Illustration by Tilde Marman Walaker (10 yrs).
Translations by Hannah Vegge
Editor in Chief / publisher:
Annicken Dedekam Råge
Tilde Marman Walaker
Morten S. Wensberg
Dag August S. Dramer
«The Arts are Practically Non-Existent in Compulsory Schooling»
Let us say you agree with this statement: we need to bring more arts and culture into our schools. Your lived experience is that your children, your nieces or nephews or your friends’ children – if you do not have any of your own – are barely subjected to it at all. You would be correct. Today, the percentage of practical and aesthetic subjects taught at school is a mere 13 per cent to the 20 per cent observed in the 1970’s.
It is pointed out that children no longer solve tasks without criteria, demonstrate critical thinking or engage in play in order to find solutions to problems, in case the answer might be wrong. Often, the teachers stand in the way of letting children develop their creative abilities and imaginations at school.
You might ask yourself; how are these tiny humans that we care so greatly for going to be able to become independent beings who participate in society and defend democracy if they are unable to trust their own decisions? Take solace in the fact that you are not alone.
Parliamentary report after parliamentary report, documents and strategies galore – a plethora of eloquent statements, studies and recommendations have been produced and distributed about the arts in Norwegian compulsory schooling over the past 20 years. Plans and purposes; one more well-meaning than the next. There is no lack of good intention when it comes to providing children and youth with a proper arts foundation.
As parliamentary report “The Power of Culture (“Kulturens kraft”, 2018–19)” states; “Arts and culture education can provide children with tools they can use to reflect on experiences, develop their own opinions and express themselves within their communities. Experiencing different expressions of arts and culture strengthens the creative capabilities – as well as problem-solving abilities and critical reflection in the individual”.
Call out, “Open, Sesame,” and the vast and cluttered landscape that is culture and the arts rolls out in front of you. Embellished statements transform into impressive mastodons of Norwegian cultural organisations, all weaved into a mottled tapestry of good intentions and cultural productions – and delivered right at the school gates. They all exist with the purpose of improving the individual pupil’s quality of life, as well as personal growth, education, behaviour, sense of belonging and identity. “Culture is understanding ourselves and the world around us”, say the people behind the parting cotton clouds; the two Norwegian Ministries in control of the development of arts and culture education emerge.
But – is it working? Are our children gaining “access to the arenas they need in order to develop creative joy and the way they explore and engage in the world around them”, as parliamentary report “Experience, Create, Share (“Oppleve, skape, dele”)” states? 20 million kroner were recently granted to a scientific project set to examine how Norwegian teachers can make better use of the The Cultural Schoolbag program (TCS). This is because TCS is not otherwise prioritised in a busy school schedule, hence it does not fulfill its potential. The ultimate goal of the project is among other things to advance the teachers’ skillsets when it comes to arts and culture.
It might seem an ambitious goal to pursue, when even teacher education represents a bottle neck when it comes to introducing more arts and culture into compulsory education. Subject to fierce discussion, a school subject renewal policy that will be introduced during 2021 involves absolutely no improvement to the percentage of arts and culture to be taught. And, crammed in between art, culture and knowledge, you will find a PISA-study, introduced to Norwegian schools in 2000, that measures pupils’ abilities when it comes to reading, math and science. Yearly national testing has also been a priority since 2004. They test reading, math and English skills – and they perform separate Sami language skill testing in the fifth, eighth and ninth grades. Do we really have to ask why Norwegian children find school boring?
Within this landscape, the National Centre for Arts and Culture in Education is sold short. In spite of plenty of attempts and enticements, teachers in general are still largely unequipped with regards to teaching arts and culture. With a ten-year-old report penned by creativity professor Anne Bamford in hand, they have been saying it all along; “School is after all the most important institution for learning about the arts and culture”.
There is still hope on the horizon. “The art of learning” is a pilot study that shows how a mere four hours a week of practical and aesthetical subjects for 12 weeks, has an immediate effect on the pupils’ cognitive learning abilities. So. It seems everything can be solved through simple means – at school. Are four hours of arts and crafts too much to ask for?
Annicken Dedekam Råge
(Illustration of a tree by Tilde Marman Walaker)
– When humans engage in play, we gain an advantage. We enter an emotional mode and gain a flexibility that opens us up to learning. Learning in a traditional manner takes away that openness to new reflections. More creative activities and play will make the subject matter easier to absorb, as it becomes more playful in form and thus engages curiosity.
Ulrika Christina Håkansson
Planet of Apes
Having to write the completely obvious is not my favourite pastime – however, it can seem like that is exactly what I will be doing for quite a while. Indeed, a long time – I harbour no illusions of hope when it comes to change ever happening. Really, I do not suppose I have much hope at all anymore. Because, in spite of everything, if the evolutionary development is any indication that a mutation of the human genome is underway, or that we are in the midst of an era of transition in which some of us choose to liberate ourselves from our species to become trolls – is it then right to expect of the individual that they should take responsibility for their own development? Let us be clear on this; being born into the financially independent driving lane of society, in addition to growing up in privileged and overly protected conditions, is a huge and extremely unfortunate handicap in relation to those sorts of things. It is significantly harder to protect oneself against the voices in one’s head when a soul cannot be sold, but rather must be bought. Unfortunate indeed. The obvious becomes muddled, the common good a great blind spot. And one should never assume that a person comes readily equipped with grand cultural capital just because their father sold a bunch of sausages and can afford a swimming pool. Just as one should never assume that some sort of genetic analphabetism can be found amongst the lower classes. Allow me to illustrate using a personal example: I come from a home where reading anything other than football results was viewed with skepticism. Books were considered outright unhealthy to peruse: “They’ll just give you a bunch of damn ideas”. My father was proud of his inability to write, and he cursed mandatory schooling for having taught him how to read – because, what good could ever come of that crap? Now that I am older than my father, this attitude seems entirely incomprehensible. And access to public libraries seems ever more essential.
Now that I am the father of some seriously smart offspring – that have been subjected to a far more fragmented upbringing, with several changes of address and approximately zero financial stability – I can safely say that at the very least they carry with them an innate credibility and insight into the things that truly matter. This combination is not altogether common, nor even particularly accepted. In a class divided society such as ours, the reality of it involves falling outside of the common norm. Russian literature and French cinema become more interesting than hockey and football, but the ones you feel culturally in tune with come from the other side of the tracks, have new shoes on and always lack something entirely essential. For example, they do not understand why we should protect bats against wind turbines when there is so much money to be gained in so-called green energy. And at any rate, the most important thing in life is sausages, since there is money to be made off of those. There are reasons why so many of the obscenely rich make use of curators and experts when they decide it is time to start collecting art. Firstly, they do not know the first thing about art. And secondly, they have no time to waste learning about art as they are too busy selling cheap sausages at high prices – because one must be allowed to make a profit, after all.
Lately, I have been reiterating at an ever-increasing frequency that music is the most important thing in this world, no matter what. In the same breath, I have repeatedly stated that we in all likelihood do not understand just how important. It might not be a universal interest among the common man, but it is hard to come by human beings that do not enjoy any form of music at all. Where literature, art and theatre demand at the very least a minimum of reflection, music bypasses all intellectual filters and goes straight to the nervous system. I am completely convinced that we will be extinct as a species within the course of two generations if we succumb to collective tone deafness and give up on singing and playing music entirely. In there somewhere lies the explanation to why the planet has not gotten rid of us as of yet – we dream the best dreams, and the music we create is always getting cooler. Seen in perspective, it is undoubtedly the most important job we have to do, and the strongest connection we have to an ecological system some people are willing to destroy forever in exchange for some more profitable sausages. There is a reason why birds sing and grasshoppers do their thing. This is how we belong in the world, and how we exist in relation to it, and at any rate we have to think different now. We are already living in a post capitalist age, an age in which class divides are just too visible for anyone to be completely comfortable with, and where every crazy conspiracy theory seems more correct and trustworthy than the official historical records and propaganda – which is desperately attempting to manipulate an ever-dwindling homogenous population into accepting restrictions the likes of which no dictator in the history of mankind has ever managed to accomplish.
In light of this – because that is the actual current situation – let us cut to the core of the matter: What is the actual reason for the negligence of cultural life and slashing of art related subjects in school? And who exactly is it that makes these decisions on behalf of Norway’s population? Who is selling the ground beneath the tiny feet supposed to take their first steps into time and space as we celebrate New Year’s Eve 2036? Allow me to rephrase that last part: Who will be celebrating New Year’s in 2063?
(Image: Roddy Mcdowall takes a break while filming Planet of the Apes, Malibu. Photo: Bettman/Corbis. Getty Images)
Soft Subjects and Hard Facts will Provide Evidence
Can children become kinder, more including and tolerant, and gain more friends? Can they become open to other people’s ideas and contribute to a better and more inclusive environment at home and at school – and not least learn more and increasingly in-depth if they are exposed to more art at school?
Yes! Is the conclusion derived from clear indications in a pilot study that tasked pupils at several trial schools in Oppland county, Norway with visual, literary, musical and digital art projects in addition to theatre and dance. The project, dubbed “The Art of Learning”, was allotted four hours per week for 12 weeks consecutively.
The Value of Art in Compulsory Education
This long-awaited confirmation does not come cheap. But one thing we can look forward to is clear answers, and more people will realise that practical and aesthetic subjects hold great value. Approximately 20 million kroner have been granted to the ongoing study, that is being conducted in cooperation with many national and international collaborators.
Put together by Marie Othilie Hundevadt, advisor to Oppland county and Marita Egge Klausen, final year master student within the field of special education at Innlandet University College, the report was finalised in 2019. When the research project properly kicks off, it will span the course of two years up until 2023, and it will be completely finalised in January 2024. At that point, the indication will become conclusion, and we will know the effect of teaching art in compulsory school.
– What do you expect to find?
– We think that we will be able to confirm the preliminary results from the pilot, that is that children that are subjected to arts and culture in their everyday lives demonstrate a faster advancement of the cognitive functions than the pupils who undergo normal compulsory education. According to project leader Marie Othilie Hundevadt, this would of course also indicate a substantial positive effect with regards to all the other things they are to learn at school as well.
Will Benefit the Children who Struggle
– A lot of times, the reality is that these kinds of projects work best for the pupils who are already performing well. But in this case, we expect the greatest effect to occur in the children faced with the biggest challenges, such as ADHD and autism.
– This sounds like a dream come true, so then why don’t we just spend more time teaching practical and aesthetic subjects in our schools?
– It should not be difficult. But with the way teacher education looks at the moment, the students are taught little about arts and culture. The connection between our brain development and our capacity for learning in connection with arts and culture, has not previously existed and still is not quite real as of yet – which is why we have involved so many collaborators and why the project is so big. The hypotheses say that this will work, but we have no scientific back-up as of today that can provide us with a final answer.
Testing Creativity can Become a Reality
Hundevadt confirms that a European educational trend that has been developing over the past 20 years has been involved in the worsening state of arts and cultural education.
– There can be no doubt that the Pisa tests (Programme for International Student Assessment) have contributed to a focus on math and reading and writing skills; these are the skills that European countries test their children for and use to compare them with. That obviously affects how the schools conduct their teaching.
– When you have the numbers, it becomes easy to categorise the results?
– Yes, it’s all very “neat.” The OECD has been working on finding a way to test creative abilities that is to become part of the very same testing system, she explains.
By introducing an additional testing element into the mix, the interest surrounding how we develop creativity and what it entails will become bigger, according to Husevadt, who believes the pendulum is now about to swing the other way.
A Belief in Quantitative Studies
Scientist, psychology specialist and associate professor at Innlandet University College, Ulrika Christina Håkansson, remains optimistic. She believes that when the quantitative statistical studies of the children who are subjected to art at school and those who are not are ready, they will be able to make a bigger splash in the scientific communities they want to reach.
– The exciting part is that we combine the arts, often referred to as “softer” subjects, and psychology, which is one of the so-called “hard”, fact-based fields of study. For instance, we get feedback that indicates people agree that art belongs in schools; that creating representations of experiences is fun and exciting. But what is often missing from the studies, is making the connection that art plays a part in strengthening certain skills and capabilities. Existing research incorporates several indications and assumptions, but little scientifically sound evidence, according to Håkansson.
– Arts and cultural education is often talked about as something important, so then why has it taken us all this time to gather actual scientific results demonstrating a positive connection between art and learning?
– I think a lot of people have found it difficult to figure out how to even conduct a study researching this. After all, there are no traditions for conducting scientific studies of the more creative ways of learning using so-called hard research tools.
Some of what we look at when we research brain function has mostly been used within the medical field. However, we now see that these capacities are what leads to experiences of achievement and control at school – of succeeding at something. The reason why it has taken so long, if you ask me, is because art has not been systematically implemented in this way. Art has been something we are taught in addition to the normal subjects. But in the new scenario, art is to be integrated fully, and that is something I think has not happened already because it has been perceived as far too big an interference.
Children Learn More when Engaging in Play
Furthermore, Håkansson does not believe art has been factored in among the research communities with scientific expertise in neuropsychology. Creative function has not been looked at, the research has mostly revolved around in what capacity children are able to concentrate and generalise knowledge in a typical school setting. In this case, Håkansson believes that something crucial has been overlooked when it comes to the efficacy of knowledge obtainment in children:
– When humans engage in play, we gain an advantage. We enter an emotional mode and gain a flexibility that opens us up to learning. Learning in a traditional manner takes away that openness to new reflections, she states, sharing Danish neuroscientist Kjeld Freden’s view; that the educational system and the way we think about learning are far past their expiration dates.
