Options choices… the case for Art & Design

Supporting students to make the right options choices is a tricky area for Art and Design teachers. It is a fine balance between encouraging young people to pursue a subject which you know is beneficial to them as a ‘whole person’ and which can offer an alternative to the style and content of so much of that the curriculum has to offer, whilst also ensuring that they understand that art is not an easy option.

Options Choices

We know that enjoyment of Art courses is dependent on a high level of engagement from students. If students don’t invest their own energies, teachers end up frustrated that they seem to be doing all the work!

With this in mind, I have put together some resources to inform and support the all important option choice process. Getting the right student on the course in the first place, is crucial… but not easy.

Making Expectations Clear

Parents, students and members of staff need to be made aware the work involved in taking an Art course. The prevailing view – that Art is a soft option – is not easily dispelled, but keeping examples of high quality work to hand for options evenings (as well as open days and parents evenings) can help establish high expectations, and also motivate and inspire students too. It is a good idea to keep a folder which you update regularly with photos and examples of great sketchbook pages and final pieces to exemplify the importance of both the process and the outcome.

I have also found it helpful to produce a leaflet to distribute which promotes the subject. It also spells out the challenges and the high expectations for independent study and creative input. You can download the PDF of my ‘Thinking about taking GCSE Art & Design’ here for £1.50.

Selling the Subject

It can be a challenge just to get the value of Art & Design to be recognised, and for this it is helpful to be armed with great advocacy tools and real information. I’ve collected some links to websites and articles below that are great resources for exactly this:

  • Studying Art & Design supports so many careers options and it is helpful to have a thorough list of these: Student Art Guide’s list of 150+ is a great place to start.
  • This video and the attached weblink to case studies are really well produced, clear and excellent in putting forward the positive case for Art & Design: Creative Journeys.
  • The NSEAD careers case studies are printable as A4 sheets and cover a great range of related jobs, giving helpful information.
  • Cultural Learning Alliance have some fantastic resources on their website. These provide hard evidence to support assertions about the importance of arts education. The Key Research Findings: the case for cultural learning, from 2017 is a good place to start… it features a 10 point summary which starts: Participation in structured arts activities can increase cognitive abilities by 17%.
  • Designing a Future Economy (Design Council Report, 2017) highlights key findings about how design skills link with productivity and innovation. For example: People who use design skills are 47% more productive than the average UK worker, delivering almost £10 extra per hour in GVA.
  • If you want to add a bit of glamour, 8 celebrities you never knew were designers (Creative Bloq, 2016), gives a helpful list of some well-known faces that studied design, including David Bowie and Chick D of Public Enemy.
  • This Artsy article on How Creativity is Measured—And Why It’s So Difficult is less direct, but offers some interesting quotes on the kinds of aptitudes that we try to nurture in our subject which are so useful in life; “In other words, creativity is the ability to be different in a useful way.”
  • Paintball hamster is a fantastic video visual metaphor for why not to get stuck in a boring job produced by Arts University Bournemouth.

The truth is out there: Art and Design can be a hugely fulfilling option choice for young people whether or not they follow a directly related career in the future. We just have to keep getting the message across!

Options choices… the case for Art & Design - help students make the right decision when choosing subjects - printable leaflet promoting the importance of arts education and outlining expectations