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Artistically arid future ahead

It seems a while ago now, but in August I visited the Summer Exhibition at The Royal Academy.

The show has its own special atmosphere and reflects the passion the ordinary person has for art. On the day I went it was crowded. The most popular room was what I call the community room. Pictures were stacked up the wall like a past Victorian exhibition of the Salon. Hardly a cat’s whisker separated the various paintings on show. The room was choc-o -bloc with every one fighting for space - more like a trip on the Northern Line than a West End picture gallery. ‘Is that auntie’s painting?’ I heard somebody ask. ‘No not THAT one - she does flowers!’ In the main gallery was a young man standing in the centre surrounded by an adoring female following. He gestured to a sculpture in the far corner and talked with an air of authority; his fans following every word and gesture.

My favourite piece was a simple canvas which announced, ‘Every school should be an art school.’ In the room next door it developed the theme in greater detail explaining how the arts should be reflected in all our lives. Two middle aged ladies read it through and announced: ‘Rubbish, absolute rubbish!’

The topic of the arts is much in the news these days. Our ex-Education Minister, Michael Gove (now mysteriously banished to the whips’ office to keep recalcitrant Tory MPs in line) has seen fit to remove art from the national curriculum. It would seem that he wants our schools to compete with the likes of Japan and other oriental countries at the top of the international educational league table. I might also mention that those countries are also pretty much at the top of the young persons’ suicide table (if there is such a table).

Sir Ken Robinson, educator, writer and ex- government advisor was recently interviewed on Radio 4 and asked the question: Why don’t we get the best out of people? Sir Ken argues that it’s because we’ve been educated to become good workers, rather than creative thinkers; more in line with the needs of the 19th century Industrial Revolution than our modern cyber world. He believes that creativity is at the heart of all successful entrepreneurs and that this latest educational ‘turn’ to the right which will increase concentration on the three Rs will not help our young people or our standing in the world. ‘Schools kill creativity,’ he says. Well if they killed creativity in the past they are set to continue that process even further. ’I don’t want the arts to have greater priority than any other subjects, just equal footing,’ he explained.

Exhibitions like the Summer Exhibition show the public’s passion for art. What it doesn’t show is how the UK has led the world in design and the creative industries largely due to a liberal education policy which we are in danger of losing.

Tony Kane is founder of Time & Leisure Media Group