– More creative activities and play will make the subject matter easier to absorb, as it becomes more playful in form and thus engages curiosity. We expect to see great results emerging from this research project, Håkansson concludes.
Annicken Dedekam Råge
(Illustration by Tilde Marman Walaker)
(Illustration of Anne Bamford by Tilde Marman Walaker)
So – Why do We Need Creativity, Anne Bamford?
“We need to ask the question, what is culture NOW and what will culture be in the future? We all tend to work with the culture of yesterday, not the culture of tomorrow. Culture is always at least 10 years behind where society is at.”
Becoming a well-rounded human being is not supposed to be easy. Many of us spend a lifetime trying to achieve it. But one of the most important reasons for putting children in school is to contribute towards this. Creativity can function as a precondition when it comes to developing the ability to participate in society in meaningful ways. Many would say investing in it should be an easy decision.
The opening statement is taken from Anne Bamford’s report, “Arts and Cultural Education in Norway 2010–11”, in which she defined arts and cultural education in Norwegian state schools. The national curriculums have been updated as of the spring of 2021, and they state that more time will be devoted to learning about human worth, cultural diversity and critical thinking, and that knowledge can be absorbed through interdisciplinary means. Does that sound like creative thinking? Have we advanced any further? Do we have a deeper understanding of how important it is? Why do we even need creativity?
– Creativity is a natural, human instinct, a natural reaction, Anne Bamford explains over the phone from London, almost to the date ten years after her report was published in Norway.
Creativity is Fundamental
She is a professor of creativity, and is to the field of creativity a little like Kylie Minogue is to pop, or Nicole Kidman to movies. The field she operates in can be seen as one of the most important and fundamental to the learning function in humans. But the educational trend of Pisa tests that extends 20 years into the past has contributed to a simplification of political representation of educational statistics riddled with numbers and graphs. It has focused exclusively on the sciences, and at the same time extracted the emotional aspect of learning – an aspect that happens through the application of arts and culture, subjects schools devote less and less time to.
However, the pendulum can be made to swing the other way. A wake-up call is underway. When perusing the most recent Pisa test results from 2018, Bamford noticed that Norwegian pupils showed no improvement, and achieved an average score of under 500. She emphasises the fact that all the subjects put together result in a better learning outcome and continues to praise Finland, a country where the arts hold a substantial position in education. They continue to do well with regards to the Pisa tests.
– Creativity is something we need in order to perform a fundamental part of being human, and something we for instance see when we observe children as they learn … anything! When learning, they use a series of creative techniques in order to learn new things. The human being is operating at a fundamental level. Creativity improves how we feel, increases people’s capacity to handle different situations, develops resilience and so on. From a personal perspective, this is all very valuable. If we expand this foundation, creativity is also important seen from a social perspective. Imaginative play is a good example, it contributes to children’s ability to learn different rules and how to interact with others. And that is important when it comes to how we behave as social individuals, she states.
Bamford points to how we learn manners. Waiting your turn and so on – and not least seeing something from another person’s perspective. Developing empathic abilities is intrinsic to creativity.
Fusion Skills for the Future
– A lot of work has been done with regards to mirror neurons and creativity. So, the way you literally become able to see from another person’s perspective matters through all phases of life and work life. Furthermore, creativity is important to the development of basic abilities and skills for the future. We talk about “Fusion Skills”, skills needed both at present and in the future. Here, creativity is counted amongst the ten most important, she explains, adding that many industries are experiencing a lack of these skills today.
– We need people with just these talents, she continues, and places it into a bigger socio-economic perspective; – Creativity is important in an increasing degree to the economy and for businesses to function well. And that is particularly true for Norway, where quality is held in high regard. She goes on to emphasise that these are talents that will be intrinsic to determining the level of one’s success, now and in the future.
– So, from a basic human level to an economical level, you will see that creativity is the prerequisite for innovation and learning – and not least to be able to successfully navigate the world as it is.
Teacher Education Poses a Problem
Bamford believes that in the document “The School of the Future – Renewal of Subjects and Competences”, Norway demonstrated clear ideas of a vision for the future but emphasises the fact that such plans must be realised. In a time where we focus on the number of teachers with arts and crafts competency being too low, and on the mere two hours allotted to the subject per week, an announcement is made that from 2023, a five-year master programme of education, specialising in arts and crafts, will be introduced in Norway. However, Bamford’s point is that alle teachers must be able to teach creatively:
There is a point to made that when art is being used to make learning interesting, engaging and invoke curiosity, pupils will perform better with regards to math, writing and so on. Teacher education is a big problem. Even though the programmes are getting longer, they are getting narrower and teachers have lost the ability to use creative methods and the arts to improve learning for all children. Many children are visual and kinaesthetic learners, and if this is not part of teacher education then no matter how good the curriculum is, teachers struggle to improve the results. ALL teachers need to know how to teach creatively and to use the arts and culture to assist learning.
Not Much has Changed
Professor Anne Bamford believes that the statement saying there has been no change in the state of the arts in Norwegian schools in the time since her report was published ten years ago, is correct. There is a lot going on behind the scenes, such as studies being launched and organisations working hard to bring more arts and culture into the curriculum, but everything seems to come to a halt in front of the school gates.
– What do you think about that?
– I think that is correct, she replies, – because I believe the same basic factors I identified in my study in Norway still exist and have not been solved.
Annicken Dedekam Råge
Culture for All of Norway’s Children?
The access to arts and culture in our schools is minimal. What difference do initiatives such as Kulturskolen (municipal schools of music and performing arts), The Cultural Schoolbag and Kunst i skolen (Art at School) make? Can they really cater to everyone? Who ensures that the grades set by an arts and crafts teacher matter as much as the ones set by a math teacher? And why is the government spending billions keeping it up?
«Children and young people have the right to participate in the artistic and cultural sectors and must experience and perform culture on their own terms. They must meet the best that the artistic and cultural sector has to offer, they must have access to art expressions that are relevant to them, and which offer them basic cultural references, learning and joy.»
The above quote is sourced from the latest report to the Storting (Norwegian Parliament), “The Power of Culture (2018 / 2019)”. But – how do we reach this goal? And will the Norwegian government be able to keep its promises? Do we need all these state-run initiatives delivering art to our children?
An Unsettling Picture
In the year 2010, The Norwegian Centre for Arts and Culture in Education tasked Anne Bamford with mapping the status quo of arts and culture in the Norwegian educational system. Bamford had previously spearheaded the 2006 UNESCO study “The Wow-Factor” that involved 60 countries. The study showed that high quality arts and cultural subjects result in better Pisa test scores and strengthens children’s motivation, social skills and cultural knowledge. Bamford travelled the entire country and placed creativity, innovation, music, dance, theatre and design under scrutiny. Every formal education offer for children and youth between the ages of one and 20, as well as every arts and cultural education activity on offer in after-school programmes, municipal art schools and non-profit organisations, were included in the study. The report answered many questions: what is being done with regards to arts and cultural education, and in what manner is it being done? What is the quality level of arts and cultural education in Norway? What opportunities and challenges do we have to face now and in the future?
The conclusion? Norway has failed when it comes to including everyone. The percentage of children with minority backgrounds who participate in arts education programmes is low, the same goes for children with special needs. And few boys partake in activities related to arts and culture. This is evident both in state schools and in the municipal art schools. Furthermore, the report points out the fact that the lack of after-school activities, including Kulturskolen (municipal music and performing arts schools), that cater to pupils with minority backgrounds, pupils with disabilities and pupils from low-income families, is particularly worrying. Ten years later, the picture looks more or less the same.
Kulturskolen – a Place for Rich, White Girls?
– We do not believe there is a general disregard regarding Kulturskolen, however we are aware of the challenges we face, insomuch as Kulturskolen traditionally being considered a place for “white” Norwegian children from high-income families and a high percentage of girls, states Morten Christiansen, director of The Norwegian Council for Schools of Music and Performing Arts (Norsk Kulturskoleråd), an organisation for the development of special interests founded in 1973 that counts approximately 350 of Norway’s 356 municipalities amongst its members.
– Music is still the dominating discipline. The municipal schools of music and performing arts are first and foremost a furtherance of the municipal music schools of the past. But we are working actively to improve these areas, with regards to integration and particularly when it comes to reaching low-income families, he says.
Through Nordic collaboration Kulturmanifestet (The Culture Manifesto),
recommendations surrounding diversity and cooperation were developed as part of a bigger strategy. This includes reaching children with minority backgrounds, but also pupils with different disabilities and demographic backgrounds. All municipalities are required to have a Kulturskole according to Norwegian law, however, the amount granted through the municipal fiscal budget as well as the quality level and content, is up to the separate municipalities to decide and oversee.
– The framework plan for Kulturskolen as well as diversity and in-depth learning clarifies the municipal Arts schools’ social mission. The majority of the country’s municipalities have accepted the framework plan, however, they can choose to use it or not, according to Christiansen. It contains no recommendations when it comes to distribution of the different courses and disciplines the Kulturskole schools offer; music, theatre, dance, circus, creative writing and visual arts, and this varies greatly from municipality to municipality. He adds:
– Our mission is among other things to provide advisory services to the municipalities. During the spring of 2021, a new report to the Storting (Norwegian Parliament) about the state of child and youth culture will be published. The Norwegian Council for Schools of Music and Performing Arts has been involved in close conversations with the Ministry of Culture and other parties. An expectation exists that the report to the Storting will push inclusivity further up the agenda, and that it will trigger a move in a clear direction as well as create motivation within the municipalities.
Kulturskole for All?
In 1997, the so-called Kulturskole Act came into play, quickly increasing the number of municipal schools of music and performing arts: «All municipalities will, either separately or in collaboration with other municipalities, offer extra-curricular education within culture and the arts to children and youth, organised in a way that is connected with compulsory schooling and being a part of society and culture in general.»
Today, The Norwegian Council for Schools of Music and Performing Arts’ vision is: “Kulturskole for All”. Anyone who wishes to, will receive an offer of an arts and cultural education at Kulturskolen at a reasonable price and the offer must be of high quality. Still, reports such as the Telemark report from 2018 show that a mere 2,6 per cent of pupils attending Kulturskolen come from a home with a dominating language other than Norwegian. In 2018, 13 per cent of all Norwegian children of primary school age attended Kulturskolen, distributed over 120 000 places. In total, Norway spends 1–1,5 billion kroner every year keeping these municipal arts schools that are required by law, alive. We also pay tuition fees for our children to attend these schools.
The Telemark report unearthed huge differences between the municipalities taking part in the Kulturskole initiative. Mostly regarding the number of hours and courses offered. Figures from 2020–21 produced by GSI, Grunnskolens Informasjonssystem, show the following percentage distribution: music 62 per cent, dance 19.8 per cent, visual arts subjects 7, theatre 6.7 – other expressions of arts and culture 4.4 per cent.
60 per cent of municipal arts schools provide a big variety of courses, 64 per cent offer core courses, and 53 per cent offer in-depth courses. Kuturskolen is meant to cultivate talent and provide broad-spectrum education. In the world of politics, expectations are high when it comes to the Kulturskole in Norway, and it is described as the new national «cultural foundation». Paradoxically, a short and non-committing text is all that can be found of the Kulturskole in the Education Act (Utdanningsloven). Thus, there are no national guidelines. The Telemark report concluded that Kulturskolen may be Norway’s best kept secret. Because of the local connection, it is difficult to trigger an all-encompassing renewal, and it still carries with it remnants of its past as a institution for musical education. And it is not for all.
– How will Kulturskolen welcome the future, digitalisation and children with new interests and demands?
– We can see that we still have a long way to go in the transition to a new era concerning Kulturskolen. Up until 2023, The Norwegian Council for Schools of Music and Performing Arts will be following a new strategy that is meant to strengthen the Kulturskole for All vision. The strategy focuses on Kulturskolen and the diversity perspective, where Kulturskolen is to be an accessible space where youth and children can experience art and culture, experience personal, social and creative growth and development, outside of the constraints of gender, social class, ethnicity, sexual orientation, financial situation and origin, Christiansen replies.
– In the eyes of The Norwegian Council for Schools of Music and Performing Arts, he continues, there lies an untapped potential in the collaboration between Kulturskolen and primary school, where teachers from Kulturskolen can offer important knowledge relevant in compulsory education. Additionally, the Kulturskole schools often function as municipal coordinator of projects introduced by The Cultural Schoolbag (TCS).
And we must not forget, Christiansen states, that Kulturskolen is an important arena for social interaction and an after school meeting point.
– Kulturskolen holds the power to bring together cultural institutions within the municipality. However, there is a job to be done with regards to visibility and reaching more people. The Cabinet’s so-called «after-school declaration (fritidserklæringen)» stating that all children have the right to partake in an after-school activity, including children from low-income homes. made it possible to pay for Kulturskolen using an «after-school card (fritidskort)». It is time to think new. I like to say: We cannot teach the tuba if no pupils play it.
