Saturday, 28 January 2012

Craft and Poetry (teaching and education)

"Mr and Mrs Clark and Percy", David Hockney, 197o- 71.

My friend John posted the following quote from David Hockney on Facebook today:

"I used to point out at art school, you can teach the craft; it's the poetry you can't teach. But now they try to teach the poetry and not the craft."

I felt compelled to reply:

Hmmm, Hockers [this was on Facebook remember] is oversimplifying as ever - nice for a soundbite but flawed as a reflection of what decent teachers really strive for. As I’m sure you’d agree, overemphasis on craft leads to vapid technical exercises whereas an overemphasis on poetry leads to self-important ineptitude.

Whilst it may be true that you cannot "teach" the poetry, as Hockney calls it, it would be a mistake, I think, to assume that it emerges naturally out of fine craft. Poetry can be nurtured, inspired, informed and encouraged just as surely as it can be neglected. Let's not allow our prejudices about teaching to cloud the issue. We live in a different world to the era of Hockney's studenthood and it’s arguable that art, let alone its poetry, is far less well regarded now [or at least regarded significantly differently] than it was in Hockney's time. If art schools devote greater emphasis to the poetry of art then this is probably simply a reflection of a belief that we have a duty, more than ever, to promote this easily trampled upon but vital aspect of culture.

Thinking about this again I think much of the problem derives from the way that we think of teaching as a form of imparting – usually of skills and knowledge: of quantifiable things. The idea that something as nuanced, complex and sometimes vexed as the poetry of art could be instilled in this way seems wholly unconvincing, preposterous even. And if we were to follow this reasoning to its logical conclusion then it would be pointless to attempt to teach the poetry of art, as Hockney’s quote suggests. However, if we were to think in terms of the word “educate” (from the Latin “lead out”) the whole issue evaporates. Many common prejudices about teaching seem to hinge on this subtle misunderstanding.


Post a Comment