Magazine article Art Education

Thistles and Thistledown: Art and Design Education in Scotland

Magazine article Art Education

Thistles and Thistledown: Art and Design Education in Scotland

Article excerpt

Like Scotland's national emblem-the thistle-a plant whose spikiness makes it easy to perceive but difficult to grasp, art and design education in Scotland needs studied attention. For a variety of historical and cultural reasons, Scottish art and design education is quite distinctive from the other national systems that operate in the United Kingdom. This paper celebrates some of these differences through several case studies. These exemplify how, because of the strategic desire to differentiate its system of art and design education, Scotland has developed wider, more integrative, practices than may be the case within some neighbouring national curriculum and assessment prescriptions. For North Americans engaged with developing art within a national programme like Goals 2000, Scotland might offer a useful insight.


Thistle and thistledown-Scottish symbolism-suggest both in and out of focus, both sharpness and softness, both essence and context; qualities that have been applied by various writers to Scottish history and culture. At the same time it is a metaphor that can suggest the historic pluralism inherent in the Scots/ Celtic/ Gaelic/ Norse/ English condition of Scotland itself. It is a far cry from the romantic cliches of Braveheart or Rob Roy.

In terms of art and design education, this might suggest why Scotland has avoided the recent polarising tendencies seen elsewhere, for example, observed in debates about the National Curriculum for Art in England (Steers, 1995) . This may be due to the crossfertilising characteristic of Scottish culture, inclusive rather than exclusive, based on the range of Scottish alternatives-Lowland and Highland, Scot and Gael, Protestant and Catholic, male and female, black and white. Scottish culture is totally consistent with present-day notions of cultural identity, with identity politics, as much as it is with history. Scotland's system of art and design education is as much a communication of cultural identity as literature or folk music. It has involved borrowing and adapting what is available. Sometimes this has meant scrupulously avoiding anglo-centred models for no reason other than the desire to be different.

Distinctiveness in Scottish art and design education has meant yoking together craft skills and artisanship (design) with artistic training (fine art), accompanied by a long attachment to issues of taste, then art appreciation, then critical studies, crucially integrated with practice. The strategic significance of this cannot be underestimated. In England, for example, the debates have nearly always been subject-centred as opposed to child-centred. In Scotland art and design initiatives have been directed toward greater attention to improved effectiveness of art and design education upon all aspects of child development. This is not simply a Modernist attachment to child-centred expression. Art appreciation has long been recommended in Scotland as an antidote to a limited focus on child-centred creativity; a pedagogy which has been perceived by some as a legacy of Modernism in need of reconsideration (Efland, Freedman, & Stuhr, 1996) . As a particular contribution of Scottish art and design education, it is as much a pointer to postmodern approaches to curriculum as what Wygant, calling for more international comparative studies, has termed a "hidden set of corrective adjustments" (1990, p.ix-xii).


In a keynote address to the fourth European Congress of the International Society for Education Through Art (InSEA) in Glasgow (1997), the Minister for Education, Brian Wilson described the Scottish system, in which for pupils aged 5-14: and design is one of four areas of the Expressive Arts. National guidelines set out a curriculum offering a series of developmental experiences involving pupils in investigating materials and media; expressing feelings, ideas and solutions; and understanding, appreciating and sharing in all the products of others. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.