Art, Education and the Curatorial

Within education, the government’s White Paper (Department for Education and Employment, 1997) expressed a strong desire to invest in “human capital” and a need to unlock the potential of every young person, with Britain’s economic prosperity and social cohesion depending on it. In response the National Advisory Committee on Creative and Cultural Education (NACCCE) published a report (1999) which laid out its ideas for how this should be done. It pointed out that:

“…in the last 25 years the roles of artists have diversified enormously through work in education, community and social projects of every sort. Artists have many contributions to make to cultural development, and there are many ways in which they can make them: in schools, through community programmes, through placements in industry, through work in institutional settings and special programmes.”

It also quotes Sir Simon Rattle saying, “To be a performing artist in Britain in the next century, you have to be an educator too.” This of course is music to the ears of practitioners of all persuasions who see the intrinsic relationship between art and education and its potential use in society. Among the report’s recommendations that talk about an evaluation of existing techniques and programmes promoting creative thinking skills and creative problem solving it suggests the Department for Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) and DfEE should fund a number of projects that seek to find ways of training artists and teachers to work in partnership. Holden (2015) endeavours to highlight the importance of a cultural ecology, but also alerts us to the possibility its development is stunted by a lack of “connectors” or facilitators, who operate between the producer and the consumer, the curator.

Education institutions provide spaces for a teacher and learner to be in the same place at the same time, freely able to converse. Parallel relationships between artist and viewer, researcher and society endeavour to find ways for the former to communicate their ideas as effectively when they are not present. The art world has already bought into the need for curators to [among other things] facilitate the relationship between artist/artwork and viewer. The relationship between researcher and society begs for the same role to exist. People are starting to notice this and look for solutions.

Where goods and services are concerned, the term ‘middleman’ has acquired very negative connotations – ‘cutting him out’ is commonly seen as a way to save time, money and fuss. However when it comes to knowledge transfer, presentation and engagement with diverse audiences it’s the translators, facilitators and organisers of the world that can provide the final pieces of the puzzle – it is in these spaces that real world value and potential can be experienced and realised.

Claire Bishop’s (2007) observation that “The straitjacket of efficiency and conformity that accompanies authoritarian models of education seems to beg for playful, interrogative and autonomous opposition. Art is just one way to release this grip” is a well informed, if not slightly combative statement. If we look more to collaboration than opposition we get more of a helpful and productive way for art, education and the curatorial to enter the 21st century with more light-bulb moments than unread discourses.

We think about art differently depending on our experiences and affiliations. Some think of it as simply a tool or media – like drawing and painting, others hold it aloft as if it has some kind of divine power, and some people see it as an abstract frivolity. It could be that art has been elevated to divinity in some circles because it’s such a good sensory and experiential tool (School of Life, 2013). In the modern world research should be granted equal access to the divine order of art because ultimately research is actually the difference between life and death (and the quality of both), between heaven and hell on Earth.


Bishop, C. (2007) ‘The New Masters of Liberal Arts: Artists Rewrite the Rules of Pedagogy’ in Allen, F. (ed.) Education: Documents of Contemporary Art. London: Whitechapel Gallery

Department for Education and Employment (1997) Excellence in Schools. London: HMSO

Holden, J. (2015) The Ecology of Culture. Swindon: Arts and Humanities Research Council

National Advisory Committee on Creative and Cultural Education (1999) All Our Futures. Sudbury: DfEE

NCCPE (2017) Available at:

The School of Life (2013) Alain de Botton on Art as Therapy. Available at: