'It is impossible to create art without an education:' Is There Still Value in an Arts Education?

05/11/2023

Daisy Couture (she/her) reports on the York Dialectic Union's first student debate

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Image by Ed Booth

By Daisy Couture

On 3 November 2023, the York Dialectic Union held their first student-only debate of the academic year (2023/2024). As proposed by president Adam Moses, speakers debated the motion ‘This House Believes There is Value in an Arts Education.’

Milo Morrod and Josh Chapman made up the proposition, whilst Henry Howard and Avvayar De Mel formed the opposition.

Morrod eloquently opened up the debate, believing a philosophical stance to be the most productive way to approach the motion. He went on to reference the Renaissance, a period defined by the re-emergence of classical art and culture, and its emphasis on education.

Morrod stated, “Art is what makes us human.” According to him, art is what differentiates us from the things that we observe. After all, we are the only species that create art. Whereas STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) subjects deal with what things are, artistic subjects deal with how things are perceived. However, Morrod claimed that a rounded education is the most important factor in human development – the arts and sciences should not be separated.

Howard countered these points in a relaxed manner. He agreed with Morrod’s fundamental argument that the arts are valuable. However, for Howard, it is the current educational system that needs contesting. He disagreed with the attempt to institutionalise the arts as an academic practice, especially in schools and universities. He gave the example of creative writing classes – as a child, your creative work is given a grade, much in the same way as a maths test. Howard then asked the question: “How can this system facilitate creativity if we are scored in the same way for arts as we are for STEM subjects?” According to him, the fundamental flaw of the arts is the education system surrounding them, rather than the arts themselves.

The heart of the proposition’s argument was delivered by Chapman, in an impassioned yet slightly confused speech. Access to a formal education, he claimed, provides the necessary building blocks to expand on our existing knowledge. This is important for the arts, as how can we create art without the skills to do so? Chapman outlined the effect of art on STEM, and offered his belief that the subjects are inextricably linked. He also offered his own examples; certain scientific discoveries, such as the submarine and the mobile phone, were allegedly inspired by music and literature. Perhaps one of the more controversial moments of the night arose when Chapman said: “It is impossible to create art without an education.” This was later contested by the audience.

De Mel delivered a mostly convincing rebuttal of Chapman’s points. She chose to focus part of her argument on definitions of education, and the differences between a formal education and learning experiences. She also built upon Howard’s point that the arts are graded in the same way as STEM subjects, and added that scaling systems do not work with such subjective studies. At one point De Mel remarked: “Who we are cannot be boiled down into an exam.” She also harkened back to Morrod’s Renaissance reference, stating that his views were a very westernised way of looking at the arts, and one that prevents a lot of people from studying them further. Art, she said, is becoming “more and more about employability” – it is being treated as a product, as opposed to a creative process. There is clearly value in the arts, but not in the way they are currently being taught.

Chapman’s closing statement was long, but persuasive. He disagreed with De Mel’s point that education is focused on a grading system, but rather the creative process – an essential building block in gaining artistic skills.

De Mel’s closing statement focused on a desire to bring back the community and human understanding of art. It should stop being graded like an “empirical” subject, and artists should not be treated in the same way as STEM students. She voiced her support for informal teaching and an ungraded system when it comes to such subjects.

After several questions from the audience, the motion was put to a vote. The motion was defeated by 28 noes to 15 ayes.

The York Dialectic Union’s next debate will be on Friday 17 November, where guest speakers Martyn Percy and Ed Rowett will debate the motion ‘This House Believes the Church Should Reflect Modern Values’ alongside student speakers Ambrose Joharchi and Joshua Smith.