The government’s announcement toward the end of 2016 that it was going to drop the art history A-level as part of a cull of ‘soft’ subjects, shocked the art world. One reprieve later, Hannah Marynissen and Lisa Marie Deml from the Courtauld Institute of Art, says history of art has never been more relevant and it’s time to liberate the subject from its isolated position in the humanities.
It seemed that image was the main concern facing history of art; it was perceived as a ‘soft’ subject for the elite and thus interested only a low intake of A-level students.
However, the decision to cull the subject attracted a variety of reactions from some of the art world’s leading figures such as installation artist, Cornelia Parker (OBE, RA). She reminisced how, as a working-class girl, receiving free school dinners, she studied art history [and] ‘it has hugely enriched my life and career.’
In a world saturated by visual imagery, the ability to categorise and decipher images – as taught by the subject – has never been more relevant. Now more than ever it is necessary to demonstrate the importance of history of art, to overcome its stigmatised connotations, and liberate it from its isolated position in the humanities. In a one-day conference entitled ‘Connections’, TEDxCourtauldInstitute wishes to do just that.
TEDxCourtauldInstitute comprises eight students from the Courtauld Institute of Art, who are organising the third TEDx conference since its inception in 2015. This year, it sets out to unravel its ‘Connections’ through a conference of live speakers, performances and pre-recorded TED talks. Joining the threads laid out in previous events, this year the group aims to bond with the communities, organisations and individuals that surround the institue, to hear their stories and create a greater sense of understanding and belonging between the varied groups. As an institution dedicated to the study of art history, the Courtauld aims to emphasise the importance of art in all layers of society.
The conference has attracted a range of international speakers, who will address this topic. Noriko Taniguchi has travelled from Japan to speak on behalf of teamLab, a group of ultra-technologists, who recently exhibited at Pace Gallery and whose practice seeks to navigate the confluence of art, technology and the natural world.
Taking the Courtauld Institute of Art as a point of intersection, the conference will also look at the ways in which the institution can expand its network by demonstrating innovative cultural projects that lie at the heart of London life. Mark Davy, founder of ‘placemaking agency’ Futurecity, will reveal his company’s ambition to illuminate all 17 of London’s bridges across the Thames in a project entitled Future/Pace.
As a student-organised event, TEDxCourtauldInstitute demonstrates something profound – the younger generation’s ability to encourage discussion of the arts so that it may be enjoyed by future generations. The exciting new projects laid down by those in the cultural sector now, provide the materials for future history of art students. Not only does the event demonstrate an enthusiastic engagement with the arts, but also its importance as it continues to penetrate our social environment.
Culture in this sense, can be used as a means to unite disparate communities, or as Cornelia Parker so eloquently notes, ‘As we face Brexit, we have to fully understand what our cultural capital is and how we can best use it. We should be widening our cultural knowledge, not shrinking it.’
TEDxCourtauldInstitute will be taking place on 12 March 2017, Courtauld Institute of Art, Somerset House, Strand, London WC2R 0RN. Tickets available here.