A Rationale for the Creative Subjects

Why should Art & Design be taught in the secondary school curriculum?

Art & Design has an important role to play in the school curriculum. It provides young people with the opportunity to nurture a feel for aesthetics, to appreciate the visual stimuli around them: When confronted with the notion that every man made object has resulted from a process that starts with drawing a design, children begin to realise how Art & Design, as a subject area, is extremely relevant to the world in which we live. What a cold and uninspiring place it would be without it!

Art & Design education fosters many desirable and inter-related qualities: acculturation and multiple literacies; self-confidence, self-discipline and self-actualisation; creativity, flexibility and vision; critical thinking, problem-solving, decision making and risk-taking skills; perseverance, a sense of standards, and a striving for excellence.

As foundation subjects within the National Curriculum, all secondary school pupils study Art & Design at Key Stage 3.

Anthropological argument

The anthropologist Paul Wingert said that ‘there are no primitive peoples, however meagre their cultural attainments, who offered no patronage to the artist’. (Wingert, 1965, p18)

Probably the most unjust misconception about Art & Design education in secondary schools is that pupils do not need to be able to think in order to ‘do Art’.

Some might assert that ‘Art & Design is easy, compared to other subjects, because even less-able children like it’, the implication being that Art & Design lessons are an ‘escape’ from the rigours of traditionally perceived ‘academic’ subjects.

Many of the common misconceptions about Art & Design education are still widespread: ‘Art & Design does not require or foster higher level thinking; is not a core subject; has no disciplinary structure; is not necessary; will not enhance career prospects’.

How extraordinary these notions are, considering that pupils need to have knowledge instilled into them through Art & Design teaching in order to being able develop creative outcomes.

“People nowadays think that scientists are there to instruct them, poets, musicians, etc., to give them pleasure. The idea that these have something to teach them – that does not occur to them.” (Wittgenstein, 1978, p. 42e)

Forms of knowledge argument

Whereas most other subjects in the curriculum are deemed ‘academic’ in content, Art & Design seems to have suffered from an out-dated and unfair presumption that it is only concerned with ‘making’, rather than ‘thinking’.

The programmes of study at Key Stage 3, however, explicitly detail the requirements for teaching declarative knowledge in order to inform procedural knowledge. The encouragement of understanding codes and conventions in historical and contemporary Art & Design practice provides the necessary cognitive strategies for pupils. These inform the refinement of motor skills to creative works of Art & Design.

In simpler terms; knowing about Art & Design complements knowing how to make Art & Design.

‘know that’ < informs > ‘know how’

Learning styles argument

It can be argued that there is a multitude of ways of learning about the world in which we live; from logical and analytical thinking through to sensory perception. Gardner (1993) suggested the notion of ‘multiple intelligence’:

‘Many theories of multiple intelligences are general. They treat intelligence as cutting across fields and disciplines freely. Garder makes a case for musical intelligence, and others associated with certain professions’.
Perkins, D. (1995) Outsmarting IQ, London, Free Press

Secondary Art & Design education facilitates multi-sensory opportunities for learning that enables pupils to:


Spiritual argument

Art & Design can be produced with economic, moral, philosophical, religious, psychological, and aesthetic factors in mind. The subject encourages a sense of wonder at the world, its vulnerability, and the scope for human advancement.

In Art & Design lessons pupils are encouraged to explore ideas, emotions, and social behaviour relating to their experiences through life, as well as a wealth of cultural and historical subject matter.

If Art & Design does enjoy a unique position within the curriculum, this is due to the fact it is not content led but allows an expressive response to subject matter that can mirror the concerns of individuals and society. This means Art & Design plays an important role in the life of pupils in helping them to communicate things relevant to them.

Whilst Drama tends to cater for the need of personal creativity through group activities and public performance, Art & Design fosters a more individual and contemplative approach. Pupils often have the opportunity to study one or both means of expression at Key Stage 4 and through to Further Education.

‘Our liability to dream – our unconscious power to create imaginal narrative and iconic images – demonstrates a symbolic power at work in our biological nature’. Abbs, P. (1989) A is for Aesthetic, London, Falmer

Cultural literacy argument

Art & Design has a basis in knowledge about the world, and actually living in the world. Through this it facilitates an understanding of the differences and similarities of different cultural traditions.

Art & Design encourage attitudes within pupils of positive identity; shared and individual aspirations; tolerance of ideas, lifestyles and beliefs; open-mindedness and co-operation.
It creates a stimulating working environment and interest in the achievements of others and themselves.

It fosters the use of the imagination, equipping pupils with the 'images' and language to grasp and visualise concepts; developing and stimulating their sense of sight and giving opportunities to students to explore the fertility of their thinking.

‘As it is in mathematics, the sciences and the humanities, so it is in the arts: One can only be significantly creative on the basis of tradition. The better the tradition, the better the chances of significant creativity’. Abbs, P. (1989) A is for Aesthetic, London, Falmer

Vocational argument

Art & Design, as a subject, facilitates pupil’s understanding of aesthetics. This is crucial in order to provide for the successful future development of design for manufactured products and environments that work and are pleasing to the eye.

The fundamental autographic skills of drawing and painting provide pupils with a solid basis to develop their work into the other areas; such as ceramics, print making, typography, photography, animation and digital image manipulation.

These practices equip pupils with transferable skills that may be used in other subject areas, employment and daily living.

Pupils have opportunities for greater personal fulfilment and to stimulate a personal involvement with Art & Design that will stay with them for the rest of their lives, perhaps influencing decisions about careers.

As a secondary school subject, Art & Design provides the basis that can prepare pupils for training leading to vocations in related industries such as:


Abbs, P. (1989) A is for Aesthetic, London, Falmer Addison, N. & Burgess, L. (2000) Contemporary Art in Schools: Why Bother? in Hickman, R. (2000) Art Education 11-18, London, Continuum
Cropley, A. J. (1997) Fostering Creativity in the Classroom: General Principles in Runco, M. The Creativity Research Handbook, Vol 1, Cresskill, New Jersey, Hampton Press
Efland, A., Freedman, K., & Stuhr, P. (1996) Postmodern Art Education: An Approach to Curriculum, Reston, Virginia, NAEA
Gablik, S. (1991) The Re-Enchantment of Art, London, Thames & Hudson
Perkins, D. (1995) Outsmarting IQ, London, Free Press
Postman, N. (1995) The End of Education, New York, Vintage