Success! The Kulturskole in Drammen
Drammen municipality has invested big in arts and culture for children and youth the past ten years; in both the public sphere and in the municipality’s offer. Kulturskolen can cater to approximately 1550 individuals, and it controls the Cultural Schoolbag. Their two measures represent a successful direct reply to The Norwegian Council for Schools of Music and Performing Arts’ guidance and the Kulturskole for All sentiment:
– We have put two main initiatives into action: One is the cost-free offer to children from low-income homes. The other is Kulturskole satelites – where we have made Kulturskole activities available in schools with complete teams to cover all subjects, says department manager at Kulturskolen in Drammen, Line Fredriksdatter. She explains that they have a presence in Aktivitetsskolen (AKS) with free Kulturskole education as well. And they are closely involved with the educational strategy at a school where all the pupils, from grade one through to grade seven, are taught music by our teachers. They have launched a creative workshop for the kids that are unable to attend regular group lessons as well.
– Vi strive to reach the atypical Kulturskole pupil, so we put together an animation course. It has attracted more boys than girls. A few years ago, we had a musician from India visit, who played us traditional Asian music. That was a big hit among many of the pupils with different cultural backgrounds.
– What do you think of the competition with regards to private sector offers in a city the size of Drammen – and the Kulturskole of the future?
– We have room for municipal and private parties, the trick is to complement each other, and, rather than fight for attention, find ways in which to cooperate, Fredriksdatter concludes.
The Cultural Rugsack – A Unique Initiative
While Kulturskolen is an extra-curricular school that children have to seek out and pay for, the Cultural Schoolbag (TCS) plays a different part. Last year, every one of Norway’s 800 000 pupils were subjected to three encounters with arts and culture on average. The total economic framework of the initiative was approximately 550 million kroner in 2019. The Cultural Rugsack is a state-run instance for arts and cultural education to children and youth in school that is a subdivision of the Ministry of Culture and the Ministry of Knowledge. The initiative is believed to be one of the biggest programmes in the world designed to provide children with professional experiences of arts and culture from the age of six up until the age of 18.
The backstory of the Cultural Rugsack took place in the nineties. In Hedmark, an initiative called «Skolepakka (the School Package)» was started – an arts and cultural mediation program that saw professional artists tour the primary schools of Hedmark. Several counties and municipalities followed suit.
Today, the Cultural Rugsack funds experiences such as visits from authors, plays, concerts, movies and visual arts for the pupils. The municipalities are responsible for managing the contents of the Cultural Rugsack. Øystein Vidar Strand is director at Kulturtanken and the Cultural Rugsack. He says:
– While Kulturskolen provides cultural education, we deliver cultural experiences to children and youth on location. We are very aware of the roles of the different organisations when it comes to children and youth. A tight and formalised collaboration exists between UKM (Ung kultur møtes/ Youth Culture Meets), The Norwegian Council for Schools of Music and Performing Arts, Ungdom og Fritid (Youth After School) og Kulturtanken (the Culture Tank), on a national scale. And the Kulturskole schools are often responsible for TCS in the municipalities. Some employees in Kulturskolen are TCS performers as well. As Kulturskolen, we are to reach everybody, but to us this is an easier position to fill as TCS is part of compulsory schooling and thus completely free. The challenge is making sure that the TCS productions are aligned with the curriculums and schools in addition to creating interactions with pupils.
– What do you think of the role of Kulturskolen?
– Kulturskolen is a very important part of the collective arts and cultural activities and education offer available to Norwegian children. We in Kulturtanken cooperate very well with The Council for Schools of Music and Performing Arts over several projects. I hope that politicians decide to prioritise Kulturskolen financially on a national and local level in the future, so that it can continue its mission to bring cultural education to our children and youth on a larger scale.
A Third Party
In the street by the name of Seilduksgata in Oslo, you can find yet another provider of art to schools and nursery schools (US: kindergartens). Art at School has a yearly budget of 2.1 million kroner and reached approximately 20 000 children between the ages of nil and 18 with their 2020 exhibitions. Members include approximately 200 schools, nursery schools and Kulturskole schools.
– We are part of Seilet – Huset for kunst og kultur i skolen (the Sail – House of Arts and Culture at School). We have some the country’s foremost experts on the practical and aesthetic subjects in school. Seilet is run by SEF, Samarbeidsforum for estetiske fag (Cooperative Forum for Aesthetic Subjects) and receives funding from the Ministry of Knowledge. Art at School is an organisation under SEF. Art at School receives funding from SEF, a total of 1.5 million, explains manager Anne Elisabeth Sæter.
– What is Art at School’s job?
– We work to create interest in and increase knowledge about visual forms of expression among children. This occurs through artistic experiences and meetings. We work to give teachers a bigger understanding and knowledge as well. That is why we also develop educational resources and focus on art in interdisciplinary contexts.
Art Teachers with No Formal Training
– We who are involved in Art at School are worried about the fact that less than 40 per cent of teachers of the arts have no formal training when it comes to the subject they teach, says Ann Karin Orset, manager at The Norwegian Centre for Arts and Culture in Education (KKS).
– In the teacher education programmes, there are no compulsory aesthetic courses. We are working on changing the politics in order to get these courses back into teacher education. We are also working directly with teachers as well as nursery and preschool staff with a resource bank and teaching plan. There are no textbooks, and many feel uncertain of what to teach. A big part of the job is just mapping the situation, she explains.
The centre is one of our national centres for expertise and our mission is to contribute towards increased quality of arts and cultural education in nursery schools and compulsory schooling. This will be achieved by interpreting and operationalising the framework plan and the national curriculum. Additionally, KKS creates resources and theme-based knowledge packages for arts and crafts designed to provide teachers with inspiration and professional input in order to meet the new goals put forth in the national curriculum from the Knowledge Promotion Reform of 2020.
– The Bamford report was initiated by KKS in 2010, and it is unfortunately just as relevant today as it was then, Orset concludes.
(Illustration of figures sitting in a row, by Tilde Marman Walaker)
Knowledge can be Obtained Through the Body
Unlike the scenario presented in The Matrix trilogy, it is not possible to upload knowledge directly to the brain, as our version of knowledge comes from involving the entire body when learning new things and processes. And, as all parents and teachers know, becoming used to applying our bodies and changing behavioural patterns takes time.
Claiming that the youth of today have access to a lot of data and information on the internet is an understatement. It would be more accurate to describe the situation like this: Young people in today’s society are being faced with a tidal wave of media, where it is becoming increasingly harder to distinguish what is relevant from what is not. As a result, choosing a pedagogical approach to the infinite amount of information that lies a mere push of a button away is becoming increasingly more difficult for teachers, nursery school teachers, university and college professors, advisors and mentors alike.
Dynamic, Static or Timeless Capital
Ever since French sociologist and philosopher Pierre Bourdieu introduced the term cultural capital in the year 1977, the term has been widely applied to several fields. Cultural capital, to continue the thread from Bourdieu, can thus be said to be dynamic rather than static, organic rather than mechanic, and temporary rather than timeless.
The term clarifies the divide between financial capital in the shape of material resources, monetary economy and other means connected to classical capitalism. And much as how Marx viewed the field of “capital”, as opposed to the more invisible culture that Bourdieu was preoccupied with.
Culture cannot be quantified in the same way resources can, it must be assessed using parameters of skill, knowledge and intuition. This is something the Norwegian departments of education do not seem to grasp, insomuch as they are largely preoccupied with figures, grades, statistics and international tables.
Smartphones and Social Mobility
Naturally, an overlap often occurs when it comes to financial and cultural capital, but the strange thing about society is that it has been complex enough to be able to produce cultural capital without the financial access to big libraries, skilled teachers, workshop areas, dance halls, galleries etc. that traditionally made it possible.
To Bourdieu, cultural capital is connected to social mobility. A poverty-stricken young boy from Algeria can, if he develops his talents and absorbs the rich French cultural heritage of creative writing and philosophy, become a new Albert Camus. Bourdieu himself was not of French origin, but he did more than most intellectuals to understand the links between the many ideas that governed and still govern the country.
Unlike in times of the past, where poverty was a factor that affected the amount of information available, the case in our part of the world is that almost all children and young people have access to smartphones and the internet – and by extension, all the information that can be found on the internet.
Because of this, we should be able to uncover an even greater potential for social mobility than what Bourdieu could have ever imagined.
Information, not Knowledge
At the annual Kulturtank conference of 2021, someone mentioned that the available knowledge could reach far more pupils by digitalising TCS (The Cultural Schoolbag). Perhaps youth from Grorud can become as socially flexible as kids from Holmenkollen – and in Kirkenes as much as in Lindesnes? There is just one big issue here; information does not equal knowledge.
Knowledge is about the ability to put all the little pieces the information is made up of together in order to create a bigger, meaningful unit. And all knowledge originates in the body.
In Norway and the rest of Scandinavia, and indeed any country that is serious about education, where there exists a desire for children and youth to learn about arts and culture, a paradox emerges; culture as such does not only appear to be immaterial, but rather digital.
There is a point to made here; we find ourselves in a situation that is developing so fast, the consequences can potentially become impossible to predict.
The Impact of the Tablet
How will the use of tablets in nursery schools affect the early stages of development in our children, stages that psychologists who study cognition say are incredibly sensitive? What will happen to the youths’ ability to focus when they are constantly surrounded by digressions? And what will happen to the material remnants of arts and culture that – with their iconography, paintings, sculptures, buildings and books that are still made up of stone, clay, wood, glass and fabric – to an ever-increasing degree are being perused through a screen?
It is fair to say that the culture that we consume for the most part is the very same culture that has been run by children and youth for generations: that is, pop culture. And this culture is now, by and large, a digital culture.
Culture can Never Become Completely Digital
Information flows freely through Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook and Tik-Tok, streaming services and dating apps, and at a scale that far surpasses what parents with outdated tech and media skills are able to keep tabs of. Naturally, culture can never become fully digital, neither should it, but the focus on information as a counterpoint to knowledge, on mediation rather than direct experience, and on information retention rather than the critical processing of the subject matter, will dull the edge of life in a considerable manner if we do not pay mind to it. And everything starts with education.
The development has been so fast paced that we have become completely blind to the power our new gadgets have over us, and we are constantly talking about them – ads for new smartphones, the promotion of extended wireless networks, expert statements about data consumption, screen time and so on – not to say, through them, at all times.
Huey, Dewey and Louie and The Junior Woodchucks’ Guidebook and Reservoir of Inexhaustible Knowledge
There can be little doubt that having all the information of the internet at our fingertips at all times is a huge gift to civilisation. The childhood dream of having the omniscient Woodchuck’s Guidebook at hand, ready whenever we should need it, has in most respects come true through the internet connected smartphones.
Unfortunately, few among us are in possession of the Duck boys’ physical intelligence, intuitive skills or street smarts. These are the skills we are in danger of losing with regards to the increased digitalisation.
Tactile skills where we have to use our bodies will never go off-trend psychologically speaking, and skilled education specialists can help prepare children and help them separate relevant experiences from irrelevant ones, but social differences will not necessarily become reduced as consequence of the internet and digital skills alone. We need education in the traditional sense through the course of compulsory school for that to happen.
Archaeology and Art History
Popular considerations of full digitalisation of schools disregard the huge cultural backdrop that is crucial to any form of true social mobility. To make this clear, we might allow some influential characters of philosophy to guide us – such as Bourdieu – and art history.
In the text The Magic of Images: Word and Picture in a Media Age, culture critic Camille Paglia presents what she believes works in almost all cases: archaeology and art history – through some striking examples. She claims that by using some of the most monumental art pieces in the history of the world, we can cater to an innate need present in all young people to see the world and the art of the world through a lens of something as paradoxical as morbidity, senses and emotions.
Archaeology – the study of human history and prehistory through the excavation of sites and the analysis of artefacts and other physical remains – is the truest form of multiculturism, she states. Few things are as mystical and rewarding, and create such an immediate effect as ancient ruins, cave paintings from the hunter-gatherer era and ancient paintings featuring intense imagery, like the Byzantine Jesus icons with their glaring eyes.
“History is littered with the remains of eternal empires” is a quote that often falls from her lips, and a piece of eternal advise that we would all be wise to remember.
Dag August Schmedling Dramer
(Illustrations by students, Oslo By Steinerskole. Photo: Liv Heier)
The Arts as Interdisciplinary Field
In his book, “Vygotski i pædagogikken”, Erling Lars Dale writes:
I do not doubt that the criticism directed towards traditional compulsory schooling is entirely fair. We will not find our place in the future by restoring the traditional educational system. We need a critical analysis of the traditional reform pedagogy as well.”
Irene Brodshaug from the office of Utdanningsetaten in Oslo (The Municipal Educational Officer, Oslo), says a lot of work is being done to promote the value of the aesthetic subjects at school and in the curriculum. The fact that the nature of these subjects helps to develop a sense of identity is pointed out.
– These are subjects that help develop creativity and that hold interdisciplinary value, according to studies. The subjects have a self-worth that is important; you develop abilities, motor skills and identity. She describes how Utdanningsetaten works within political areas of investment with regards to practical and aesthetic subjects.
Brodshaug explains that even though the value of the practical and aesthetic subjects is held in higher regard now than previously, and an effort is being put towards strengthening these subjects in schools since we know that they create excitement in the daily lives of pupils, how the schools choose to distribute their funds and resources when it comes to these subjects varies greatly.
