Art and Lifelong Learning


It is argued, through the example of art education seen from a broad cultural
perspective, that the concept of lifelong learning implies common terms of reference for learning in all contexts in which learning takes place, especially in schools, colleges and universities. This implies a common approach to standards at all levels of formal educational provision. The disparity of school art and art in other learning contexts is discussed, and concepts of standards currently in use are examined and found to be highly problematic. The idea of practitioner referenced standards is introduced in relation to standards derived from educational theory and practice. In the case of art these are considered in terms of ‘what it is that artists do; what it means to engage with a work of art at first hand; what people have to say about artists and works of art; and what it means to engage in learning’. Ways of relating these standards to each other and to lifelong learning in the context of a research rationale for an art curriculum are put forward. In conclusion, it is suggested that coordination of the current review of the National Curriculum and the developmental work on standards currently being undertaken by the QAA would represent a basis for the establishment of appropriate standards for lifelong learning, although this would require a new level of co-operation between the relevant educational sectors.  Such standards would assist in reducing the possibility that lifelong learning could develop as a further isolated and self-justifying educational sector in a divided national educational system. They would also provide an opportunity for post-modern thinking to make a worthwhile contribution to educational debate.


The concept of lifelong learning [1] that has become a key element of recent debates
in and about education in Britain may be seen to have a number of far reaching
implications for subject teaching in primary, secondary, further and higher education.
If the term lifelong learning is taken to mean a consistency in learning throughout a
person’s life both within and beyond formal educational settings then it would follow
that lifelong learning implies a high level of commonality in the ways in which a
subject is conceptualised at all levels at which learning takes place [2]. This article
deals with this issue in relation to art education where, it will be argued, this
commonality does not currently exist although there is evidence that it is much
needed. Lifelong learning also offers a way of relating post-modernist thinking to art

The post-modern context

Post-modernism is a social and cultural phenomenon and its relevance to art
education (which is also socially and culturally framed) may, therefore, be usefully
clarified in a broader cultural context than that often used to discuss art education.

Page 1 of 9

Robert Graves’ well known poem In Broken Images [3] seems to offer an accessible
starting point to consider a relevant post-modern sensibility:

He is quick, thinking in clear images;

I am slow, thinking in broken images.

He becomes dull, trusting to his clear images; I become sharp, mistrusting my broken

Trusting his images, he assumes their relevance; Mistrusting my images, I question
their relevance.

Assuming their relevance, he assumes that fact; Questioning their relevance, I
question the fact.

When the fact fails him, he questions his senses; When the fact fails me, I approve
my senses.

He continues quick and dull in his clear images;

I continue slow and sharp in my broken images.

He in a new confusion of his understanding;

I in a new understanding of my confusion.

However, it is worth considering for a moment this example in its temporal and
cultural context. At about the time Graves wrote this David Jones [4] was writing The
Anathemeta, a cultural landmark which he described as a bringing together of
fragments. Other earlier examples of this artistic structure can also be found in André
Breton’s account of surrealist collage [5] and in the writings of Alfred Jarry even
earlier in this century. Jarry’s Exploits and Opinions of Doctor Faustroll,
Pataphysician [6] was seen as a stimulating precedent for surrealism yet its
inspirational source can be found in Laurence Sterne’s Adventures of Tristram
Shandy, Gentleman [7] which raised the idea of fragmentation and digression to the
level of principle. These literary and artistic works, which provide precedents for our
contemporary conceptualisation of post-modernism, can be seen to represent a longstanding
tradition of questioning simplistic versions of reality which predates
modernism let alone post-modernism – unless one was to argue that postmodernism
is essentially an eighteenth century phenomenon!

Graves’ poem seems curiously relevant to the clear images to be found within official
publications relating to educational standards, especially but not only in the National
Curriculum for England. The Office for Standards in Education’s (Ofsted) Subjects
and Standards [8] presents subject inspection findings for each subject within the
National Curriculum expressed in just these clear images. The first of the ‘main
findings’ for art is given as follows:

Standards of achievement are satisfactory or better in more than eight out of ten
lessons in both Key Stages 3 and 4, and good or very good in almost three out of
ten. Post 16, standards are satisfactory or better in over nine out of ten lessons and
very good in almost four out of ten.

