The Importance of Art to Young People

"We don’t just teach students to be artists, we teach them to be inquisitive, to be powerful observers of life and with their ideas, to act and to create." Our Head of Art, Keir Downey, explains why Art as a subject remains highly relevant to young people in modern society.

Pic Of KeirI am often questioned by pupils about why they should study Art? What is its relevance?  I am also asked “what careers could I go into?” These are all valid questions and there are so many directions and choices that it can be difficult to navigate.

Our world is full of opportunities but at times it’s difficult to know which ones to take and, for the most part, difficult to spot. We need to have our eyes well and truly open. This is where Art comes in. Art is a subject, a hobby and a passion but for some people it can also cause frustration as they struggle to make their ideas visual.

Art requires dedication, practice and also requires you to slow down to observe and then change pace again when creating. Art is definitely not dull. 

I read a quote recently, “If you don’t create then you are not creative. You have ideas!” I reflected on this statement and thought about my own practice as an Artist. How can I be more creative and does creativity lead to becoming a fantastic artist?

Well in my opinion creativity is a starting point and definitely not an end point. It takes persistence and hard work to develop raw creative talent into being a fantastic artist. So why am I writing this? I am often asked by parents what can … do to be a better artist or, what can … do over the holidays?

Art Pic 1The best advice I can give is to create and create something most days - a photograph, a drawing, a piece of poetry and even a meal. Experiment, go foraging and create your own art materials from what you find, be creative! The Art movement Fluxus, which started in the 1960s, played an important role in opening up the definitions of what Art can be. One of my favourite pieces of artwork is by the artist Alison Knowles with her piece ‘Make a salad’ (1962).

I urge you to watch this piece of performance art - there are different versions in a variety of different contextual locations. I find the piece very interesting as it gets you, the viewer, to observe everyday actions as a piece of artwork. The simple act of creating a salad can in fact become Art just as the act of sweeping can become music (Stomp).

Looking to life after Glenalmond, businesses are often set up to offer a product or service that is needed or presumed to be needed. Entrepreneurs are often looking for unfulfilled needs, sectors or ‘Blue Oceans’. This is where studying Art can help. Art teaches skills that are vital for life. At Glenalmond we teach students to observe, act and reflect and then to start the process again using ‘Action based research’.

We don’t just teach students to observe natural beauty but to observe life as a whole - their daily actions and the world around them. We don’t just teach students to be artists, we teach them to be inquisitive, to be powerful observers of life and with their ideas, to act and to create. To find a problem and then develop an original and personal solution. 

Art Pic 3Art develops skills where trial and error is accepted and actively encouraged. Where going on a journey of self-discovery and where purposeful experimentation of materials and processes gets you excited. These skills are vital in most careers. What a career will look like in 30 to 40 years is difficult to know however, what is for certain is that you will need to be adaptable and creative.

As the futurist Alvin Toffler wrote: "The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn." The way we teach Art at Glenalmond has all of this in mind. At GCSE and A-level, each student develops their own project, setting the direction of the work. A range of skills will be taught but then the project manifests itself into a project of self-discovery. Learning a range of new skills and different processes as the project progresses. We encourage students to reflect on what the best way is to produce this idea. What skills do I need to learn? This is all in the safe and nurturing environment of Glenalmond's Art Department. 

Something which is often stated about the Artwork at Glenalmond is how different the work is compared to other schools, how the work is truly personal and shows the passions of each student. This is what we thrive on! We know as teachers that we make a difference just by seeing the work being created. After each student leaves Glenalmond at the end of Sixth Form, they will definitely be in a much stronger position than when they arrived, fortified by the best preparation for life.