– The municipalities all focus on different aspects. Because of that, several ongoing debates are discussing whether we should grade these subjects or even add them to the subjects that conduct final exams, or whether they should be more of a free space for the pupils. However, if we are to uplift or preserve the recognition held by the practical and aesthetic subjects, they should be viewed as the other subjects, and in that case, grades might become necessary to achieve it. And we see that pupils often perform better across these subjects with regards to grades on a national level, than they do across the more theoretical ones. And that triggers new conversations about what the cause of this could be, she concludes.
Knowledge to Pupils through Creativity
Laila Lerum Thunes is an arts and crafts teacher at Nyskolen ungdomsskole (three-year compulsory middle school, ages 13–16). She has devoted big parts of her life to working with the psychosocial aspects of children and youths’ existences, and she has a university college background as advisor and coach. She is currently writing a book and giving talks about her life’s work.
– I believe in learning through using our hands. Science has proven why this is useful. It is an interdisciplinary method that forces you to engage more senses, and that is helpful to the learning ability. You are visualising what you are doing, and by creating something, you are tapping into more of your brain capacity, according to Thunes. This method can be applied when learning math, for example by cooking something using a recipe, a common practice in other countries as well.
– The moment your body, hands and mind join forces, a learning process occurs that integrates far more effectively than if brain power alone was applied.
Managing a Framework of Knowledge
Thunes says that creativity enables pupils to get in touch with themselves.
– In this sense, they are not just sitting there absorbing knowledge, they are engaging actively, upon which an inner motivation is triggered making them able to learn better and retain more knowledge. This is important in a world where alienation is becoming a common experience, and where more people wind up on the outside of society because they feel no ownership to whatever they are doing. Paving the way for mental health is becoming more important in order to connect with oneself. That is why it is so important for pupils to learn to build and use a framework that enables them to own their own process and content – while still being susceptible to suggestion. This is something they have to learn from a skilled individual, and it is what Vygotsky says about the mediator in the sociocultural approach to learning.
Nyskolen middle school is trying out exercises founded in the art of drawing to develop their pupils’ abilities. Perspective and drawing characters are presented as important exercises, where the pupils are tasked with conveying something about themselves through drawing characters. Or constructing perspectives to convey an illusion of a three-dimensional reality on a two-dimensional surface. Thunes describes how the pupils are provided with basic training in the art of drawing before the creative work process commences.
– When engaging in these tasks, pupils have to make choices. When we teach drawing here at school, the pupils go through a variety of exercises. With the character task, pupils are able to say something about themselves, create their own narrative, and in this way build a sense of identity. It is a good way for the pupils to communicate difficult emotions, through a third party. It becomes an exploration of consciousness through overcoming one’s own urge to resist, and it results in a finished product that creates a sense of achievement. And this experience with making choices is applicable to any other situation in life in which you have to make big decisions, the arts and crafts teacher explains.
She goes on to say that the aesthetic subjects are completely essential when it comes to building a sense of identity at school, because the tasks are designed to boost confidence and self-awareness.
– By visualising and drawing something, you end up with a product to show to. You can produce something that relates to you. This is a method for knowledge transfer, and how identity is built. When you start to recognise yourself in art, then you can start to have conversations in which you get to know yourself. This becomes evident just by looking at society and the world around you, Thunes concludes.
Creates Room for Reflection and Builds Identity
Principal at Oslo City Steiner School, Bernard Daub, says that one of the most important aspects to aesthetic subjects in education is the inner development pupils are subjected to. Learning about processes, making choices and self-reflection.
– The arts stimulate the intellectual values as well. You do not have to want to be an artist to study the arts. Consider the artistic valour as compared to the moral dimension. At a basal level, it is all about seeing the value of it. An education within the arts can be transferred to any other field. The value of arts education may also be something we recognise at a later point in life, rather than when we are in the middle of it as pupils, Daub explains.
Liv Heier leads the arts department at the privately owned Oslo City Steiner School, and points to the value of the arts in school as making the pupils’ works available to peers, and often, class starts with the pupils regarding each other’s works. In this way, they learn from each other.
– This introduces a social aspect. The pupils are learning together, but they work independently. You are the engine that powers your project. From one week to the next, it becomes clearer how the pupil pushes forward, or comes to a halt in the process. This creates a sense of self-awareness. Through arts subjects, pupils also learn a lot through things like mistakes, misunderstandings and new impulses that might not be appropriate for where you find yourself at that point in time. A project can be moved forward in a variety of ways. When considering this, it becomes clear that art is a great metaphor for life in general.
Heier explains how the subjects are divided into intervals of teaching at the Steiner School. Some go on for six weeks, where the pupil gets to learn in-depth.
– Being able to go into immaterial values is important. The pupils get to see the value of colours, by testing and trying to develop the visual expression through changing backgrounds using different colours. In this way, they gain an understanding of how everything is relative, Heier says.
The Paradox of Choice: The Journey of “Building” a Book
– When engaging in a creative process, one constantly has to make choices, otherwise one cannot advance. Bård Erik Torgersen, associate professor at Kristiana University College, Westerdals Institute for Communications and Design, says that it is in the process that occurs in between creating, being intuitive and making choices, that learning happens. He thinks that pupils become aware of choice and that creative educations trigger this.
– In every creative process, you make choices. When you put your pencil to paper, you have to make choices. A line on the piece of paper becomes something you have to deal with. It starts out as intuitive, but then it becomes non-intuitive – as soon as you become aware of your actions.
Torgersen has been working with the arts in education for 20 years because he believes that the pedagogical outcome from testing, trying, talking and having an open dialogue, is a better approach to knowledge than knowledge transfer in the sense that the pupils have to demonstrate that they have absorbed. Torgersen has a background as both artist and author, and in his description of why art oriented texts matter, he points to the similarities between building a house and writing a book.
– Creativity is after all a craft. Shaping the manuscript of a book, that can be compared to building a house as well. It consists of putting up framing, that you then have to cover with cladding, and finally enter. It is a big construction that you have to navigate. No two novels are the same, but the dramaturgy or construct that binds the smaller and bigger parts together, is reminiscent of building a house. You have to complete every part of the process yourself, and see it through. If I am to start writing, I have to write every single day.
Torgersen thinks there is inspiration to be gained from people who are good at their craft and manage to express a vision as well – or preserve the fantastical.
– The act of alternating between the concrete and the abstract. Really, it is a very basic thing. If you want to build a house, you kind of have to go and build it, otherwise – no house for you. Writing is the same. Start writing, and keep it up!
(Illustration of artist Lotte Konow Lund, by Mette Hellenes)
The Comeback of the Art of Drawing
To some, drawing is everything. Others leave the discipline behind before realising it could become art. Two artists are known for using the technique of drawing as their main form of expression. What are Lotte Konow Lund’s and Sverre Malling’s experiences with the medium?
In later years, the art of drawing has climbed several steps up the ladder of the artistic hierarchy. Drawing is one of the most basic abilities we have and simultaneously one of the most demanding. Children are born with an innate urge to draw, but most leave the joy of drawing behind in their teens. In the art world, drawing is closely linked to the sketch. That has resulted in a decrease in status. Nevertheless, the art of drawing seems to have gained traction in recent years. This is partly because younger artists have become fascinated with the discipline. Another reason is because drawings have become the medium of choice when representing elaborate and detailed interpretations of the contemporary. The signals have been clear for a while.
Painting at the Top of the Hierarchy
The idea of artistic hierarchies (traditionally, the art of painting sits at the very top of them) is fairly ridiculous when it comes down to it. Only one thing really matters to the assessment of art, and that is the artistic quality. If that is all we care about, what medium the artwork is carried out in becomes irrelevant. However, it is now the case that the art community’s leading actors – auctioneers, collectors and museums – show through their actions that they appreciate paintings more than, for example, photography, drawing and textile arts.
This is part of what makes up the backdrop for my conversation with two of Norway’s foremost representatives of the art of drawing. Lotte Konow Lund (b. 1967) and Sverre Malling (b. 1977) belong to an exclusive group of artists that are mostly known for their dealings with the medium of drawing.
Sverre malling has contributed towards a new wave in drawing. He is an accomplished artist who fascinates crowds with his detailed and accurate drawings of people and phenomenon from the fringes of society. His last exhibition was a great success and took place at Kristin Hjellegjerde Gallery in London, in January of 2021. But the road to success has been paved with challenges, and he has spent a lot of time trying to figure out in which direction to move artistically. At any rate, he ended up with drawing as his medium of choice. And one thing is for certain: Drawing became an escape that got him through adolescence.
To Lotte Konow Lund, the act of drawing is a central part of her art and day-to-day life. This spring, she has received a lot of attention for her work on the book “About Art, 25 Conversations with Artists”, where the art of drawing is the subject matter over the course of several interviews. In addition to being a tenured professor at Oslo National Academy of the Arts, with a “particular responsibility with regards to teaching forms of presentation and dissemination”, she creates exhibitions focused entirely around drawings. The most successful of which was the “Hold Everything Dear (Hold allting kjært)” exhibition of the fall of 2016, when she filled the two Prisma halls at Henie Onstad Art Center.
Highs and Lows
Drawing is among the forms of expression that hold the largest span in relation to high and low culture. Low culture in the sense that all children draw. High culture in the sense that some of the finest works of art our culture has produced, are drawings. Sverre Malling is familiar with both extremes. His most famous work is his enormous drawing of a muskox, the signature piece “Norwegian Muskox”, that was exhibited for the first time at Haugar Vestfold Kunstmuseum in 2016. The drawing could become counted among the defining works set to make up the Norwegian canon. The muskox has become so well-known that a section of the drawing was used for the cover art of Crown Princess Mette-Marit and author Geir Gulliksen’s anthology of short stories.
This royal connection is a long way from the boys’ room of Sverre Malling’s childhood. He explains that it was there, in the room he grew up in at Skedsmokorset north of Oslo, that he discovered his talent for drawing. But do not assume that his upbringing by an ordinary family in a working class community was in any way easy; Malling says that his parents had little interest in the arts, and that he was never encouraged to pursue his talent. He still had a way to go before he would realise that drawing could be a way out of the alienation of adolescence:
– The arts are not generally held in high regard. It took me a while to figure out that art was even a thing. As soon as I did, I went to the National Gallery by myself. I suppose I was a bit of a pain in the arse to my father, who was a strict sergeant and army professional, but at the same time a kind and caring dad. When I started questioning everything, he got angry, Sverre explains.
The Contradictions of Adolescence
The teenage years were hard on Sverre Malling. – I recall hanging out with the other kids at Skedsmokorset grill. The boys were showing off their scooters. The girls were laughing at me mockingly. Above the door, a clock. I remember looking at it and thinking that time is always moving forward, and I could use it to complete the drawing that was waiting back in my room. I went home and into self-isolation for an entire year. From today’s perspective, it sounds like I was becoming radicalised.
– I decided to set a goal for myself: signing up for the upcoming local arts and culture event, kulturmønstringen, and submitting works to the annual National Art Exhibition, Høstutstillingen. My references were comprised of cartoon characters with split personalities; weaklings during the day, invincible superheroes at night. I was inspired by artist Odd Nerdrum, who had talked about becoming the hero of your own life. I decided it was time for me to take the reins. I refused to compromise. And then, won’t you believe it, I made it into the National Art Exhibition, and I won the local arts and culture event at 17. I was even featured in Aftenposten (a national Norwegian newspaper).
He elaborates on the experience: – These contradictions have always existed within me: a faltering self-image deep down. The desire to be a successful artist on the surface. It probably fluctuates with my need to express myself. Drawing is almost like going to therapy, something I have taken with me into
(Double page: photo of the exhibition Hold Everything Dear, Lotte Konow Lund (2016). Installation photo by Øystein Thorvaldsen, Henie Onstad Archives)
adulthood. I wanted to avoid the narrow framework of my upbringing. I wanted out of the common space in which we are expected to adapt and fit in. Drawing provided me with my own space lodged in between the private sphere and the external noise.
– At times, I have definitely worked with the goal of obtaining a higher status and acknowledgement. But usually, it works the other way around, I usually seek to gain a deeper understanding of myself and to provide context around who I am and what I am in relation to my surroundings. In my teenage years, it seemed I always got the short end of the stick. I was the last pick for the football team, I was ignored by pretty girls. I did not master the social aspect of life, at a time where adapting and finding your place within the group seems to be the only thing that matters. At that time, hardly anything can serve as an excuse for bullying and alienation. My taste in music and my fields of interests were both involved in my failure among my equals. With drawing, I was able to experience a sense of accomplishment. That made me something. Working on my drawing technique helped to develop my self-image and – untimately – my social sense of belonging, he explains.
To Sverre Malling, drawing was a way to mark his identity. To Lotte Konow Lund, it is an expression of a sense of community: – You do not have to draw in order to be an artist, but when viewed from the outside, drawing is something that unites us all across the globe because it is such a primary mode of expression. Drawing can act as a point of connection; something as inconsequential as a pencil and a piece of paper can contribute towards creating a common understanding. The reason why I have never stopped drawing is because it is so hands-on, so direct, close and something all humans have in common. It is global and immediate, background, belonging, financial situation; none of those factors can stop us from drawing. All you need is a stick and some sand, and off you go. As a form of expression it spans so much, and one can keep learning and evolving through an entire lifetime, and it still does not have to become a pretentious expression echoing the works of times past. Drawings have been created throughout the entire history of mankind. The art of drawing is closely connected to acts of writing and thinking, and it also represents a tangible link between our minds and our hands. The art of drawing will exist as long as humans do, she says.
