Against the Flow: Education, the Arts and Postmodern Culture

Against the Flow: Education, the Arts and Postmodern Culture

Against the Flow: Education, the Arts and Postmodern Culture

Against the Flow: Education, the Arts and Postmodern Culture


At once provocative and inspiring , Against the Flow is a work of polemic from an internationally respected writer and thinker on arts education. Peter Abbs argues that contemporary education ignores the aesthetic and ethical as a result of being in thrall to such forces as the market economy and managerial and functional dictates. He identifies the present education system as being inimical to creativity and authentic learning and instead, narrowly focused on the quantitative measuring of results. This absence of a creative and ethical dimension in education has implications for art making in wider society. Art is shown as emerging from, and appealing to, the ironic postmodernist sensibility and mass media-led culture, while being devoid of philosophical significance. This book opens up a fresh and timely debate about the vital power of creativity in modern education. Drawing on examples from modern poetry, literature and visual art, it is an eloquent and passionate argument for the need to develop ethical and aesthetic energies to confront the growing vacuity of contemporary culture.


This book is called against Against the Flow because its aim is to resist, as creatively as possible, some of the dominant tendencies of our time. Over the last two decades our educational system has come to resemble a broiler house regulated by managerial and functional dictates - a place devoid of creative energy and animating spirit. the flame of authentic learning has been snuffed out while in the society at large, with memorable exceptions, the nature of art-making has become narrow, professional, cynical and, invariably, devoid of philosophical significance. As soon as one raises issues relating to the spiritual, the aesthetic and the metaphysical, one is painfully aware that one is using a language that sounds almost offensive and, at the same time, addressing a context of radical depletion, that one is talking against the status quo of the national curriculum, against the drive of the consumer society and against the sensibility of postmodern intellectual fashion. in brief, that one is struggling against the flow.

In such a predicament one has to make a decision: to be quiet and withdraw or to speak out, but one knows that if one decides to speak out, then, one must do so with as much courage and directness as one can muster. I have decided, with some fear and trembling, on the latter course.

In this book I raise, above all, the neglected question of meaning:

What should education serve?

What should art serve?

What is culture for?

And I envisage these three questions as inextricably interrelated - as part of a single constellation relating to the question of

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