Teaching Painting

Tony Benn, Glenn Ward

    Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review


    There is a long history of debates about the extent to which painting students need to be ‘taught art history’, and if so how that history ought to be taught. As we witness the neo-liberal marketisation of higher education today, art students’ (and educators’) relationships to history have become a matter of urgency.Critical Studies, Contextual Studies, Historical and Critical Studies: whatever the name, this component of teaching painting has often seemed condemned to being the bookish, therefore largely irrelevant, and a poor relation of the ‘main studies’. Accustomed as they are to pedagogical existential crises, Critical and Historical Studies tutors are now increasingly forced to defend themselves against economically and ideologically determined attack. This has arisen partly because the ‘main studies’ departments themselves are riddled with self-doubt about the role of art in an age of instrumentalization, monetization and value-free artistic choice. In this context, it is apparent that the criticality engendered by historical awareness is in danger of fading away. The neo-formalist rhetoric of materiality, corporeality and the embodied sensorium is too often misappropriated in service of painting’s sheer, contextless ‘presence’: a punctual site of authenticity free from the corruption of language. Meanwhile, art history for students of painting too often constitutes a Google image search. Social media becomes a bottomless non-place for a homeless image; free from debate or any form grounded enquiry. In present conditions, quality equates to Instagrammability and history is a mere ‘ideas board’. As a modernized version of the ‘battle of the books’, this hyper-accelerated non-linear online content may be celebrated as a free zone liberated from the burden of history. Yet the costs are great and politically troubling. Contextual areas of art education cling grimly on to some threadbare form of historical awareness. Of course, an awareness of history’s embodied practices is implicit in much studio teaching too, but financially-led reductions in staffing and resources militate against the sustained engagement with historically informed debate about value, meaning and politics that specialist Contextual studies areas can provide. Rather than being smoothly ‘integrated’ into day-to-day studio pedagogy, dedicated Contextual areas may sometimes speak from a querulous position of friction with practice: such a position might indeed be necessary in order to drive questions of style, expression and qualia back towards the questioning of values and value judgements. Ultimately the understanding of history within the embodied practices of painting will affirm a form of life and thought that resist our cultures disengagement and atomisation.
    Original languageEnglish
    Number of pages8
    Publication statusPublished - 19 Jun 2018
    EventTeaching Painting: Painting the New - Royal Academy of Arts, London
    Duration: 19 Jun 201820 Jun 2018


    ConferenceTeaching Painting


    • Teaching Painting


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