing finds from archival visits, what I learned during my visit to the county collection in Derbyshire and oral history interviews, before talking about how my research and reevaluation of Pictures for Schools could be made relevant to art and education today.

I was pleased to get some interesting questions and comments from the audience, including comments about a tendency to display children’s artworks in schools instead of artists’ artworks, possible links with higher education and displaying artworks in university campuses such as the University of Sussex, the fact that most of the exhibitions were in the south of England, and issues around one group of society imposing their taste on another.

There were also a few questions which made me realise I could have explained some aspects of Pictures for Schools better, around how big the sculptures were, whether schools bought directly from the exhibitions as well as local authorities, whether there were any themes to the exhibitions, how work was chosen if too much was submitted and how the artworks were used in schools – were they just put in corridors? Another interesting question related to the title of the scheme itself, and whether it made Pictures for Schools sound narrower (focusing just on pictures) than it was (the title of the exhibition is not representative of other elements of the exhibitions such as embroidery and sculpture).

Comments and questions also made me realise just how much I need to try and find people who visited the exhibitions as children, perhaps through a call-out in a national art magazine or perhaps by advertising more locally in areas that showed a particular interest in the scheme, as one person suggested.