The judgements underpinning this statement ‘are based on the criteria in the
Handbook for Inspection’ [9]. The Handbook [10] however, proves to be less than an
authoritative source of statements about standards, stating in its criteria that pupils’
achievement should be evaluated by inspectors with reference ‘… to attainment in
the school overall, in relation to national standards or expectations …’ In using the
criteria inspectors are required to judge whether the attainment of pupils … meet(s)
or exceed(s) national standards …’ and whether they ‘… progress as well or better
than expected.’ There is nothing in the Handbook clarifying what is meant by such
standards generically although there is the tacit view that they are external to a
school, and there is no indication of what is meant by standards within subjects.

Specifications for subjects can, however, be found in the National Curriculum itself
expressed in terms of what ‘pupils should be taught’. Art in the National Curriculum

[11] specifies ‘Attainment Targets’ in terms of the activities in which pupils are
required to engage, such as the following examples taken from Key Stage 3: ‘Pupils
use technical and expressive skills … They show a developing ability … They are
increasingly able to research, organise and represent …’ Here is specification of
activities which teachers are expected to organise in lessons but not standards
against which performance in those activities should be assessed, nor any basis for
external reference.

Whilst these documents contain much about processes by which pupils are expected
to learn and their learning be inspected, there is nothing specific about the standards
of pupils’ attainment, nor standards for curriculum content, its teaching and
assessment. The only clarity concerning standards within the Handbook is in its
‘code of conduct for inspectors’ [12]. Thus we are provided with some succinctly
defined standards for the standard of inspections but not for what is to be inspected.
Nevertheless, the Handbook requires ‘clear and comprehensible’ statements about
‘standards achieved in the school’ [13]. Standards seem to be like the chimera, there
is much said about them – and Ofsted even takes its name from this mythical beast

[14] – but no-one has actually seen one. It is a picture of broken images presented as
if they were clear images.

If one persists in a search for what is meant by standards the one firm point that one
can find is the Handbook’s statement of the statutory basis for inspections ‘under
Section 9 of the Education (Schools) Act 1992’ [15]. Perhaps it is not Ofsted’s fault
that inspectors are sent on a poorly defined mission yet still required to report with
clarity. If the real basis for standards is the untheoretical framework of political
expectations then it is so much easier to recognise the relativistic character of any
standards that may be arrived at. Whilst the example of the National Curriculum has
been taken here, the situation in higher education is no better resolved in the former
Higher Education Quality Council (HEQC) Graduate Standards Programme which
comes clean in stating that:

The recent growth and diversification of higher education in the UK has brought
about a situation in which there are no longer universally accepted means for making
a comparison between the standards of degrees from one institution to another,
between subjects, or over time. In consequence, the notion of comparability of
standards no longer commands general support, [16]

whilst seeking an alternative view of standards in terms of general attributes of
graduates or ‘graduateness’. However, the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher
Education (QAA) seeks to get deeper into how subjects may be more clearly
specified and related through ‘developing benchmark information on subject
threshold standards’ [17]. Useful though this latter work may be in making sense of
broken images, it is unlikely to result in the clear image preferred in the political
arena. One is left to conclude that standards exist only within the assertion that they
do. Perhaps it all comes down to how convincingly the assertions of Subjects and
Standards are made. A little like a Wittgensteinian language game, or maybe a game
of ‘Mornington Crescent’ [18].

It is a reasonable conclusion that a concern with standards in education is inextricable
from its cultural context of social selectivity and division. Perhaps we believe
standards exist because the mental apparatus we bring to bear on the subject all but
prevents us from believing otherwise. We talk about standards this way because
these ideas are embedded in our language. Even the structure of the education
system is tiered in this manner with funding levels reflecting the underlying values.
However, the concept of lifelong learning seems to represent other social paradigms
in its principle that everyone can and should continue to learn throughout their lives
and thereby change their lives, and should be formally encouraged to do so.

Lifelong learning

If the idea of lifelong learning does embody the principle that people learn constantly
and in many contexts then institutional educational thinking needs to be consistent
with contexts outside institutional provision. In the case of art, it is possible to identify
a number of contexts in which learning takes place and the following is a provisional
and somewhat generalised list of such learning contexts.

The Bedroom; The Living Room; The Street; The School Room; The Art School; The
Art Gallery; The Museum; The Library; The Cultural Institution including Church; The
Public Place; The Media; and The Internet.

Lifelong learning requires an approach to art and learning which is valid for all these
contexts. However, Hughes [19] has argued that much school art ‘is predicated
largely upon procedures and practices which reach back to the nineteenth century’
and that it has developed ‘in almost total isolation from thinking on art and design in
other parts of our educational system let alone current professional practice’. It would
seem that commonality of approach across the various levels of the educational
system does not currently exist, and that any common approach to standards
remains highly problematic.

