by Realf Greville-Heygate
A few months ago, A-level History of Art was at the cusp of extinction. This was a misguided and quite literal attempt to make art history. Bewilderingly, the subject was being dismissed as ‘soft’. On 19th January, nine dedicated students came together at Whitechapel Gallery to prove otherwise.
Armed with ten minutes each to present, the students covered a diverse range of topics that span our collective cultural heritage. From Bowie to Balfron Tower, each demonstrated a rigorous and considered personal investigation. Their enthusiasm was thoroughly engaging. The students seized the opportunity to interrogate topics they clearly felt passionately towards. Addressing an audience from a lectern is an undeniably nerve-wracking experience. Admirably, there was very little evidence of nerves here.
The audience was handed indisputable evidence for the value of analysing and publicly discussing works of art. Whilst the artists in question have ardently toiled in materialising their practice, the art becomes truly activated when placed in discourse. The birth of an artwork is as much in its reception as its creation. Such captivating and informative presentations by ARTiculation participants allow the artworks to act and inspire outside of the gallery space.
The presentation skills that these students have honed are also invaluable. Artistic Director of Frieze Fairs and adjudicator Joanna Stella-Sawicka highlighted it as a skill that ‘accompanies you in life’. No number of hours online scrutinising TED talks can quite match the experience of actively presenting to an audience. Communicating art demands an expressive ability that can grace any facet of any career, as we constantly interact with visual information. The capability and confidence to analyse these images is an increasingly essential skill. Furthermore, the open nature of the competition gives students freedom to pursue a study of their own interests which satisfies not just a syllabus, but their own creative endeavour. It is this creativity that can go on to enrich all aspects of our lives.
Prompted by the interdisciplinary nature of art, the topics at hand are ones that influence us all: politics, love, loss. In such an image-saturated society, what better way to navigate these themes than through the discussion of artworks. It was a privilege to see this put so passionately into action by these promising students. Despite any threat art education might endure, its discourse is clearly in safe hands. Based on the presentations given that day, the future of art history looks very bright indeed.