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Germaine Greer Says ‘We Should Stop Teaching Art’ in Schools

Arts subjects are increasingly marginalized in the UK curriculum – but the controversial intellectual suggests art is better done at home

Germaine Greer, Melbourne, 2008. Courtesy: Getty Images; photograph: Kane Hibberd

Germaine Greer, Melbourne, 2008. Courtesy: Getty Images; photograph: Kane Hibberd

Germaine Greer, Melbourne, 2008. Courtesy: Getty Images; photograph: Kane Hibberd

The ever controversial feminist intellectual Germaine Greer has suggested art is too restricted as a school subject, and would be better done at home. She said: ‘I think perhaps we should stop teaching art. I think we shouldn’t be teaching kids how to do it.’ Greer also said that she thought grading art in schools was ‘wrong’, and that you cannot do art at school: ‘You do art at home.’

Greer’s comments were made to the Press Association at last weekend’s South Bank Sky Arts awards, where she presented the painter Rose Wylie with a prize at the ceremony. Greer recounted a meeting with an art teacher who told her that ‘Tracey Emin can’t draw.’ Describing Emin’s work as ‘wonderful’, Greer said that the teacher’s comments made her think ‘Let’s go. We’re not getting anywhere here.’

Wylie, who took home the South Bank Sky Arts award for visual art for her 2017 show ‘Quack Quack’ at the Serpentine Sackler Gallery, said she was ‘astonished’ by Greer’s comments. Speaking to frieze, Wylie said: ‘[Greer] is right you cannot teach creativity directly, but you can bring about the subjective space it needs, and encourage conditions and attitudes from which it can emerge and flourish.’ Wylie also suggested that there was worth in maintaining art as a school subject. She told frieze: ‘you can give the subject value by including it in the curriculum: giving it a level status with maths or science, rather than denigrating it by excluding it.’

Rose Wylie, 2014. Courtesy: Studio International and Wikimedia Commons

Rose Wylie, 2014. Courtesy: Studio International and Wikimedia Commons

Rose Wylie, 2014. Courtesy: Studio International and Wikimedia Commons

Recent figures show entry numbers for GCSE arts subjects in England are at a record low. Arts Professional has reported a drop of 51,000 in registrations for arts GCSEs in England in 2018 alone. Arts subjects currently comprise 1 in 12 of all GCSEs taken, the website reported in May – five years ago, arts subjects accounted for 1 in 8.

The collapse in uptake for arts subjects in schools has been linked to the new English baccalaureate (Ebacc) qualification: a UK government policy which makes sciences, English, maths, a language and geography or history compulsory in secondary schools – with no arts subjects included. Last month, Wylie joined seven other leading artists – Sam Taylor Johnson, Ryan Gander, Liliane Lijn, Zarina Bhimji, Liam Gillick, Paul Noble and Rose English – writing in frieze about the dangers of the fall in creative subjects in the state school sector. ‘Art is not something you have to learn or memorize,’ Wylie wrote. ‘To minimize this introduction to a particular intuitive attitude, a creative exhilaration, and a potential for later cultural inclusion, would cut a lot of children out.’

Greer, author of The Female Eunuch (1970) and generally regarded as one of the leading lights of second wave feminism, has often courted public controversy – particularly regarding the validity of trans women as women, the #MeToo movement and sexual violence. Speaking at the Hay Festival this May, Greer called for reduced punishment for rape, saying that some cases should be considered as ‘non-consensual…bad sex.’ In a recent piece for frieze, Brian Dillon reminds us how brilliant Greer used to be, recalling the 1971 New York Town Hall public debate between Norman Mailer and prominent feminists including Greer: ‘a stentorian, hip-scholarly presence whose allotted ten minutes consist of an erudite demolition of the masculine artistic ego.’

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