- The Concept of the “Master” in Art Education in Britain and Ireland, 1770 to the Present ed. by Matthew C. Potter
This book concerns the history of fine art in higher education in Britain and Ireland, from 1770 to the present. From one point of view, the book could have begun auspiciously with Hans Holbein (1497–1543), who, as a young artist, designed the title page cover for Thomas More’s Utopia (1518) and who came to England in 1526 with an introduction from Erasmus. But that would not have been an apt place to start since it is not a “Master” per se that this book explores but, as it declares, the many roles of a “Master” as a leader, scholar, instructor, director, progenitor, role model, supervisor, curator, lecturer, teacher, practitioner, public servant, and policy maker in art education nation-building ways that, for Britain and Ireland began, as the editor Matthew Potter points out, with the establishment of art academies in the 1770s. There are twelve individual chapters written by eleven different authors tracing the changing role and concept of “Master” from the 1770s to the present, evoking in important, pedagogical ways a sense of the different times, places, cultures, challenges, outlooks, policies, and problems for teachers in art institutions.
In this book review, I have no intention of singling out any of the book’s authors because there is an abundance of academic acumen expressed throughout, which I personally felt could not justify such a selection. What the book has attempted to do, with an awful lot of ground to cover, which it has done very successfully, is to bring together leading teaching practices, debates, judgments, behavior, and ideas relating to events and circumstances current to the situational teaching of art that each chapter examines. Pivotal influences affecting the notions of “Master” that this book explores are the roles that institutions played: the Royal Academy of Arts (London, 1768), the Royal Hibernian Academy (Dublin, 1823), the Royal Scottish Academy (Edinburgh, 1826), the Royal Cambrian Academy (Conwy, 1881), and the Slade School of Art (London, 1871). Key historical figures and their conceptions of “Master” related to art education that are excellently discussed in this book are William Hogarth (1697–1764), Joshua Reynolds (1723–92), John Frederick Lewis (1804–76), Frederic Leighton (1830–96), Henry Tonks (1862–1937), William Orpen (1878–1931), Seán Keatting (1889–1977), and William Coldstream (1908–87). Equally, there are excellently discussed chapters concerning the “Master” in regard to “Opening Doors: The Entry of Women Artists into British Arts Schools” (1871–1930) and in “British Art Students and German Masters” in the first decades of the nineteenth century. There are further [End Page 122] illuminating chapters on “The Pedagogy of Capital: Art History and Art School Knowledge”; “Study the Masters? On the Ambivalent Status of Art History within the Contemporary Art School”; and “Without a Master: Learning Art through an Open Curriculum.” Given the nature of the book title, however, I wonder whether it should have included a paper on the Royal College of Art (1837) and Ernst Gombrich (1909–2001), and perhaps a little bit about Henry Cole (1808–82), since, in 1873, the Massachusetts State Normal Art School in Boston modeled itself on the South Kensington School, aware perhaps of Owen Jones’s (1809–74) influence. In addition, the “Master” teachings of Christopher Dresser (1834–1904) and that of other teachers at South Kensington, like Gottfried Semper (1803–79), who later became professor of architecture at Zurich Polytechnic (1855), could have also been included. But be this as it may, this should not distract from how I found this book to be impressive and delightful to read.
You will also find in the book how individual “Masters” life classes were conducted and information about studio-based teaching methods. Brief discussions about art and morality and notions of beauty pepper the text. Mimetic and observational teaching ideas are well explored, and there is a strong presence of...