Hughes cites Efland’s [20] ‘impish’ account of school art room orthodoxies which
questions the relevance of ‘objects such as kettles, shoes, bottles and bicycle or car
engine parts’ to learning in and through art. Hughes’ account seems to carry a
particular resonance of familiarity and the question arises whether such an orthodoxy
is restricted to art in schools. Are such familiar subjects merely clichés or can they be
seen as a canon, a loose canon maybe, which has its equivalence in further and
higher education? Indeed, could one see art in other learning contexts in a similar

A loose canon of art or some school art clichés?

Kettles; Shoes; Bottles; Bicycle or Car Engine Parts; Crushed Coke Can; Cut
Cabbage; Mask Making; Textures Lines And Tones; Sheep Skull; Pebbles; Swiss
Cheese Plant

A loose canon of art or some foundation course clichés?

Negative Space; Sight Size Figure; The Colour Wheel; Perspective; Problem Solving;
Doing Your Own Work

A loose canon of art or some art school clichés?

Meaningful Marks; Mythologising The Self; Image And Text; The Charcoal Nude;
Addressing The Issues; Intervening And Appropriating; The Installation; The
Projected Video

A loose canon of art or some art gallery clichés?

The Portrait; The Self Portrait; The Landscape; The Still Life; The Interior; The
Caricature; The Object As Object; The Image As Image; Encounter With Seeing; The
Time Based Event; The Shock; The Dream; The System; The Puzzle; The Concept;
The Issues; The Power Of Emotion; The Illusion; The Joke

Perhaps it is not these familiar figures of learning that should be the figures of fun so
much as those who adopt them uncritically. As Hughes [21] says, these are not
‘necessarily wrong’ in themselves and it could be argued that their relevance should
depend on the meaning made of them in their relevant contexts. Perhaps any of
these lists has the potential to carry a weight of significance if they are articulated in

ways that are not restricted by the customs and practices of any one learning
context. Such a breakthrough would require an explicit sense of common purpose in
formal education and would benefit from the broader, pluralistic perspective of self
reflection and learning how to learn associated with lifelong learning.

The social construction of standards

Part of the problem of locating standards is intrinsically linguistic with the Concise
Oxford Dictionary [22] giving eight definitions of which four can readily be related to
education. Generically, standards in education may be considered as a rallying
principle or statement of what is stood for, a measure or benchmark against which
performance can be measured, a degree of excellence required for a purpose, or a
norm used as a measure of quality. In their own ways each of these meanings are
current in education and it is difficult to be sure whether protagonists in debates on
standards use the term in the same way. For example, the National Curriculum
seems to use the term in the latter three senses in different contexts while the QAA
variously uses the second and fourth meaning.

There can only be agreement about standards if it is negotiated, and for the concept
of lifelong learning to be relevant to the whole of a person’s learning career such a
negotiated meaning is essential. The one aspect that the several meanings outlined
in the previous paragraph have in common is a concern with some point or frame of
reference that is external to the educational institution, and this article is based on
this aspect of commonality, whilst recognising that further issues beyond the scope of
this article do arise from them.

Two readily identifiable external points of reference for subjects in schools and higher
education can be seen in the world of the subject practitioner and the world of
educational theory. Practitioner referenced standards imply that pupils and students
should engage with art as it exists outside the classroom and the studio while
educational theory referenced standards imply that the student’s personal
engagement with learning should remain at the centre of educational activities. Just
as history should be taught with reference to what historians do and chemistry with
chemists, so art education needs an engagement with artists and works of art if the
self-contained and self perpetuating character of school art criticised by Hughes [23]
and Efland [24] is to be remedied.

Such an engagement would not only provide common terms of reference for school
art and art school art but also provide a basis for a fuller engagement with lifelong
learning. The balance of practitioner and theory orientations differs in schools and
higher education with schools often tending towards a reliance on educational
psychology and with art schools often tending towards the world of the professional
artist (often in a narrow top-of-the-market commercial sense). However, a dual
engagement with both approaches to standards is capable of improving learning in
both environments. Recent developments in Teaching Quality Assessment and
subsequently Subject Review [25] in higher education, and the forthcoming review of
the National Curriculum [26], mean that both environments are under a new scrutiny
at the same time, and the opportunity of enhancing quality in both together seems
too attractive to miss.

Standards for lifelong learning in art

If the current approaches to standards have been generated separately within the
isolated pockets of schools, further and higher education, then a fresh focus on
socially constructed art and socially constructed education as bases for the
construction of standards would provide means to cross the boundaries of the
separate sectors and make sense of the relevance of standards to lifelong learning.