– And then I think about something I remember so well from my childhood, the experience of receiving attention and the importance of being present. Exercising drawing taps into this. Showing through action that I am here now. Anything can be represented through drawing, the tiniest things and the all-encompassing things. You can fit infinity into a drawing that took mere minutes to create, she says.
While Lotte Konow lund teaches art at Oslo National Academy of the Arts, Sverre Malling’s style and approach to drawing has been shaped through three different art institutions. He first attended Einar Granum Kunstfagskole for one year. In 1997, he was accepted into the then Oslo National College of Art and Design (SHKS), with colour as specialisation. In the autumn of 2000 he was finally admitted into the Academy of Fine Art, on his fourth attempt. However, it would soon become evident that it would not be easy to navigate this environment without cultural capital, as was the inevitable result of his suburban childhood. suburban background.
Seeking Safety Among the Classical Arts
– This was at a time when new artist personas were emerging, academic actors and theoretically adept types. When I started attending SHKS with an art history background, I was quickly told to move along.
My dream was to be admitted into the new programme for classical art at the Academy, a programme that was established in 1996. I applied to the Academy because I thought that it was the place to be especially because of Jan Valentin Sæther who was a professor in the programme. By the time I got in, the programme had been dissolved. But the change of scenery did me well. I became part of an inclusive group of people, and that made me feel like I belonged somewhere. At the Academy, coming from the suburbs did not matter.
– Going outside of what I had previously learned gave me a boost. I tried every technique I could get my hands on. I found that collages were interesting. Cutting and pasting was a great fit for me, mixing and working across different horizons. I have since brought this experience into my drawings. I learned to work in a freer and more playful relation to history and tradition. The conservative and strict, tradition heavy set of thoughts surrounding Jan Valentin Sæthers classical course had found its counterpart. Cutting and pasting is a helpful mental exercise.
During his time at the Academy, Sverre Malling, according to his own characteristic, takes on the role of the “try-hard”, wanting to everything to appear directed. He obsessed over details, and had to force himself to loosen up stylistically. He recalls the teachers Jan Valentin Sæther and Arvid Pettersen as warm and enthusiastic people who helped him loosen the restraints.
The Need to Feel Seen is Important
His experience has a connection to Lotte Konow Lund’s exhibition at Henie Onstad Art Center, the project “The Diary” (“Dagboken”, 2014–216). It makes Konow think of the art of drawing versus how the photograph is frequently used today.
– We have become so used to having our pictures taken, and to taking photographs, that we no longer seem to think about it. When I was working on “The Diary”, I was teaching a drawing class at Bredtveit Woman’s Penitentiary. When incarcerated, one is cut off from society. There are no photos there, because there are no phones or cameras. That also makes it a strange place to be. Every year, I have made a portrait for each of the participants for them to keep as a part of me that was just theirs, something for them to own. I remember drawing a young woman with a gruesome backstory of abuse. While drawing, I noticed how her eyes followed mine. Suddenly, I realized that this girl had had her picture taken so many times, without ever having been seen as a human being. That was a big epiphany. She had never known her parents, and as such never been looked at in the way a parent looks at their child, when they observe the child at play or study their characteristic features. I realized that, being looked at is just as important as looking. When that connection is established between two people, a seed of humanity is sown, a union is formed through this intrinsically human experience. We need each other. And that was why I suddenly realized the point of drawing portraits, not to show off and achieve a resemblance, but to give a fellow human being attention and maybe even a sense of dignity.
The act of seeing can be rewarding. The girl in the penitentiary placed the drawing in a transparent plastic bag and brought it with her everywhere she went for the next few days, Lotte recalls.
When Sverre Malling talks about the art of drawing and the different communities he has spent time in, he does not hold back. When asked to talk about how he ended up with the style he currently employs and how drawing ties into it all, he twists his body sideways. He assumes an introspective position and slips into a state of concentration.
A Fascination with Alternative Ways of Seeing
– In many ways, I have developed a progressive and relevant body of work, that at the same time speaks to tradition and history. I am fascinated with alternative ways of seeing. I keep delivering flashbacks, I look for what is abnormal and weird. The Muskox is probably my most famous work. For now, it represents my claim to fame. But personally, I am just as happy with some of my other work. “Architect”, for instance, that is created in free relation to the history of a phenomenon that I can tackle in an eclectic manner and really delve into. For the exhibition at Kristin Hjellegjerde in London, I examined phenomenon found far beyond the borders of hegemony. I brought into the light artists and other people from British cultural history who operated on the fringes of cultured society, and who has since been left out of the British canon, challenging the grand, shared narrative of the British identity, he explains.
This understanding of culture is rooted in Sverre Malling’s journey of personal growth. In his youth, he stood out because of his advanced taste in music. Record covers featuring rebels of rock, Iggy Pop, Lou Reed and Roxy Music, adorn the walls of his apartment, but his childhood dream of being in a band never came true.
On the Outside
–I often find inspiration in the problematic or difficult. If there is a conflict to be found, that is what I find interesting. At my graduation exhibition it was considered a problem that I mixed classical drawing with “canny” imagery from underground movies, poster art and LP covers. Imagery depicting hippie-zombies with fringed coats, hash pipes, iron crosses and other symbols of provocation. The external examiner did not see the artistic value: I was told that by using authoritarian symbolism I was expressing misogynist sexism, sympathy with totalitarian regimes and fascism. I answered back, claiming that the watering out and appropriation of these symbols is also used as form of expression in certain subcultures, signalling a choice to be an outsider. We find these functions and widespread use of symbolism in underground communities such as Hells Angels, the Manson cult and in the genre of heavy metal. I referred to Turbonegro, a band that was very popular at that time, and pointed out the fact that this had been going on for ages.
The examiner was immovable. He could have just said, what you are doing is controversial and offensive, and most people do not share your cultural references. I felt that all doors slammed shut as soon as I graduated. At 26 all I wanted to do was throw my hands up and cry. I chose anger instead. I spent the following year slumped in a state of depression. I thought it meant the end of the established life as an artist, and I was offered no support from the classical art community. In Morgenbladet’s (a Norwegian culture-focused newspaper) review, Tommy Olsson wrote about his hangover, but at least he had some kind words for my pieces. I had no one to talk to.
Back to the Room of his Childhood
The predicament would not last. After an intermezzo spent drawing sugary-sweet pictures of kittens and children with cats in their laps, he reached a turning point.
– It was all in tatters. I had nothing left. That was when I decided to go back to my somewhat steep starting point, the boys’ room of my childhood.
(Illustration of artist Sverre Malling by Mette Hellenes)
I simply decided to draw whatever I wanted to draw, no matter the faltering outlook on the future. I thought of artistic articulation as a constant in the sense of being a stage for freedom and personal forms of expression, more important than the risk of social exile and negative reviews. The starting point was a couple of reptiles in the brush, and a Converse sneaker. Then, I put up a big sheet of paper and started drawing a VW hippie van, he elaborates.
– The rest is history. Gallery Haaken accepted his works. His exhibition showing the drawing “Transporter ‘67” (2006, 167 x 224 centimetres) was a great success, with decent sales figures and rave reviews. Two years later, in 2009, he returned with an even bigger drawing of a more run-down bus, “Schoolbus” (160 x 337 centimetres). Then came the Muskox (2016, 180 x 263 centimetres), and when we add previously mentioned “Architect”, with the dimensions 158 x 123 centimetres, it would be easy to assume that Sverre Malling is obsessed with large scale drawings. That of course is not true. However, he is extremely preoccupied with detail, and he fills his drawings with references to different cultural phenomenon. Together, they offer an alternative commentary on alienation, society and the time and age we live in.
On Separating Good and Evil
– Suddenly, I found myself part of a new movement doing group and museum exhibitions. Curator Øystein Ustvedt at The National Gallery talked about a renaissance of the art of drawing. There are ways in which to be strategic within the field of arts, but this was something entirely different. You cannot know your innermost self until you have been tested, he says of the transformation he endured. One of those tests came as radical newspaper Klassekampen asked him to cover the trial of the 22nd July terrorist.
– At a distance, we have a tendency to separate good and evil and treating contrasting terms as completely binary. But reality is a lot more complex, we make room for every variation. Even the vilest of perpetrators is first and foremost human. Thus, edging closer to what is difficult can also be seen as encouragement with regards to facing and processing the problematic. Dwelling on why and how it could all go so horribly wrong in such a fundamental way. In the media, the terrorist was depicted as a monster, but behind that mask hides a human being who encapsulates the same aspects that can be found in all of us. Even the irrational and the banal. Emerging from the 22nd of July trial was like being reborn into a different world. It drove me to bring a contemporary edge into my drawings, the artist says.
Nearing the end of our conversation, Malling starts talking about how he has dealt with traumatic events in his life through the medium of drawing. Like when his father died of a heart attack when Sverre was only 21 years old.
– I remember how it felt to be in that hospital, to lose what anchored me in life. I went back to the viewing chamber and sat there with the corpse and my sketch pad for about an hour. I still have the drawing, he says, and gets up and retrieves it. The connection to the court-room drawings of the terrorist is obvious.
– This drawing recalls the person behind the mask of death. It breathes life into something that is no longer alive. That I think is what the art of drawing can accomplish when at its best.
Being able to visualise and draw something also makes you able to produce something to refer to. You become able to exemplify something you identify with. This a way of transferring knowledge, and how we develop a sense of identity. When you start recognising pieces of yourself in art, that is when you start a conversation in which you get to know yourself, and this is reflected in society in general.
Laila Lerum Thunes
(Double page, artwork Norwegian Muskox (2016), Sverre Malling / BONO)
More and more people are speaking up; A must be invited to the party
A, as in Arts
Soft Skills are at the Top of Google’s List
The arts have been losing traction in schools since the 70’s. It is imperative that we reverse this negative trend, arts subjects are not mere embellishments, but completely necessary ingredients to both society and general education.
The sciences have been the focal point of Norwegian and western educational politics for a long time now. A common understanding that STEM – Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics – will be the essential fields in the 21st century has been the main driving force behind deciding what to prioritise in educational politics for more than 20 years. Over the last few years, we see an increasing degree of recognition, particularly internationally, that we have to update and expand our understanding of the competence that is actually going to be useful when solving future needs of adaption and innovation.
More and more people are speaking up: A must be invited to the party. A, as in Arts.
We have to transition from STEM to STEAM.
A good example of this is tech giant Google’s strategical work with their own policies of employment. The company has been systematically mapping the areas of expertise and profiles of new employees, in order to compare the level of knowledge upon commencement with the results produced by the individual over time.
Number Crunchers do not want STEM
Google’s number crunchers have concluded that among the eight most important fields of expertise, STEM comes in last. Tech related subjects, then, are not the most important, even in a tech company such as Google. The seven most important skills listed for success at Google are all soft skills. The perfect Google employee, then, scores high when it comes to coaching, communication, empathy, the ability to listen, critical thinking and problem solving. The best employees are solution oriented as they face complex problems, show an understanding when it comes to other people and their values and perspectives, and support their colleagues.
The seven factors for success identified by Google are abilities that can be developed in an effective manner through the arts subjects. This proves that STEM in no way covers the competence of the 21st century.
Let us all agree to forget about STEM and start talking about STEAM – Science, Technology, Engineering, ARTS and Mathematics. Only then will we be able to achieve real, forceful and forward-thinking adaptive competence!
Arts Subjects Down from 20 to 12.5 per cent
In the national curriculum of 1974, the arts took up nearly 20 per cent of the total hours taught per year in Norwegian compulsory schooling. Since then, the number has been reduced through four educational reforms, and it is now down to a mere 12.5 per cent.
Additionally, figures from Statistisk sentralbyrå (national bureau of statistics) show that the arts competence among Norwegian teachers is dwindling. In total, among teachers teaching music in 2019, only 48 per cent have study credits from music related programmes. That is a decrease from the 60 per cent observed in 2014. And among teachers below the age of 30 who teach music, a staggering 70 per cent have no formal musical training whatsoever. Across the other arts subjects, the statistics say more or less the same.
In educational politics as well as in teacher education programmes, there has been a big push toward strengthening the so-called basal subjects – reading, writing and basic math. When we spend more time and resources teaching Norwegian, math and certain other subjects, the arts subjects are left with the short end of the stick. At the same time as social sciences subjects have been strengthened, one of the reasons given being that we have to make sure democratic values are preserved for the future. Not least, there exists a marked political focus on the sciences in schools and upper education, in Norway and internationally. This is based off of a conclusion that society is changing and adapting at an ever-increasing pace and that technological evolution and innovation in particular will secure wealth creation in the future.
The Arts Keep Kids in School
Well-respected Australian professor of creativity and education, Anne Bamford, found in her research that learning arts at school has a positive impact on the individual pupil, such as increased attendance and vast improvement of reading and writing skills, in addition to life skills, creativity, cultural capital and personal growth.
Bamford’s findings are presented in the much-debated UNESCO report The Wow Factor. Here, she points to the importance of educating children both in the arts and through the arts.
In the realm of psychology, there are theories that describe the connections between the mind and the body. Many of these demonstrate a closely connected interplay as occurring between the brain and the body, and that the physical dimension we are in affects how we think, remember, feel an experience the world to a great degree. These realisations carry with them serious implications when it comes to how we could and should organise our schools and educational system. And maybe these are also the reasons why educational scholars are able to prove that subjects such as physical education and arts and crafts contribute to a better learning outcome across other subjects as well, such as nature science or math.
