Teaching the Unteachable: What Should Art Schools Teach Asks Dave Beech

By Beech, Dave | Art Monthly, June 2014 | Go to article overview

Teaching the Unteachable: What Should Art Schools Teach Asks Dave Beech


Beech, Dave, Art Monthly


Paul Kristeller, in his pioneering 1951 study of the historical formation of the 'modern system of the arts', says that the modern belief that 'art cannot be learned, and thus often becomes involved in the curious endeavour to teach the unteachable' was unknown to the ancients, who conversely equated art with skill--which was understood precisely as 'something that can be taught and learned'. The difficulties and controversies associated with teaching art arise as a result of the transition from the various arts to the singular concept of art in general.

The various arts had always been ordered but the 'grouping together of the visual arts with poetry and music into the system of the fine arts', Kristeller says, 'did not exist in classical antiquity, in the Middle Ages or in the Renaissance'. There was no immediate change in the methods of teaching the skills required for the fine arts from the methods of training artisans in the arts, although when academies replaced guilds the teaching became more scholarly. The single most important issue was that of life drawing, which was the chief reason for setting up the academy and distinguished it from the guild workshop and the later schools of design. More severe pedagogical difficulties arose when the fine arts were reconfigured according to the concept of art as such.

'We have been saying "art" in the singular and without any other specification', Jean-Luc Nancy observes, 'only since the romantic period.' Nancy turns his back on modern usage, preferring the technical specificity of the multiple arts of painting, sculpture and so on rather than the abstract concept of art, but in doing so he suppresses the material embodiment of the general concept of art in the specific institutions of the art museum, the art magazine, university departments of art history, art writing and curating, and the art school. Within the real circumstances of a culture ordered by the concept of art in general, the insistence on the specificity of the various arts is, ironically, the act of a nostalgic attachment to an abstract principle. Art education must face up to the non-specificity of its discipline or it is in danger of reverting to an abstract and fanciful pedagogy of craft. The question of how to teach art can be clarified, therefore, by studying the transition from the arts to art that took place in the 18th century.

Art differentiated itself from the arts by incorporating them into its broader and more abstract category. The pioneers of the new conception of art in the 18th century had little or no interest in drawing a precise line between art and the arts but, on the contrary, blurred the line in the interest of accomplishing the hegemony of art over the arts. The first history of art, rather than a history of painters and sculptors or a history of antiquities, written by Johann Winckelmann in 1764, applied the new concept of art in general to Ancient Greek statues and paintings. So, when the entry for Fine Arts was placed under the entry for Art in the Encyclopedic in 1781, art in the singular preserved the arts in the plural within it. When the Louvre was established in 1793-99, it also naturalised the new concept of art within a historical display of the continuity of art throughout history divided into the arts of various schools. This is why Theodor Adorno was right to observe that 'the arts do not vanish completely in art'.

Tensions between the new concept of art and the old pedagogical institutions of the arts persisted into the 19th century. By 1861 Gustave Courbet proclaimed, 'I who believe that every artist should be his own master, cannot think of making myself into a professor.' To say, as Courbet did, 'I deny that art can be taught', was to express precisely the chasm between art and the arts, the latter understood since antiquity as a skill that can be taught. The Paris Academy of Arts--note the plural--did not teach its students to be artists except insofar as it trained them in the arts (of drawing, painting, carving, casting and so on). …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Teaching the Unteachable: What Should Art Schools Teach Asks Dave Beech
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.