Poussin, Fragonard, David, Delacroix, Géricault, Courbet, Monet, Renoir, Degas, Rodin,… So many French artists who made France famous for Art, and Paris the capital of it. But this huge heritage was sadly not as represented as it should in French pre-collegiate education system as I went through it.In middle school Art History was pretty much absent of the school curricula. On the other hand, Art classes were common as we all had one hour of “Art plastiques” per week in
middle school. As I was reaching 8th and 9th grade, Art classes slowly began to contain a little bit of history and culture. One day, during a section about cubism, we had to list cubism characteristics before having to reproduce them on our creations.. For the first time, we had to write a lesson on an art class, and not just painting or drawing. This was shocking for most of us. Now that I look back at this, I think that those moments dedicated to art history and culture where too rare compared to practicing.
The anecdote that I am about to tell you is probably the best proof I could give to you. I remember that first day of class in 8th grade, when my Art teacher asked us to name one painting, its painter and century. 80% of the class wrote “Mona Lisa”, and probably most of them did not even know who painted it.
Another apparition of Art History was that one day in 8th grade, when we shortly broached painting in my History class, commenting Picasso’s Demoiselles d’Avignon, and another time Monet’s Impression soleil levant.
Seeking for Art Knowledge, I took Art class in high school. A three hours per week optional course. Not every high school offer this possibility, and once more it was Art, and not Art History.
But the role of Art was still more important than in middle school. For example, in 11th grade, in History, we dedicated one entire hour studying La Vierge, l’Enfant Jésus et Sainte-Anne from Leonardo da Vinci.
But I am starting to get old. All this is now dated from a few years ago. Recently, I went back to middle school and high school as a young French and Literature teacher. During those internships, I noticed a progress of the status of these disciplines.
A reform dating from the 30th September 2010 requires high school Literature teachers to study the connection between Literature and History of Arts. During my internship as a French teacher in a high school, I had the opportunity to apply this reform. As we were studying Romantic poetry, I had to set up a class on Romantic painting, and another one on Romantic music. But as Music and Painting are not a part of our training, we, future literature teacher, are not experts in those fields. I felt like an impostor talking about Berlioz. And one of my student who was a piano player had much more to say about Chopin than me. So, the Ministry of Education is full of good intentions regarding the progress of Art History in education, but it still has to give teachers the means to teach it.
However, considerable evolutions occurred during the past years:
Since 2008, the discipline of History of Arts has finally been introduced into the middle school system. According to the legal text, students have to be provided with a solid Art culture. For example, 6th grade students are supposed to be able to name or identify a few works and to situate them in time. Is this working now? I asked Anna (my 11 years old neighbor) the same question my teacher asked us back at the time : Name a painting, it’s painter and century. She replied “I know a painting from Picasso, it has a lot of colors, but I can’t remember its name and period.” Well, I guess that’s a good start!
During an internship in a middle school, I noticed the importance of this change as there is now a test of Art History for the Junior high school certificate. The skills required are artistic culture, historical dimension, ability to analyze a work of art, creativity and even introduction to occupations and formations related to those fields!
What will be the effect on a long-term period? Will students have a better culture? We will see.
To finish, what about collegiate level? I asked two French art students a few questions.
First, Amandine, who has a “Licence” (=Degree) of art Arts and culture and a Master of Cultural management and is currently a language assistant in the United States:
How different is it to major in Art and Art History at the collegiate level in France?
“I think it’s very different than in United States. You don’t have as much colleges that offer a real major in Arts, you have to go to the Superior schools which all require auditions, tests, etc…”
Do international students feel hopeful that they can secure jobs after college in arts-related fields?
“Most of people will tell you that you don’t have a lot of job opportunities after this. Lots of us are aware that it is really difficult to find a job. But you often do arts related studies because you love Art and you can’t imagine not doing it. Finding a job after graduating, it’s all about the network your build, I think”
What Job do you want to do once you’ll reach that point?
“Ahahah! The great question! I don’t know what I will do. I would love to work abroad, for a cultural embassy. Or working in a theater in France.”
When asked the same questions, Claudia, in the process of having a degree in Media and Performing Arts at the University of Strasbourg, answered :
“According to me, making a living of it is very difficult. Studying Art at university is easy to access, but doesn’t teach you a job. Prestigious Private or National school sometimes do “Les Beaux-Arts” and The Conseratory for instance… But those are hard-to-access and crowded.”
Let’s hope the recent changes at the pre-collegiate level will give more hope to art students and create more jobs in art education, museums, or research.