The Mozart Effect
The so-called Mozart effect was the subject of intense debate in the 1990’s, in the wake of an American study that demonstrated that toddlers who were subjected to classical music displayed an increase of intelligence. More recent studies, including one produced by Norwegian doctor and professor of music, Geir Olve Skeie, show that the act of performing music actually creates more and stronger neurological connections. To put it in simpler words: Taking part in music is like doing push-ups for your brain. Research shows that the positive effects are substantial, and that the skill level is irrelevant. That means you do not have to be “good” at playing an instrument or singing in order to benefit from this effect.
In music therapy, the connections between music and brain function are a familiar topic. For instance, music can be used to treat symptoms of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s Disease.
Complex Issues, Adapting and Innovation
Disagreeing with the intention behind this educational policy is indeed difficult:
Yes, obviously we have to make sure that the basic subjects in compulsory schooling are protected. No, we obviously cannot assume that people will become active participants of democracy and society by default, and that is why we have to cultivate these values at school. Yes, we are facing great national and global challenges to society that will call for cooperation when it comes to complex issues, how to adapt and the need for innovation.
Schools have to do their part in making sure we are prepared to meet the demands of the future. But – what if the diagnosis is correct, but the medicine prescribed is not?
If the arts provide us with a sense of unity, critical discourse, curiosity and insight, they can function as keys to values such as democracy and participation in society. And, if they contribute to learning, development, innovation, the ability to adapt and complex problem solving as well, should they not be counted among the basic subjects?
Culture is the sum of all the communities that we and generations before us have formed and makes up the tapestry of society that enables us to come together – and dealing with big issues as well as tiny ones. Learning to know our own culture as well as other peoples’ is a precondition to an inclusive and enlightened society.
Art fuels culture. It provides culture with a sense of direction and content. Art challenges our perspectives and helps us set and define our values, both our own and the community’s.
It can function as a critical voice and as a guardian of the freedom of speech. Art brings both creativity and creative power into society. It can function as entry point into achieving understanding across background, age, looks or preferences. Art and culture remind us of where we come from, and who we are. They provide us with experiences that connect us through a common sense of identity and contribute to personal growth and life skills.
Active Participation in Society
Becoming a well-rounded and educated human being is the project of a lifetime, and by investing in arts in schools, we will primarily create a common ground for active participation in society. Moreover, we can facilitate a beneficial and close relation to art and culture in our children that can last a lifetime.
Some of them might even become artists in the future. But that is not what matters now. A central goal is rather to ensure that the grown-ups of the future continue to consume arts and culture. Either through practicing forms of arts and culture in their spare time, or by taking part in some of the many and diverse cultural activities society has to offer.
Morten Schjelderup Wensberg
(Image of Erlend Høyersten in at white t-shirt with a Mumin cup by Trude Vaaga/Tendens)
The Art of Eating Overcooked Broccoli
– As a child, if someone prepares broccoli for you … overcooking it, not adding a lick of butter, nor a hint of salt – you accept it, and all you taste is a bland mush … then why would you ever want to eat broccoli again?
Director of renowned art museum KODE Bergen, Erlend Høyersten, decided to focus on children when he wanted to show the art world that he was indeed serious – frustrated as museum educator over how little room dissemination has in structural thinking and museum strategy.
– I often tell my art guides: I do not care whether the pupils know art history, I only care about them understanding two things; one is the distinction between being an active participant and being a passive participant in one’s life. Most people choose a passive approach, they lean back, surf … that’s it … and then end up complaining about everything they haven’t felt included in or invited to. And the other important aspect, is asking why – we can never stop asking why – it is after all about curiosity – pure curiosity; how the world works, how it could work … thus, in an educational context it is all about piquing this curiosity, gaining knowledge, understanding how knowledge is created, that there is a difference between knowledge and information, and that you are your own limitations – what goes on around you is not what limits you.
Capacity is not the problem. Art historian Erlend Høyersten held the chair as director of KODE in Bergen for five years, up until the Danes spirited him away to lead ARoS in Århus, Denmark in the year 2014. Here, he found himself in charge of one of Northern Europe’s biggest museums, featuring 20 700 square metres, ten storeys and approximately one million visitors before the onset of the pandemic. However, he got a lot done in Bergen before he made the move. One of those projects was Kunstlab (Art Lab), Norway’s first art museum exclusively for children.
– I believe there was a desire to nudge the development in a certain direction, he says.
The children’s museum is situated in the building that was originally designed to be an administrative building for Bergen Lysverker (Bergen Power Plant) in 1938, and today, it is the KODE4 building. The exhibitions are curated specially to cater to children, there are labs and workshops where kids can express themselves through different experiments and modes of play. According to Høyersten, deciding to treat children the same as adult art interested visitors, was not a difficult choice to make.
– It is as leader of Bergen art association, Svein Christiansen, once told me: “An interesting fact is that the art world really mirrors the health services. The closer you get to the patient, the lower your status.” Høyersten elaborates:
– You have the director and the chief physician on top, the doctors are the art conservators, then you have the nurses, who represent the employed art guides, and then you have the lower level health care workers, right, they represent all the freelance or part time art guides, people you depend on constantly – but the closer you get and the more time you spend with the patient physically, the lower your status – and to me, it is all about getting the message across that that is actually not OK.
When the museum director from Bergen came to Århus, ARoS Public was established, spanning almost a thousand square metres – which is gargantuan compared to Bergen – with plenty of room for workshops, salons and artists in residence as well as auditorium.
– It is a massive and all-encompassing endeavour, and we have to amass a large staff with our own programmers and so on, and this is important: that we have to be the inspiration, and not a crutch or an excuse for the schools to not focus on art in compulsory education. Curiosity is something that needs to be fed again and again. He takes an imaginary piece of broccoli from the pot, this time prepared with love and care, sparking a spontaneous reaction; “Hey, this is actually really tasty! What is it?”.
In the spring of 2020, when Danish Minister of Culture Joy Mogensen stated to the newspaper Berlingske that “If I were to stand in front of you today talking about culture, I would perceive it as inappropriate. This is not a cultural crisis, but a crisis of society”, Høyersten replied through magazine Kulturmonitor: “Culture is spirit. Culture is knowledge. Culture is education. Culture is community. Culture is facing the known and the unknown. Culture is curiosity. Culture is the stories we choose to tell each other. Culture is the foundation of the society we all belong to – welfare society. If we forget about that, then we run the risk of this societal crisis evolving into a crisis of identity, and if that happens, what will remain of us?
– This is my thesis: If we look at the reopening of Denmark, where the entire country has been in complete lockdown, their strategy is the following: open restaurants and shops, where financial profit is necessary for survival, and for the longest time, there have been no conversations about the state of culture. Culture is constantly being pushed further back in the line of priorities. It is very difficult to insert the humane into a spreadsheet – the issue arises when the way society is run is determined by tables showing infection numbers, incomes and so on. If you talk to politicians about mental illness, they will want to direct more funds to psychiatry, rather than directing more funds towards pre-emptive measures … and here is the point: weighing everything, counting everything, measuring everything, solving the issues as they occur, and not beforehand – is a strictly masculine approach to the world – and when everything related to the interpersonal, to care, to language, that is the feminine … the feminine values are being overlooked!
– We are wondering whether the arts have taken a back seat in education?
– It is indeed frustrating that the arts and culture are downgraded, that the arts operate in a language that lacks the ability to communicate with a world outside itself. Many people are prejudiced when it comes to the arts, but a lot of the prejudice is confirmed by people and institutions within the world of art as well. I have never bothered with the formal aspect of art, but rather with how art affects us as individuals, in our relations to others and as a society, and because of that, I have always talked about art in this context – and not necessarily as an instrument to achieve a higher gross national product. But – why do we need art? Most art historians and artists have developed a vocabulary that enables them to describe why we have art, we have been making art for as long as humanity has existed, and we obviously have the need to produce something that is perceived as useless and somehow useful at the same time … We as institutions must find a language that can explain: What is this? We have to be able to explain that art is about a great number of things.
When the museum director describes ARoS to politicans, potential sponsors or audiences, he uses the term mental fitness centre about the arts and culture business.
– What is in it for you? You cannot just sit down, he states, like you would with a Netflix show, and receive. You actually have to participate physically. However, he does give the human race some credit for being inherently intelligent; – When you encounter something you do not understand, most people have the ability to ask questions; what, and why? And the what and the why represent the start of every process of development, but when I describe art as a fitness centre for your brain, you cannot expect someone else to do the heavy lifting for you? That is not where you will find the reward! The reward is actually doing it by yourself, and usually, it hurts a bit more than what seems immediately necessary. However; the more active you are, the greater the reward. He continues:
– What was the artist thinking in this case, what situation might the artist find themselves in? It is about expressing one’s own emotions and amplifying one’s empathic intelligence, it is about understanding structures and relations at a societal level, at a historical level – and it is actually not so much about the past and the present, as it is about the future.
Høyersten believes we are at the brink of some sort of “lort” (Danish; something awful) – seven years have passed since he moved to Denmark – that we do not have the ability to figure out the solution to what is happening – for now. That is; we have to think in new ways, develop new patterns. Art is supposed to contribute to the creation of these patterns. It is about understanding what it means to be human, what it means to be part of a community – that is why reducing the arts in school to some sort of duty, is always problematic. Or art history, for that matter. That is why art is so damn important!
Annicken Dedekam Råge
(Image of Lina Molarin Ericsson, Shit Kid. Lex – Larvik Experimental Music Festival 2019. Photo: Jan Walaker)
Why Not Make Your Own Songs?
Who decided that happy face or sad face emojis should determine our perception or experience of a visit to an exhibition, an art gallery, a museum or an art centre?
Stick people. That is all we are left with after a year of tenth grade middle school visits to Henie Onstad Art Center, arranged by The Cultural Schoolbag. When tasked with drawing the human form, fear of failure seems to stop most pupils from even trying – but where does this fear come from? Why do we end up with a pile of almost exclusively drawings of stick people?
«Kjartan Slettemark, a Swedish Norwegian artist born in 1932, was a teacher at Grunnskolan för konstnärlig utbilding (Elementary School of Arts Education) in the Swedish capitol, Stockholm, towards the end of the sixties. He refused to grade his final year pupils, instead handing out colourful little drawings depicting a blue hen, among other things. Of course, this became the subject of fierce debate, both in the school and in the media. In the end, Slettemark was asked to leave his position». We can read all that on Wikipedia, but what is the value of a blue hen over a smiley face, or for that matter; high, medium or low goal achievement?
I am head art guide at Henie Onstad Art Center, and I engage in plenty of exciting conversations with teenagers who show great abilities of reflective thinking. But getting them out of that original comfort zone, spurring them to make their own decisions and stand by them – and think independently – that takes a lot.
I know a couple of things about the dissemination of knowledge, but I cannot tell you how you should experience a work of art at an exhibition. I cannot tell you whether it should make you feel sad or happy. What I can do is facilitate and provide you with a toolbox of words and terms that can make it easier to gain a bigger understanding and interest for what you have just seen – and perhaps also leave you with more experience and knowledge than you had before the experience.
Who decided that a task solved in the workshop held after guided exhibition tours for school classes, should be assessed with a happy emoji or a sad emoji? There is no RECIPE that describes how YOU should read or experience a painting, a photograph, a video, an installation, sculpture, performance art or music.
As head art guide, my job is to provide you with a great experience. I wish to contribute to giving you a head start on your journey of personal, cultural and social education in the hope that you eventually build a beneficial relationship with the art of tomorrow.
The Cultural Schoolbag initiative has made it clear to me that the educational system is becoming ever more goal oriented. School subjects are heading in that direction. Schools, principals and teachers always assess whether a museum or art centre is relevant with regards to the national curriculum and can provide the pupils with a relevant learning outcome before they let pupils visit. Schools have the autonomy to assess a suggested museum or art centre visit individually, and they can cancel the visit if deemed as not in tune with curriculums and set goals. Reasons given can for instance be that the pupils have to prioritise math or an environmental issue.
A school visit at a museum or an art centre is not just any visit. The Norwegian educational system provides a RECIPE that outlines the process of these visits. It is all structured within the framework plan from the Norwegian Directorate for Education and Training (Utdanningsdirektoratet), and again within the school’s framework, where the head of the school, the principal and the administration decide upon the structures of the subjects and shape them into makeshift templates that are then distributed among the teachers.
In my work as head art guide, I see many children who answer by saying what they think we want to hear when they are to put their experiences into words. What continues to surprise me, is that the pupils often become extremely insecure when they get to wonder and think out loud. Most of them would perhaps prefer to not think reflectively at all. They want a definite answer. They want simple feedback, like something being ugly or beautiful or right or wrong. They crave assessment in the form of a happy face, or a sad face. Why?
A mother once told me that her son, who was in the third grade of primary school, was supposed to colour in a print-out drawing of a starry night sky as a part of his homework assignments. When the teacher gave it back, there were two red lines beneath one of the stars the child had coloured in. Next to it, in great, red letters: WRONG! The star had been coloured brown.
Another mother tells me that when she picks her daughter up from the after-school activity centre, she is so proud of her child, who has managed to colour in a printed-out Disney drawing of a princess. The assistant teacher praises her daughter, saying she is really good at staying within the lines and is very patient. The task demands intense concentration, and she was able to sit still for an entire hour while performing it. But why did she not spend that time drawing something of her own?
