Earlier this month it was reported that examining body AQA would be axing art history at A-Level, making it the last body to stop offering the subject. In communication with teachers, the board said it faced difficulty in recruiting “sufficient experienced examiners”. The subject is said to be a casualty of curriculum reforms driven by former education secretary Michael Gove.
Even though there isn’t currently an exam board that carries the subject, a spokesperson for Ofqual has tried to offer reassurance that art history isn’t necessarily gone forever if another body picks it up for development. They were also quick to clarify that their decision did not in any way reflect the importance of art history as an area of study.
This statement hasn’t done much to hold back a passionate response, however. A petition on Change.org has less than 1,000 signatures to go until it reaches the quota needed to be delivered to the industry’s decision makers including Secretary of State for Education Justine Greening and AQA’s CEO Kevin Philips. At the time of writing, a similar appeal on 38degrees had reached more than 15,900 signatures – and continued to climb as the day wore on. Beyond the numbers is a collection of narratives from students, teachers, and others who are vocally defending a subject that they feel is being unfairly cut. The hashtag #WhyArtHistoryMatters pulls together some of the most compelling responses.
Valuing Artists Through The Ages
Looking for exhibitions alone, you can see that there are plenty of art galleries in the UK, housing artwork from a vast array of artists. People continue to show passion for such attractions; in 2015/16, visits for the National Portrait Gallery alone topped 2.1m, while the Tate Group Galleries saw over 6.1m visitors (Dept. for Culture Media & Sport statistics). The demand is there, then. People want to see artwork that has survived decades (and often much longer) of history, keeping the name of artists alive.
Artists voice must carry across age and era. Removing the ability to study art history silences the voice of artists #whyarthistorymatters
— Sally Noall (@VirtualSally) October 17, 2016
An Important Part of History
Perhaps the striking imagery accompanying this Tweet explains this quite concisely.
— Allan Cavanagh (@AllanCavanagh) October 13, 2016
It Still Engages People
While the numbers of people taking the subject has dwindled over time, the students who have added their voice to the conversation on Twitter have plenty to say about the relevance of Art History and how it affects/has affected their life and interpretation of the world.
Doing art history A-level completely changed my life. Discovered a passion and drive and a way to understand the world #WhyArtHistoryMatters
— Michaela McCaffrey (@MicCaffrey) October 13, 2016
Even though the news story broke almost a week ago, people are still adding to the #WhyArtHistoryMatters conversation on Twitter, and the tallies on the petitions continue to climb. There’s even commenters willing to pick up some additional marking work where AQA says there are shortages!
AQA – I'll mark some papers if it helps. #whyarthistorymatters
— Stew Harrison 🇪🇺❄️ (@LoveSpanner) October 16, 2016
What Of The Other Side?
One thing that becomes glaringly apparent the more you read, is that opposing arguments are a lot harder to come by and offer fewer narratives. The dominating rhetoric comes from those who believe Art History caters to a particular subset of society and doesn’t have a wholly inclusive nature – read this article to see what we mean.
With the changes not due to take effect until 2018, there is perhaps more space for the debate to grow, but for now, the impassioned pleas of art history advocates are by and far the loudest around the issue.
We’d love to hear your thoughts; are you for or against the axing of art history as an A-Level subject? Do you think it is part of a larger issue? Get in touch with us on social media or leave a comment below.