Celebrating the achievements of the Art schools: A new resource

Stroud Cornock
Curator, CNAA Art Collection Trust

Art collections: Collections of art works have long been assembled to promote awareness of individuals, organisations and ideas, or to enshrine them in memory.

Art education in the UK: Britain's art education has its roots in the work of itinerant drawing tutors. The first attempts to formalise training have been traced to the early 17th century, but they did not result in a fully-fledged academy until the second half of the 18th, which makes Britain's art education about a century younger than that of France, which is in turn about a century junior to Italy.

Growth and diversityThe importance of Britain's commitment to the enhancement of its manufactures was confirmed by the Great Exhibition and, despite competition from the new medium of photography, the number of schools of drawing grew rapidly.

A National Collection: The achievements of UK art education have been marked in various ways, including showcase exhibitions of the work of graduating artists (the Young Contemporaries in 1950s and '60s, more recently the New Contemporaries and Fresh Art) and some exhibitions that focussed on particular educational practices

CurriculumThere was a diversity of views on the nature and purpose of art education from the outset.  Hogarth, Gainsborough and Reynolds (each of whom had been apprenticed in England) took part in struggles that accompanied the academies of art established in the 18th century but, in the early 19th century, the question of art education took on a new urgency. 

Teaching and learningDrawing was taught in Britain during the 17th century by travelling tutors whose students sometimes sought diversion but often needed the skills with which to record their observations, particularly on military campaigns and voyages of discovery.

Technology : One of the factors that increased the diversity of practices in the art schools was the development of what we now refer to collectively as the media. 

Gender : Until recently women formed a high proportion of the art student population while the museums and galleries included few examples of womens' work. 

Springboard : At one end of the spectrum fine art as a subject is simply a part of mass higher education, while at the other it exists to launch successive generations of artists into practice in a contemporary world of art that is Brobdingnagian, matching the scale of its ambitions to the worlds of Michelangelo, Titian and Rubens. 

Philosophy, research and controversy: This introduction and indeed the national collection itself is provisional. This is because it is launched in an initial phase of development, presenting work from around 10% of the institutions now offering degrees in fine art in these islands.