I am also saddened by hearing of the parents who are so excited their child was accepted into Kulturskolen, visual art, because there, he will be able to express himself and spend time performing his favourite activity. He gets to draw and imagine, reflect and use his creative abilities. But at school, he must refrain from drawing. The advisory teacher believes that the child is far too preoccupied with drawing, and that it must be limited. This resulted in an all-out ban on drawing at school for the child in question.
When post-tour workshop tasks are explained and handed out at the art centre,
– we emphasise the fact that the pupils are meant to make use of their imaginations and their creative abilities. That results in frustrated and confused pupils. Because you see, the pupils need to know what the RECIPE is, and what they have to do in order to reach low, medium or high goal achievement. The pupil assesses the task in relation to what s/he is able to do according to the recipe. This is challenging, but many pupils end up cracking the code, leading to a rewarding and eye-opening experience.
I have had many a conversation with teachers who find it challenging that the pupils are constantly being assessed through every aspect they are involved in at school. A teacher once came up to me and said, «I am so sorry you had to spend all that time making the pupils understand that they are allowed to use their imaginations, creative abilities and that they can make their own decisions when creating the cartoons».
The teacher explained how the pupils were so used to being assessed constantly at school, and how in order to be assessed, the pupil is both used to and, effectively, have been taught that they need a recipe in order to reach the goal. I did not and still do not have any recipe telling the pupils how to reach low, medium or high goal achievement with regards to the task they are set to perform here at our workshop.
A mother told me how she was so happy her child had attended a kindergarten with arts, culture and physical activity as focal areas. She told me about her daughter’s first day at school. When they arrived in the schoolyard, they noticed a little boy sitting on the steps, whistling the well-known Norwegian children’s tune “Fløy en liten blåfugl gjennom vindu” (“A small Bluebird through a Window Flew”), loudly and clearly. The daughter walked over and sat next to the boy, and parents and children gathered round, listening to the boy whistle. When he was done, the parents applauded and gave praise. Then, her daughter says to the boy: “Why are you whistling someone else’s tune? Why not make your own songs to whistle?
Of course, I do hope that these teenagers will return to the art centre someday, as adults, as utilisers or visitors, as artists, or to work as art conservators, art guides, in marketing and communication or even as director. For that, I want someone with experience and knowledge and who is familiar with the art of tomorrow. Someone who can open my eyes when it comes to art, someone who can make me wonder, ask questions and be taken seriously.
Culture is spirit. Culture is knowledge. Culture is education. Culture is community. Culture is facing the known and the unknown. Culture is curiosity. Culture is the stories we choose to tell each other. Culture is the foundation of the society we all belong to – welfare society. If we forget about that, then we run the risk of this societal crisis evolving into a crisis of identity, and if that happens, what will remain of us?
(Image of Elisabeth Thorsen in her thigh high boots and hooded top made by recycled carpet with her red hear sticking out.
Photo by Tonje Kornelie)
– Some of Them have Hardly Picked Up a Hammer
While vocational education programmes are fighting the notion that they are less attractive in a society where prestige is to be found in theoretical learning, upper secondary school dropout rates pose a bigger threat. Perhaps it is time to look ahead and focus on arts and crafts in our schools?
– For the first time ever, I did well at school. Creativity was important in order to think and learn something practical, and not least just having the option to choose something less theoretical, Elisabeth Thorsen explains, a woman who is an artist, shoemaker, musician, DJ and many other things in present-day. Thorsen’s art is driven by curiosity, and her works often feature an innovative twist.
– I was awarded the top grade, a stark contrast to my previous belief that I could never get the hang of anything. Additionally, you learn in a different way than when seated in front of the computer, according to Thorsen, who graduated as shoemaker from the Plus school in Fredrikstad in 2008.
Cultural Crafts at 25 Upper Secondary Schools
In a 2009 report put together at the request of Norwegian Directorate for Education and Training (Utdanningsdirektoratet) about “minor crafts”, consulting business Econ Pöyry concluded that 30 traditional crafts within the glass blowing, plaster making and saddle making fields, as well as 15 additional related crafts such as shoemaking, are described as “crafts that alone represent a living part of our cultural heritage and thus carries value for generations to come. Cultural crafts are crafts that communicate history, tradition and ways of life; adapted to local conditions and local tradition; that make use of local produce and that is inherently sustainable in relation to use and repurposing in its traditional form.”
But – are these mere empty words? According to the “Vil bli” portal for education, only 25 upper secondary schools in Norway offer Crafts, Design and Product Development – an education programme that among other things can be used as an educational foundation for becoming a shoemaker. Five of the schools in question are so-called free schools (friskoler).
Important to Play around and have Fun
To Elisabeth Thorsen, finding the right education programme marked a turning point. Today, her passions include creating and presenting her own art, and not least engaging teenagers and kids in creative activities. At times, she holds courses directed at children and youth. The teenagers often come to a spontaneous and positive realisation that it is actually nice to learn something that has practical use.
– Some of them have hardly picked up a hammer, Thorsen explains, somewhat resigned. – Many do not have a clue how to use it. I think that is very sad. I tell them to let the politicians know if they feel like they are not being taught enough arts and crafts at school.
For years, Thorsen has been creating art shoes, shoes that are about the artistic, not ease of use. She scoffs at the question of whether her project can be seen as useful to society in any way. Thorsen cares more about inspiring others to make shoes.
– That is an important part of the craft, she says, – but also to remember to have fun, and not least to evolve.
Creative Joy is your Reward
The art shoes take Elisabeth Thorsen all over the world. The requests to participate in exhibitions, art happenings and conventions are pouring in. One thing she has learned, is that the shoes seem to create more interest and curiosity abroad than at home. Some are fascinated by the conceptual, others by the technical aspect. In this sense, the merging of arts and crafts has been clearly defined.
It is closely related, and the shoe artist believes there should be a much bigger focus on arts and crafts in contemporary compulsory education.
– When subjected to it at an early stage, you develop the ability to think in a creative way. You experience a creative joy. Then, we need properly trained teachers. It can seem like most teachers are fairly uninterested when handing out tasks to the pupils. That is not very inspiring. Arts and crafts surround us constantly. We cannot build houses without builders or architects. Even scientific research is creativity, Thorsen concludes.
The Creative Subjects are Under Threat
Over the last 20 years, lesson time for arts related subjects in primary and lower secondary school has been cut back. Arts subjects in upper secondary education are threatened as well, as the education programme Arts, Architecture and Design at Sandefjord upper secondary school experienced in the autumn of 2020, when they suddenly received the shocking message that the programme would be discontinued; The course was suggested discontinued on the 20th of October, and the decision was made on November 6th. More than 2000 people signed petitions protesting the decision.
Almost simultaneously, the same municipality, Vestfold og Telemark, reported that the programme Music, Dance and Theatre at Thor Heyerdahl upper secondary school in Larvik in 2020 would also be discontinued. 4500 people signed petitions.
Educational trends show that politicians want more pupils to enrol in the Norwegian upper secondary school pre-graduate programme, Studiespesialisering. However, Bjørn Tønnesen, principal at the Plus school, thinks that the government’s current stance is more arts friendly than before.
Norway’s Commitment and the Geneve Convention
– At the moment, we are getting the credit we deserve. They have realised that we are taking care of a cultural heritage that Norway has committed to preserving through the Geneve Convention. We represent the only institution in Norway where you can train to become a boat builder or a shoemaker. The huge dropout rates in upper secondary school have long been the subject of discussion.
According to SSB (Statistical Central Bureau), from 2012 to 2019 a staggering 21.9 per cent of pupils dropped out of school in Norway. Men drop out more often than women, and more pupils drop out of vocational programmes than pre-graduate programmes. Additionally, there are great differences between the different courses. Tønnesen explains that, over the course of the past three years, he has only seen three pupils drop out.
– And that has usually been for personal reasons. We have relayed to the directorate and to the Ministry of Education that predictability has been far more instrumental to the completion of an education programme than previously thought. When pupils know that they will be able to fully complete their upper secondary vocational education here at our school, certificates and all, they enrol. The principal believes that, if the Plus school had only offered the type of two-year vocational programmes concluding in a county distributed apprenticeship that most schools offer, the pupils would never have enrolled in the first place. He follows up by saying that some of the pupils go on to enrol in higher education, for example jewellery design. Others use the school as a launch pad to become a vocational teacher. Some end up as self-employed.
Poor Financial Framework
In spite of the Plus school accepting their cultural and historical responsibility, Tønnesen questions the financial framework. In Norway, 85 per cent of school expenses per pupil are supposed to be covered by the state. But because most of the pupils who attend the Plus school are “adult” 19-year-olds who have previously been enrolled in a pre-graduate programme in an upper secondary school, the directorate withdraws parts of the funding.
As a consequence, the government only covers 70 per cent of Plus school pupils’ expenses as opposed to the 85 per cent other upper secondary schools get, because the majority of Plus pupils are “adults”. Additionally, pupils at the Plus school can only apply for up to 70 % of the standard student loan amount. Tønnesen explains that this financial dilemma recently resulted in the school having to ask Viken municipality for extra financial support so they could buy materials for the pupils.
Bjørn Tønnesen concludes saying there is a difference now compared to just five years ago, and that he believes that today’s pupils are theoretically more adept.
– But some are not, and there are reasons why they choose vocational education. They do not want more math, biology and physics. However, when placed within a vocational context, it probably becomes easier for them to grasp the theoretical aspect as well. We usually say that in vocational education, relating practical experience back to the theory behind is essential.
No Digital Tools in Silicon Valley
The fact that scientific research is creative, is exemplified through Silicon Valley. The tech capitol of the world attracts many of the sharpest minds of our time. Companies like Google, Facebook and Apple have their headquarters there. Here, they develop new software, algorithms, hardware, analyse the human psyche, our needs and movement patterns – all in a giant, intricate melting pot.
Over the past decades, the influx of creative and highly educated people has resulted in a growth of established families and new schools in Silicon Valley. It would be easy to assume that they would want their children to be given an early introduction into computer technology, however, the results show the opposite. They choose to keep their children away from smartphones, computers and tablets. In several schools, they avoid using digital tools, and they are focused on traditional teaching methods and creative subjects. They are viewed as beneficial for development and for triggering curiosity.
The fact that many of the brightest heads among us think of creative subjects as crucial, should be a wake-up call for the people who make the calls when it comes to the current educational system.
(Illustration / drawing by Tilde M. Walaker)
Don’t Worry, Draw a Sphere
Drawing is considered such a fundamental skill that children who do not draw are viewed as abnormal. Simultaneously, it is a commonly known fact that most people have stopped drawing by the time they reach adulthood. What is the actual status of drawing in our schools and educational system, in the phase of our lives where we develop character, opinions and shape future practices?
As the husband of a former arts and crafts teacher, these questions have been bothering me for years. As an art critic, I see the value of drawing as arena for the basic formation of concepts in art. Not many artists choose not to engage with the art of drawing. However, the art of drawing also carries with it a stigma in the world of art: for the past century, the art form’s status has been in steady decline. Luckily, in recent decades, the art of drawing has been infused with a fresh vitality. The development has made me attentive to the space that drawing and the other creative and art related subjects occupy within the field of arts and crafts.
In my examination of the standing of drawing in the educational system, I have talked to several sources and read a number of articles. The material is massive; schools and education is one of the central themes in public discourse. Reforms are frequent. Educational policies are often the subjects of political debate. During the spring of 2021, the Solberg cabinet presented a new plan for Norwegian upper secondary education. The reception was mixed, to put it lightly. I will not, however, go into that here. This article will focus on drawing in primary school (grades 1–7, US: elementary school) and lower secondary school (grades 8–10, US: middle school), the part of Norwegian education that is compulsory to attend for all children. I am under no illusions that this text will provide a complete overview. My purpose is simply to outline the complex situation found in primary and lower secondary education.
For example, something as basic as the material framework for teaching arts and crafts (A&C) differs greatly from one school to the other. Josefine Berger, A&C teacher at Blommenholm school in Bærum, explains how the school is equipped with its own room for ceramics, a wood workshop, and separate rooms for drawing and textile activities. However, other schools she has worked at have not had designated rooms for A&C subjects. One might think that this belongs to history by now, but new schools are still being built without designated arts and crafts spaces.
Ingeborg Schia, A&C teacher at Apalløkka lower secondary school in Oslo, finds that the achievement goals provided by the national curriculum are so unclear that «it is possible to direct lessons in whichever direction you want». With the 2006 Knowledge Promotion reform, 477 lesson hours were allotted to arts and crafts distributed across the first to the seventh grade. That equals an average of less than two hours per week, an amount every person I have talked to thinks is too small. Arts and crafts is after all the main subject in school that involves drawing.
When considering how the material conditions and the number of hours allotted vary from school to school and throughout the course of compulsory education, it becomes evident that the framework for arts and crafts lessons is entirely dependent on the individual schools’ management’s attitude towards the arts. Karen Brænne, associate professor at Volda University College, talks about how there is a shortage of specialised arts and crafts teachers:
Few Teachers are Specialised
– It would be easy to paint a grim picture, but right now, a major problem is the fact that few primary school teachers are specialised. In lower secondary school, the situation is slightly better. In later years, school policy has moved towards a greater focus on arts and crafts, but even here in the teacher education programme, making space for arts and crafts seems to be a challenge. We are working against the tides.
