by Jess Howard
Last week it was announced that AQA, the last exam board to offer art history as an A level subject, has removed the course from its curriculum. The decision to remove the subject from A Level course choices means future students will no longer be able to study the subject at this level. A spokesman from the board said that the decision to remove the subject had “nothing to do with the importance of history of art”, but I find this hard to believe.
Former education secretary Michael Gove has stated his desire for what he considers to be “more challenging, more ambitious and more rigorous” subjects to be taught in schools, colleges, and sixth forms. Other arts based courses such as archaeology and dance may also be removed from A Level curriculum in the near future. While students currently studying art history at AS and A Level will still be able to complete their courses and sit their exams, the syllabus has not been redeveloped for teaching in 2017.
I have often been told that my degree is less valuable, and that it was easier to study for than others
Gove’s opinions that arts based subjects are somehow easier than those based in mathematics or science are incredibly subjective, but unfortunately ones that we hear time and time again (and not just in the UK). As an art history and literature graduate from the University of East Anglia, I have often been told that my degree is less valuable, and that it was easier to study for than others. I find this statement incredibly insulting, as studying art history doesn’t simply involve looking at paintings and making blasé and uneducated comments on colour or content. In addition to technical and visual analysis, my degree also allowed me to develop understanding and knowledge of multiple cultural histories – perhaps even in ways that I would have been unable to learn had I studied for any other degree.
One of the reasons AQA have stated for removing the subject from their A Level curriculum was that they are struggling to find examiners who are educated and qualified enough to mark AS and A Level papers. While they have also said they would not rule out reinstating the programme in the future, their initial excuse jars with their suggestion that future curricula may change. If we are not allowing students to study AS and A level papers, surely there is a much smaller chance of students furthering their studies in art history. This means that fewer students will continue their education and subsequently become experienced enough to mark other student’s papers. The board seems to have made a number of sweeping statements as a means of placating those opposed to their decision, but they unfortunately make very little sense.
One of the issues affecting the study of and interest in art history is the assumption that it is no longer useful or relevant. Some assume that there is no longer a need for the study of art history as it has little if nothing to do with present day culture, an idea I wholeheartedly dispute. With graffiti art surrounding us as we go about our daily lives, and fashion designers increasingly using artistic printing in clothing design, art is surrounding us more than ever before.
As the government continues to cut funding to the arts, it was only a matter of time before something like this began to occur. However, what those responsible for these cuts need to understand is that no matter how people may assume that art no longer plays a role in society, we are surrounded and influenced by it every single day.
Featured image © Wu Fang