Such an approach creates a new focus on four key questions: What it is that artists
do?; What does it mean to engage with a work of art at first hand?; What do people
have to say about artists and works of art?; and What does it mean to engage in

If one takes a broad, socially constructivist and pluralistic approach to the terms
‘artists’, ‘work of art’, ‘discourse’ and ‘learning’ then a curriculum would be amenable
to the diversity of personal and cultural experience that is to be found in a multicultural
society. These terms would all be applicable to all the contexts of art listed
above. By ‘artist’ would be understood a full range that would include professional
and amateur artists, designers and craftspeople in the many ways that they are
understood within western cultures as well as the makers of images and artefacts in
other cultures that have not readily used these terms. By ‘work of art’ would be
understood a generic category of images and artefacts irrespective of culturally
located value judgements. By ‘what people have to say’ would be understood a wide
range of discourses relating to art ranging from scholarly publications through
television coverage to the treatment given to art in the press, including students’ and
pupils’ own thinking. Lastly, by ‘learning’ would be understood a variety of skills,
competencies and procedures deriving from a number of theoretical positions in the
world of education.

These four elements together, in explicit and structured relationships to each other,
would provide both a consensual framework for standards for all contexts of learning
in art and a facilitating framework providing teachers with opportunities to maximise
the opportunities that exist locally to engage students with learning in and through

Rationales for learning in art

In presenting the above framework the argument has focused on making sense of
the broken images of standards. However, a key issue that follows is how the
framework may facilitate the organisation of teaching and learning by teachers –
what it means in practice. The problem in assuring a facilitating character to any such
explicit conceptual structure is succinctly identified when Steers [27] argues that,
‘demands for greater accountability from the teaching profession are leading
inexorably to ever tighter control of the curriculum and its assessment and, through
these mechanisms, to control of teachers.’ Almost certainly, those responsible for the
governance of education will not back off from teachers, and greater flexibility can be
obtained only within an explicit framework.

Perhaps an answer can partly be found in Read’s concept of ‘education through art’

[28] which can be seen as a prototype model for relating learning methods to explicit
standards in ways that enable teachers to define their own curricula in the context of
external referents. What would then remain to be found is a rationale for linking the
practitioner referenced standards to the education theory referenced standards.
Many will be familiar with Barratt’s rationales for learning in art [29] but these predate
much thinking about student centred learning. To these may usefully be added the
research rationale that has gained much ground in higher education in recent years
[30]. Here there is a direct engagement with the concept of learning how to learn, and
one in which doing and making carry as much weight as research methods as
scholarly study. If the artist-teacher and the lifelong learner (in all learning contexts)
engage in a joint process of enquiry into the issue of relating the two dimensions of
the framework outlined above in the spirit of ‘education through art’ then the
framework can be seen as much as a skeleton for a new lifelong learning curriculum
in art as a way of relating learning to external standards. In this way, the blank cells
of the above matrix are open opportunities for the creative collaboration of teachers
and learners. While much remains to be done in the theorisation of research
methodologies in art practice, there is nothing to suggest that this task is

insurmountable, indeed recent developments in practice based research degrees in
art have begun to bring a new impetus to the idea of a research curriculum – as the
impact of practice based research degrees on studio based taught degrees has
already been highlighted in higher education. Resolution of these issues will benefit
the whole spectrum of learning contexts in lifelong learning.


It has been argued, through the example of art education seen from a broad cultural
perspective, that the concept of lifelong learning implies common terms of reference
for learning in all contexts in which learning takes place, especially in schools,
colleges and universities. This implies a common approach to standards at all levels
of formal educational provision. The current review of the National Curriculum and
the developmental work on standards and quality currently being undertaken by the
QAA would both benefit by relating practitioner standards to standards derived from
educational theory and practice. There is an opportunity here for the production and
publication of long overdue explicit statements of standards although a new level of
co-ordination and co-operation between educational sectors is required. Combined
with an engagement with issues of how research can underpin teaching and learning,
an engagement with these two dimensions of standards in dynamic relation to each
other not only represents a sound basis for accountability in education and explicit
standards statements, but also facilitates the enhancement of the quality of teaching
and learning across all educational sectors. It also supports the development of
lifelong learning across the full spectrum of education and thereby assists in reducing
the possibility that lifelong learning could develop as yet another self contained,
isolated and self-justifying sector of education. Additionally, these proposals assist in
relating a post-modern perspective to the realities of an as yet unreconstructed and
divided education system.

