Do drawing and art have their place at school?

Do drawing and art have their place at school?

Since the school reform law, all students follow an "artistic and cultural education course". But what is the role assigned to it, in a school that is refocusing on the fundamentals? Is it a question of making budding citizens aware of the artistic approach or of relying on the various disciplines to help them strengthen their critical spirit, in the era of the "videosphere" (or image civilization according to Regis Debre), and the rise of AI?

The institution insists on a picture education allowing us not to be subjected to the demands of an omnipresent media environment and in particular encourages audiovisual practice to understand images by producing them, particularly within the framework of photo or video workshops.

Recognized since the foundation of the public and free school, drawing, more than the other arts, questions the functioning and the missions of the school. Let us see how it reveals the difficult balance to maintain between instruction and education, between instrumental acquisitions and the discovery of means of expression and debate, essential to democratic practices.

Drawing at the service of industry or art?

The first elementary schools taught drawing "linear", associated with surveying and geometry. The 1860s introduced "ornamental" and "imitation" drawing and, from 1890, "geometrical" drawing became compulsory. It was based on a repertoire of simple and well-defined geometric shapes to reproduce an object and is part of the basic elementary skills, along with reading, writing and arithmetic. Charles Romain Capellaro, then professor at the Normal School of Saint-Cloud, it does not concern private practice reserved for an elite and the training of artists :

"We expressed the fear that the teaching of drawing and modeling in our schools would give rise to too many students artistic aspirations of no use for practical life [...]. In this we are wrong: the knowledge of drawing-modelling […] incontestably allows those who possess it to learn more quickly, to carry out their work more reliably and to perfect their art by taking an exact copy of the ingenious things they may encounter."

For philosopher Jocelyne Beguery, this school made the choice of "a technical, even technical education where art is instrumentalized and put at the service of trades and industry" against "a humanist and civic education where art is considered in itself. even". Geometric drawing taught in elementary school is a rational drawing, executed in line, in black and white, possibly shaded, which will be used by the specialized workers required by industry.

This utilitarianism was replaced in 1909 by the “intuitive method” which consists of observing and interpreting nature to produce a personal impression. Also, more than an exact and correct execution, the master will take into account the sincerity with which this impression will be rendered. In addition, with the help of certain appropriate exercises (decorative arrangements, illustrations of children's games, historical narratives, fables and tales), we will encourage imaginative faculties of schoolchildren.

Drawing: a changing pedagogical concept

In fact, the educational system then in the making was experimenting with different ways of responding to the social, economic and cultural challenges of the time, relying on a discipline long taught by artists. This displacement gives the drawing the value of an emblem: it materializes the debates that animate the construction of the public school in the service of the nation. Drawing becomes a state affair, its slow recognition as a “subject for public instruction” accompanies the debates associated with educational renovation.

And these debates continue. After May 68 and the democratization of secondary and higher education, children's drawing, imagination, creativity and contemporary art were gradually taken into account. Technical drawing was devolved to vocational high schools. The "drawing course" became "plastic arts course" or "visual arts". Freedom of expression was highlighted and drawing is regularly associated with many other artistic practices (photography, architecture, calligraphy, performance, etc.).

But the identity of the teaching of drawing in public, secular and compulsory schools remains a practice that is based on constitutive antinomies: between manual activity and intellectual exploration, at the same time geometric, perspective, mathematical or uncontrolled scribbling, the drawing represents a personal imagination, but must participate in the social progress of all.

Both "drawing" and "design", in the spirit of the drawing Italian Renaissance, he is, the "father of our three arts, architecture, sculpture and painting", according to Leonardo da Vinci and Vasari in his Treatise on painting. And as Jean-Luc Nancy writes in his book Pleasure in drawing, drawing (from the Latin de-sign which means "to mark out") is the origin, the beginning. It makes it possible to understand by bringing about "the thought of the thing, its formation, its re-formation or its transformation into truth".

Elementary school highlights this understanding of the world through observational drawing – faithful, detailed and understandable representation of the world – and experimental drawing – tests, erasures, corrections, etc. which prolong the rhythm of the body and of thought and give meaning by bringing about a form. In both cases, the line allows tolearn by drawing.

"The lines of a drawing reveal how we visualize what is around us, how it appears to us. If we teach drawing in schools, it is therefore not simply so that they (the students) are able to draw pretty triangles: it's also because it gives our eyes greater finesse."

The practice of drawing is no longer limited to "imitating", "adorning", "composing", "geometrising" as in the days of linear drawing, but is it for all that teaching art?

Drawing as access to writing and mastery of the language

Devices like the Lang and Tasca plan (2000) or the artistic and cultural education course (PEAC) could make us believe it knowing that, for a large number of children, school remains the only space where a encounter with art can take place.

One of the objectives of the visual arts course is to open students up to works and cultures in order to "constitute repertoires of images, of various motifs from which they (the pupils) draw to learn how to reproduce, assemble, organize, link up for creative purposes". In practice, however, the activities offered in primary school are limited to formal exercises "in the manner of…" without a creative situation.

Teachers are, to their credit, very poor at presenting works by going beyond the theme and the techniques used. In addition to the lack of training, since the 2000s, "a growing focus on language mastery in relation to the issues of academic success" and, since 2008, an emphasis on the fundamentals which tends to link the practice of drawing to exercises inwriting and verbalization of the effects produced.

The artistic teaching programs in cycles 2 and 3 indicate that "in learning in the visual arts, are always held together doing, experience et reflect ; it is the very meaning of the teacher's approach to allow permanent interactions between these three dimensions of learning". And young children draw spontaneously by training their hand, their wrist, their shoulder, their gaze... It is therefore important not to limit it to the simple execution of voluntary lines to reproduce, assemble, organize, in one word : intellectualize the world.

Unfortunately, the perceptual and syncretic modes initiated in kindergarten are quickly replaced by logical and analytical processes of appropriation and transmission of knowledge. As in the XNUMXthe century, drawing and art at school raise the question of institutional injunctions, the hierarchy of disciplines and their use for selection purposes. Artistic practices are not mobilized for themselves, but for their transversal qualities, as a response to professional and social issues.

Genevieve Guetemme, Lecturer in Plastic Arts, University of Orleans

This article is republished from The Conversation under Creative Commons license. Read theoriginal article.

Image credit: Shutterstock/ Weseeel

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