Why art really matters

Have you ever dismissed the importance of art and design (or perhaps any of the creative subjects) for your children? 

Perhaps you’re concerned about maths, english, languages and the sciences when it comes to parents’ evenings. You know, the serious subjects that lead to big-time, highly successful careers? 

You’re not alone, but respectfully it would be wrong to do so. 

This comes at a time when schools across the UK are being squeezed in their ability to offer meaningful creative opportunities.

Head of Art Nick Adair leads one of the most ambitious Art Schools you will find anywhere in Scotland, and it’s located right in the heart of our campus here at Watson’s. 

He thinks the physical location - between the Senior School and Junior Schools - is a metaphor for just how important creativity is. 

Nick quotes the filmmaker Alan Parker: “Art in schools shouldn’t be sidelined...it should be right there right up in the front because I think art teaches you to deal with the world around you. 

“It is the oxygen that makes all the other subjects breathe.”

“There’s something about the kind of narrative that is often put out there about the so-called ‘non academic subjects’,” Nick says. 

“We live in a visual society. An extremely high percentage of us use our visual senses first. These are the first senses we use every day, whether we are doing maths, biology, chemistry. 

“What we are offering in the art department is not just pretty pictures. It is visual education, how to understand the world around you, and how to make sense of it; to apply these skills in other subjects.

“I think art is a subject where you can explore yourself, the human condition, and that is what encourages your creativity. You are exploring your ideas, and making meaning in the world around you.

“This is about how to future proof lifelong learning, how you develop creating thinking. If you look at the top skills employers look for, the one that is heading right to the top is creativity.”

The Art School at Watson’s was built over 40 years ago, but it’s been cleverly re-modelled over the years as provision for the subject has been extended. That’s partly reflected in the evolution of digital technology  in art and design and the introduction of photography. 

There are a range of specialist studios, designed to provide a broad range of creative possibilities 

Helping to make this happen is a talented staff, many of whom are professional artists and creatives in their own right. They don’t just talk about it - they walk it! 

“We have a huge range of staff who are painters, jewellers, designers, illustrators, printmakers,” says Nick. 

“Our staff that work in the building have all gone through different art and design disciplines, and are aware of that creative journey. 

“We’ve got a lot of different ways of exploring creativity. It is centred around the pupil. As you go up the school the projects become very personal, personal ideas. That’s really encouraged in the curriculum.” 

One of the things that our art department has established is the need for art to support pupils in practical ways. Yes, they can be (and are) stunningly creative, but the skills they develop with our teachers help them to think more creatively and more strategically, things that employers look for. 

That could mean how to lay out information, to tell a story, or even more practical things. For example, design can be about user experience (think websites , game development!). 

A  former pupil and recent graduate from  University of Dundee animation degree listed their skills  on Linkedin  as problem solving, concept art and character concept design.

“We don’t expect them all to go on and be artists or designers ,” Nick continues. “But the skills we teach will help them in other subjects.” 

The process starts in Primary 4 when pupils start to participate in specialist arts lessons, delivered by department colleagues. It can continue right through until Senior 6. 

There’s a big focus on transition from Junior to Senior Schools, with art providing seamless opportunities for our pupils. From the beginning the bar is high, according to Nick. 

“When I first arrived at the school, I was really impressed by the senior school exhibition, and how Junior School pupils would go and see the work,” he says. 

“Then five years later, they would ask to create large scale works using difficult techniques and materials such as oil paints - high aspirations, ambitions, because of what they had seen. 

“When the pupils move to Senior School they are already introduced to the art school so they are miliar with the surroundings. They have mingled with senior school pupils, seen the artwork, so there’s a really good sense of progression and what is possible.” 

One of the things that Nick is particularly proud of is Watson’s Artist in Residence programme. Pupils are able to experience the mystery and magic of art with talented artists, who lend their creativity to be part of a life in maroon for an academic session.

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    Fourth Form Prize for Art Winner - Google Meets by Cara (S4)
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    National 5 Art and Design - Mum by Cara
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    Higher Photography by Eilidh
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    Higher Art and Design by Tate
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    Higher Graphic Design by Tate

“They add in that connection between the real working world and being in school,” he identifies. 

“Usually what would happen is that pupils would have to go out of school to get this experience. We have an artist or designer in the building in their own studio. The pupils get to work with them in group or class projects; they can speak to them individually. They are visible, and act almost as a work experience so pupils can see how an artist or a designer works on a day to day basis.

“What I would like to make sure it’s the highest priority is this sense of the unknown and mystery, the emotional connection that a lot of people are craving for, and have discovered during lockdown.” 

Your child may not be destined to be the next Maud Sulter Sir Eduardo Paolozzi or Alison Watt, but a Life in Maroon means they’ll be able to use the mystery of art and design as an enabler for creativity and critical thinking. 

And who can argue with that? 

Find out more about a Life in Maroon, by joining us for our Open Morning on Saturday 2 October 2021. Book a slot is essential - click here to register.