‘In Broken Images’ by Robert Graves, @ Carcanet Press is reprinted by kind
permission of Carcanet Press


1. Department for Education [1998] The Learning Age: a renaissance for a new

Britain. HMSO Cm 3790. In this and related papers the ideas of initial and

continuing education are created in an holistic view of learning that tacitly brings

into question some of the previously accepted norms of institutional teaching

2. Indeed, the concept of lifelong learning can be seen to bring into question the

concept of levels of learning in the sense in which it currently applies to separate

sectors of formal education

3. Graves, R [1926] ‘In Broken Images’, in Collected Poems. Cassell. Graves does
not provide dates for poems in this collection

4. Jones, D. [1952] The Anathemata: Fragments of an attempted writing. Faber

5. Breton, A. [1934] ‘What is Surrealism?’, in Chipp, H. B. [1970] Theories of Modern
Art. University of California Press

6. Jarry, A. [1911] ‘Exploits and Opinions of Dr Faustroll, Pataphysician’, (Trans.)

Taylor, S. W. in Shattuck, R. and Taylor, S. W. (Eds) [1965] Selected Works of

Alfred Jarry. Methuen

7. Sterne, L. [1759-67] The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman.
Florida edition, [1997] Penguin Classics

8. Ofsted [1996] Subjects & Standards, issues for school development arising from
OFSTED inspection findings 1994-5, Key Stages 3 & 4 and Post-16. A report
from the Office of her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Schools, HMSO

9. Ibid

10. Ofsted [1995] The Ofsted Handbook, HMSO. This document is published in three
volumes relating to different sectors of school education. References here are
taken from the volume entitled ‘Guidance on the Inspection of Nursery and
Primary Schools’ and the sections cited are consistent with the equivalent
sections of the other volumes

11. Department for Education [1995] Art in the National Curriculum. HMSO

12. Handbook, op cit

13. Ibid

14. Ofsted and OFSTED are both abbreviated forms of the Office for Standards in

15. Handbook, op. cit

16. HEQC Update, news from the Higher Education Quality Council, No 11, March
1997 introducing, Higher Education Quality Council [1997] Graduate Standards
Programme, The Report. HEQC

17. QAA [1998] Developing benchmark information on subject threshold standards, in

QAA higher quality, the bulletin of the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher

Education, Vol. 1. No 3

18. ‘Mornington Crescent’ is a panel game on the BBC radio programme, I’m Sorry, I
Haven’t a Clue first broadcast in 1972. The rules of the game (if there are any)
are never made explicit although it appears that all participants are fully
conversant with them, despite their obscure complexity (the rules, not the
participants). Winning seems to depend on an ability to talk self-evident nonsense
in a comprehensively persuasive manner. The apparent spontaneity is scripted.

19 Hughes, A. [1998] ‘Reconceptualising the Art Curriculum’, in Journal of Art &
Design Education, Vol. 17, no 1

20 Efland, A [1976] School Art Style: A Functional Analysis, Art Education, National
Art Education Association, cited in Hughes, [1988] Ibid

21. Hughes, A. op. cit

22. Concise Oxford Dictionary

23. Hughes, A. op cit

24. Efland, A. op cit

25 Teaching Quality Assessment became Subject Review when responsibility for
this process passed from the higher education funding councils to the QAA. See
QAA, [1997] Subject Review Handbook 1998-2000, reference no. QAA 1/97,

26 A review of the National Curriculum is being undertaken by the Qualifications and
Curriculum Authority (QCA), see QCA [1998] ONQ no 03, also

27 Steers, J. [1997] Some Questions about the Future of Art and Design Education,
an unpublished article, 4th revised draft, 17.12.1997

28 Read, H. [1943] Education Through Art. Faber

29 Barratt, M. [1979) Art Education. Heinemann. Barratt describes the following
‘rationales’ for art education in schools: Conceptual; Design Education; Visual
Education; Fine Art; Graphicacy; Art and Craft

30 The introduction of the Research Assessment Exercise to the ‘new universities’
and colleges sector in 1992 has had a significant impact on how creative art
practice is viewed as research practice in art schools, and how this has impacted
on taught courses in the contexts of research underpinning teaching, and on
research degrees in which there is a requirement for explicit research methods.
For an account of the current state of the Research Assessment Exercise at the
time of writing, see HEFCE/SHEFC/CCAUC/DENI [1998] Research Assessment
Exercise 2001. Key decisions and issues for further consultation, RAE 1/98. http:/

First published as Tim Jones (1999) in Directions, 18 (1), Edited by John Swift and Nick