Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Basic Design: A Revolution in Art Education at The Hatton Gallery

I attended a fascinating talk by Dr Beth Williamson and Elena Crippa in conjunction with the current exhibition at the Hatton Gallery, Basic Design: A Revolution in Art Education.

The exhibition "explores the role that Basic Design - a new radical approach to training in arts schools - played in revolutionising art education across Britain opens at the Hatton Gallery this September.

With a particular focus on Newcastle in the 1950s and 60s, through the work if some of its key teachers including Richard Hamilton, Victor Pasmore and their students, the display will survey the main features of Basic Design as they emerged and were taught in Britain, with accompanying archive material and video documentation.

Julie Milne, chief curator of art galleries at Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums, said:

“Basic Design was a significant turning point in the history of British art education. This new method of teaching art was showcased through ‘The Developing Process’ exhibition, which was held 1959 at the Hatton Gallery, and afterwards shown at the ICA in London.

It was pioneered by Victor Pasmore and Richard Hamilton and, both of whom taught at Newcastle University. It is therefore fitting to display Basic Design at the Hatton Gallery, highlighting their dedication to teaching and their association with the North East.”

Basic Design: A Revolution in Art Education is part of major new research programme, supported by the John Ellerman Foundation's Regional Museums and Galleries Fund, which will explore the impact and legacy of Basic Design in Newcastle. The project will build on research initiated by Tate in 2013, and focus on unique archive material held by the Hatton Gallery and Newcastle University's Fine Art School which is currently under-researched and largely inaccessible.

The project will shed light on the important historic role of what was the ground-breaking art school of the period and the working practices of two major 20th century British artists: Pasmore and Hamilton. It will also explore the relevance of Basic Design in contemporary art education and open up the debate about the role of art teaching, which some would argue is being devalued in the current national curriculum, and a key threat to the future support and development for arts and culture in the UK.

Nicola Pollock, Director, John Ellerman Foundation said

“We are delighted to be supporting Basic Design. The project involves essential research into a unique, nationally significant archive, and is likely to appeal to a diverse range of audiences, from artists and curators to educators and the wider public.”

Pasmore and Hamilton played a pivotal role in the development and integration of Basic Design as a teaching method, which received establishment approval through the Coldstream Report (1960), and was to influence higher art education for generations to come.

Three themes were common to Basic Design teaching: Intuition, Science and Technology. Established methods of teaching art focused on copying and drawing from life, whereas Basic Design taught the core skills which underpinned all art and design activities, through the use and exploration of various techniques.

During his time as head of painting (1954-61) at King’s College (now part of Newcastle University), Victor Pasmore drew on the thinking of Paul Klee, the famous Bauhaus artist and teacher. Pasmore encouraged his students to actively engage in the processes of nature rather than remain an outside observer.

Richard Hamilton, taught in Newcastle until 1966, he was key in the development of Basic Design and encouraged his students to think of their work in terms of diagrams of thought processes rather than self-expression, using logic and rationale to reach a conclusion.

Basic Design: A Revolution in Art Education also features work by Alan Davie, Terry Frost, Eduardo Paolozzi, Rita Donagh and Richard Smith. The exhibition is on show at the Hatton Gallery from 19 September - 13 December 2014. In partnership with Tate Britain. Supported by John Ellerman Foundation."

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