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Academic blasts 'homogenous' artwork in schools

ARTWORKS installed in new Scottish school buildings are generally bland and uninspiring, according to a leading academic.

Art historian Dr Jeremy Howard, from St Andrews University, said murals and sculptures in primary and secondary schools should be inspiring rather than "homogenous".

His comments came after the publication of a new book investigating the educational and political impact of art in schools in the past.

The Decorated School, co-edited by Dr Howard, focuses on historic examples from England, Northern Ireland, France, Denmark, the USA, Japan and Kyrgyzstan.

It also looks at examples from Scotland, with a key section on the Edinburgh Schools Beautiful Scheme of the 1930s.

The scheme was mired in controversy earlier this year when a member of the public complained about a golliwog doll in a mural on the walls of Wardie Primary, in Edinburgh.

The mural, painted in 1936 by the respected Fife-born artist RH Westwater and recently restored at a cost of £17,600, features scenes from the classic children's story Alice in Wonderland.

In the mural, the golliwog is sitting on an alcove ledge above the Alice in Wonderland figure in the mural's central panel.

Police originally investigated the complaint, but took no further action and the school confirmed last month that the mural would not be altered, but would be used as an educational resource.

Dr Howard said the mural, and others like it in schools from the time, was painted to inspire pupils with their beauty and high quality.

He said: "Art in schools these days is generally quite corporate and bland. I understand that budgets are tight, but it seems that no-one wants to take a risk or ask questions with the art they choose.

"When I look at artwork in modern schools I just pass by because it is getting homogenous and is the sort of thing you see in banks or offices. There is no sense of stimulation.

"The artwork in schools in the past was there to engage young people and to show them beautiful things and inspire them and it is a shame that we have moved away from that idealism."

The Decorated School, published by Black Dog Publishing, brings educationalists and art historians together for the first time to study the impact of artworks, such as murals and sculpture ,in schools.

Dr Shona Kallestrup, honorary research fellow in the School of Art History at St Andrews University, has written a chapter on two major decorative commissions for a school in Denmark by artist and former teacher Asger Jorn.

Art History undergraduate at St Andrews, Julia Lysogrorova, who was born into a Russian family, has contributed a chapter on the impact of Soviet and Post-Soviet art at her former school in Kyrgyzstan and how the Stalinist reliefs and contemporary murals there reflect two education systems with differing ideologies.

And St Andrews Art History and English undergraduate Emma Duff from Northern Ireland, has written a chapter on the school and murals of Belfast.

Contextual targeting label: 
Education

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