Language in Art and Art in Language



The National Curriculum is bringing a systematic attention to the place of language in the teaching and learning of Art, but may be suppressing some of the liveliness of language in art. Art teaches a specialist vocabulary with benefits beyond the art lesson, but there are dangers (and opportunities) in the use of words in art which have different meanings elsewhere. Art rooms have traditionally promoted a rich variety of language uses, but new pressures could lead to formulaic didactic lessons with too little pupil discussion. One language use in art, from which English teachers could learn, is discussion about the aesthetic qualities of artefacts which pupils make or are shown. English teaching too often treats poems as documentaries, but art can teach pupils to use words for looking and thinking about artefacts in their own terms. A danger here, in art as in English, is that introducing a canon can encourage talking about art in second-hand language which does not connect with pupils’ experiences. Language would drive a model of pedagogy in which experience and perception inform the formation of new concepts, then new concepts inform the search for new experience and perception, in an ascending spiral of aesthetic understanding which could also be both a pleasure and an education of the feelings.