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The art (or otherwise) of selective school admissions

A mayor hires a new curator for two art galleries in his city. Both spaces have curious selection processes and replace the...

3 years ago

A mayor hires a new curator for two art galleries in his city. Both spaces have curious selection processes and replace the work of each artist every five years. 

Gallery A: a world famous collection

– Works from a conventional school of art for which the city is famous are displayed in ten rooms. 

– The examples of this school are excellent throughout the space, and uniform. The artists are skilled in their methods; their work is reliably pleasing to the eye. And predictable. The artists are masters at recreating works in the style of the school. But at creating?

– Artworks are selected for display according to assessments of their artists, which take the form of multiple choice answers to psychometric test questions. No creative ability is revealed by these tests. There is a twenty minute interview, in an attempt to isolate diversity of expression, and close reading of references from art teachers.

– Ability in the main school of art is a pre-requisite for admission and this restricts variety.

– Room 1, which displays the finest pieces of art, is impressive. Rooms 2 to 10 are also reliable in quality, but the overall impression to visitors becomes increasingly monotonous and risk averse as they move through the gallery.

– The vitality of the school of art is beginning to be questioned by entrepreneurial collectors, particularly from technology backgrounds. But fine examples of the school continue to appeal to collectors as looking immediately expensive to the untrained eye.

Gallery B: an eclectic collection

 – Works of varied styles of art are displayed in ten rooms, showcasing established and up-and-coming artists from a wide variety of different schools of art.

– Room 1 displays the same school as in Gallery A, but the works are slightly less valuable because the foremost practitioners of the school tend to exhibit in Gallery A. That said, there are a few exceptional pieces.

– The art in Gallery B is chosen by a team of assessors from a range of schools, again by appraisal of the artist. They do not use any standardised testing or software, relying instead on interviews, observed activities and references from an eclectic range of teachers. This process is designed to identify creative potential and the ability to communicate ideas in new formats to a variety of audiences. 

– The curators welcome practitioners of different abilities, who show potential. What their work lacks in skilled technique is compensated for by originality of theme. 

– Much of the art is produced by part-time artists who are gifted in other fields (including music and drama); some is not merit-worthy according to more traditional measures but many pieces communicate vitality. This work still attracts collectors with a view on long term value.

The new curator of these two galleries plans to record the activities of their artists over fifteen years. These recordings will slowly create two long installations – one representing each museum – to show how the value propositions and merit of their different approaches will evolve over the coming generation: 

– The artists from the two galleries work daily together for eight months of the year.

– At the end of the five years, the artists move onto a higher institution of training, for three to six years, before turning professional and earning their own living. 

– After fifteen years, a panel of collectors, from diverse areas of the arts judge the work of the artists to decide which gallery has been the most innovative and creative, keeping pace with rapid technological upheavals in the way art is appreciated. The flexibility of the artists, their readiness and potential to commit to a further fifteen years of collaborative creativity is then assessed.

The story above, of course is a clumsy attempt at an allegory. The conclusion is foregone. Substitutions are as follows: 

– ‘School of art’ for ‘cognitive profile’

– ‘Gallery A’ for ‘highly selective secondary school’

– ‘Gallery B’ for ‘non-selective secondary school’

– Room 1 for ‘top set’

– ‘Curator’ for ‘senior school teacher’

– ‘Collector’ for ‘employer’ or ‘investor’

Now imagine the peak of a new civilisation where Artificial Intelligence has rendered human engagement in any non-creative task obsolete. Human endeavour now relies entirely on creativity. As a result, all pupils and students are known as ‘artists’.

The sun may have already risen on this new world. In which case, what sort of future do selective schools hold for your child?

About the author: Charles Bonas is a tutor and education entrepreneur. He is the founder of Bonas MacFarlane Education.

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