Digitalisation has brought with it a change in attitude; an appreciation for working with our hands, as it gives us a sense of achievement; of mastering a skill. At the same time, we observe that children stop drawing sooner than they used to, partly because video games take up a lot of time. However, it is not all as bleak as it might seem. Many computer games involve drawing and constructing things. And then there are the kids who draw digitally using appropriate apps, she elaborates. There is always a silver lining to be found; drawing seems to hold a central position within the field of arts and crafts at school. The teachers I have talked to have given clear evidence that drawing is central to lessons, and that it is carried through the entire course of compulsory education. Drawing is involved in every aspect of the arts and crafts related subjects, when making sketches for woodwork, ceramics and textile projects, for example. And the act of drawing has a positive effect on children who find reading and writing challenging; with a little assistance, they can learn to draw when others take notes.
Josefine Berger at Blommenholm school explains that the techniques children are taught prior to lower secondary school, should not be too advanced. Still, she talks about incorporating shading, drawing with charcoal, croquis and painting in her lessons in the upper grades of primary school. Ingeborg Schia at Apalløkka school talks about enthusiastic pupils to whom drawing lessons have been the highlight of digital schooling in the age of Covid. The lower secondary school in Groruddalen has been subject to major outbreaks, and digital lessons have been the norm for the past year.
Combining Digital and Analogue Work
– Digital tasks often involve drawing by hand, on paper. The pupils present their drawings on Zoom. We have had lots of fun doing tasks such as, “Draw a sphere” and “Go outside, find a leaf, and draw it”. I have witnessed an almost unbelievable progress in the pupils. This is great, as my general experience has been that lower secondary school pupils are more interested in the other A&C aspects, such as textile, woodwork and ceramics. The pupils get a sense of achievement, and many find drawing to have a destressing effect. They are doing something, but being completely silent at the same time. With croquis drawing in particular, the learning curve is so steep, they have epiphanies after only 90 minutes. This type of task is focused on the proportions of the body, so that here, the practice of drawing helps to train us to think in three dimensions. They learn that the result has beauty even if they think it is weird. They take those drawings home and frame them. We go outside to draw in May and June. They love that, says Ingeborg Schia.
Kristina Sideridis is a master’s student at Oslo Met University College, where she is currently working on her thesis about the processes of drawing, and how we draw differently when engaged in imaginative or free drawing versus observational drawing. She spent a year working in a primary school, where she became very curious as to the children’s different responses. Why do they do what they do? What styles do they apply to the different situations? What psychological processes are in play when we draw? The short answer is that when engaged in imaginative drawing, the pupils work with basic shapes and forms and subsequently move on to focus on the details. When engaged in observational drawing, the details dominate: they often begin in a corner and then work their way across the sheet, keeping up the same level of detail at all times.
– I hope that my thesis can contribute to a better understanding of the processes surrounding drawing, so that we can make better and more well-informed decisions. As a primary school teacher, my experience is that the strictly technical drawing tasks are not necessarily perceived as particularly meaningful or interesting by the pupils. Because of that, I would like to focus on the use of visual tools and aids, and incorporate the development of technical skills as a part of the task. You cannot really learn to draw “in the wrong way”, we use different strategies for drawing based on the need that arises then and there. Drawing is a positive skill that can contribute to many a situation, like planning, decorating, designing clothes and technical drawing. And we must not forget about the joy of creation, she explains.
A matter all my informers agree upon, is that pupils who struggle and fall short in all the other subjects, flourish when it comes to arts and crafts. – They get to feel like they are able to master something, and that spurs them on to learn more, according to Josefine Berger: – The good thing about the Knowledge Promotion is that it gives us the possibility to work across subjects in an interdisciplinary manner, and that shows us the value of all the different subjects together. My experience is that when pupils exit primary school, it is with a joy and interest for drawing, she concludes.
(Illustration of a teacher-looking person with glasses and red hair by Jan Walaker)
I for Imagination. Imagine an I
A bit of time has admittedly passed since my stint in Norwegian nine-year compulsory schooling. This is some of what I remember:
- One of the other pupils found a box of porn mags just outside the schoolyard and showed them to some of the kids. There was a huge fuss. We had a Christian teacher who accosted us with speeches about morals and modesty, etc.
- One of the other pupils had an epileptic seizure in the schoolyard. It was a horrible sight to behold, the frothing at the mouth in particular.
- A substitute music teacher sang negro spirituals with us. He showed us some really nice drawings he did in between classes as well.
- Cardboard craft. Cardboard craft was my favourite subject.
- The math teacher’s yellowed, nicotine-stained nails digging into the back of my neck upon me exclaiming “that was bloody clever”. He had written something I found particularly enlightening on the blackboard.
- Praise for a paper I wrote in experimental form about Thor Heyerdahl, and praise for a paper about the former race car driver and magnate Enzo Ferrari.
- Frustration caused by a kid who seemed to never cease to be entertained at holding me back by grabbing hold of my backpack every day as I walked home from school.
- Swimming lessons. They were co-ed.
- The English teacher who dissed foreign language exchange trips openly in front of all the pupils.
Let us begin at the end. The language exchange trips to England were some of the best things to have ever happened to me. I learned English, I learned about music, and I realised that the world is much more than just life in Norway. In addition, I had the most fantastic time, perhaps the best months of my life. The fact that these exchange trips to an English seaside town would become the catalyst for the occupation I ended up with later in life, is also something I feel deserves to be mentioned.
This text is supposed to be about more than just me. I have a ten-year-old daughter in the fourth grade who keeps telling me she finds school boring. It’s stupid, as she would have said. Compulsory school should be fun. We should learn about things that matter in society, and gain knowledge that can give every pupil a better life. Two hours are allotted to arts and crafts per week. Those two hours are by far the most popular, along with physical education.
In recent times, several newspaper articles have relayed how primary schools in Oslo are run. They give no cause for optimism. A bouquet of directors with an annual salary of over a million, lying executives, a great number of highly skilled and experienced employees hand in their notices, displeased and over-worked teachers, violence and low attendance, etc.
Is it really that hard? Pupils are meant to learn a series of subjects. Teachers and other staff members are there to make that possible. And of course, buildings are designed and built for the purpose. With the knowledge we have today, the knowledge that we learn better and more when we want to learn and when we have fun while learning, a lot of the work should already be done. Unfortunately, it is not, and in practicality, arts and crafts can still be boring and our system offers little space for subjects that develop a joy of creation and imagination.
The word «imagination» is derived from a Latin word that means «to picture oneself». Innovation and positive development come from the ability to picture something that is not present in the sense of the physical world. Imagination is a prerequisite to all creative endeavours.
In philosophy, imagination is an important term to Aristotle, Immanuel Kant, the romantic philosophers and in the German Romantic Period.
The Romantic Period was a reaction to the rationalism of the 18th century. In rationalism, sensibility and reasoning – and not the senses – are the real sources of knowledge. It could seem as though our schools are well-rooted in the rationalist mindset.
This tendency can also be found in the Norwegian national broadcasting service, NRK. Sports and competitions dominate. Achievements are to be made. Winners and losers are to be announced. People are to be knocked out and sent home. Knowledge of art and music is for the most part absent. Music is performed by someone other than the composer, and more often than not it is performed in a manner far inferior to the original recording artist. Everything is set against the backdrop of competition. Concepts are imported from foreign TV production companies.
Where have our Imaginations Gone?
As I am writing this, the Covid pandemic acts as backdrop and the conservation of nature is at the top of young people’s agendas. Perhaps it is time for our schools to move towards romantic ideals of individual exploration and development and inner life. The romantic focus on nature, emotion, the individual and the original. Scientific research has proven that art and music have a beneficial effect on our health. Surely, bringing more of that into our schools cannot be a bad thing. An important skill today and in the future is being able to evaluate sources. For this text, my only source was the Great Norwegian Ecyclopedia (Store Norske Leksikon).
– We think that we will be able to confirm the preliminary results from the pilot, that is that children that are subjected to arts and culture in their everyday lives demonstrate a faster advancement of the cognitive functions than the pupils who undergo normal compulsory education. This would of course also indicate a substantial positive effect with regards to all the other things they are to learn at school as well.
Marie Othilie Hundevadt
– Even though the value of the practical and aesthetic subjects is held in higher regard now than previously, and an effort is being put towards strengthening these subjects in schools since we know that they create excitement in the daily lives of pupils, how the schools choose to distribute their funds and resources when it comes to these subjects varies greatly. Because of that, several ongoing debates are discussing whether we should grade these subjects or even add them to the subjects that conduct final exams, or whether they should be more of a free space for the pupils.
– I often tell my art guides: I do not care whether the pupils know art history, I only care about them understanding two things; one is the distinction between being an active participant and being a passive participant in one’s life.
– For the first time ever, I did well at school. Creativity was important in order to think and learn something practical, and not least just having the option to choose something less theoretical.
– Creativity is after all a craft. Shaping the manuscript of a book, that can be compared to building a house as well. It consists of putting up framing, that you then have to cover with cladding, and finally enter.
Bård Erik Torgersen
– The arts stimulate the intellectual values as well. You do not have to want to be an artist to study the arts.
– I know a couple of things about the dissemination of knowledge, but I cannot tell you how you should experience a work of art at an exhibition.
– Google’s number crunchers have concluded that among the eight most important fields of expertise, STEM comes in last. Tech related subjects, then, are not the most important, even in a tech company such as Google. The seven most important skills listed for success at Google are all soft skills. The perfect Google employee, then, scores high when it comes to coaching, communication, empathy, the ability to listen, critical thinking and problem solving.
Morten Schjelderup Wensberg
Art, Democracy and Participation.
What is the State of the Arts in Society?
Can art come into being without an artist engaging with something? And is not the subject matter that the artist engages with always anchored in issues pertaining to society? If that is the case, should we be banishing arts and culture to the entertainment section?
– Art has always acted as catalyst for dialogue, according to Christian Houge, an artist whose artistic focus revolves around science. He bases his creative process on environmental matters – before incorporating them into an artwork. Sometimes, he manipulates photographic images with acrylic paint and pigment pastels, drones are being flown over landscapes to create art videos of withered landscapes, or the art is displayed as mere photographs that the onlooker can easily relate to.
A person who admires art, but maintains a certain distance to it, would perhaps find comfort in the many answers Houge provides in his art, but hopefully also find them horrifying. And usually, the imagery leaves little doubt as to what the message is. But, then again, he is an artist. You can trust facts, but you cannot trust him not to challenge you at a personal level. How large is the universe? How do you react to actual stuffed animals set on fire?
The Art You Never Understood
At one point, I am sure you have seen art that you did not understand. But even when you do not understand it, art triggers thought. You can discuss what surprises and delights you, what you find grotesque or what you cannot fathom. Either way, you experience how art gets the conversation and thought process going, in you and in others. Even when you do not realise it, art provides knowledge. It is after all through dialogue that we attempt to make sense of the things that are bigger than us, right?
Understanding results in knowledge. Knowledge results in opinions. Understanding, knowledge, and opinions result in tolerance. And in what is often referred to as educated or cultured human beings. Phrases that carry negative connotations.
Instead of «educated» or «cultured», could we please start using «developed», and leave associations to manners and upper classes at the door? Because even though «education» and «culture» refers to something not static, something that is being created and shaped, the terms still carry connotations of superiority and class. Of cultural capital. And with cultural capital, we give room for class segregation to arise. If you are tolerant and have formed a clear set of opinions, it is undoubtedly easier to participate in society. We should all be invited to join this journey of development.
Merge Kulturskolen Schools and Regular Schools into One
«One of the most pressing matters, as I see it, is that the question of what art really is is rarely brought up, and thus it is also very rarely answered. What is Art? What is the purpose of Art in our civilisation? What has Art meant to the people alive today, and what can / should be its function in the world of tomorrow?». This quote is collected from the homepage of Festspillene i Bergen (Bergen International Festival), and it was uttered by former festspill director and director of art museum KODE Bergen, Erlend Høyersten, when he gave a talk about the relationship between art and society at Studentersamfunnet i Bergen (Bergen Student’s Association) in 2010.
At that time, he was concerned that public funding of the arts was increasing, and that the spending was involved in creating a sense of resistance to the arts. Approximately ten years later, we find that it is popular to «diss» government funding of the arts – mainly because the commentary fields reveal that art is not perceived as having any definable uses. This is an important discovery to make as we enter the field to examine the general knowledge of arts and culture.
It all points to a need to fortify the practical and aesthetic subjects taught at school; that we have to clear out a tangled mess of good intentions before we can get sustainability and usefulness out of arts and culture in education. What if we merged Kulturskolen – that offers schooling in the arts – into compulsory school, making the content available for all pupils, and not just the 13 per cent that actually make use of the offer or can afford to pay for it?
If schools were to absorb arts and culture into themselves, the focal point could be adjusted; perhaps the media would be less preoccupied with high culture if everyone had a natural relationship with art, culture and identity. All that talk of high culture sheds light on the fact that we do not have a vocabulary that covers all the things we want to discuss about what art brings to the table; what it does, to whom. With a balance between arts subjects and science subjects at school, perhaps we would even become able to answer the question of what art is? Learn to learn?
Art is Meant to Provoke, Awaken and Point
Art visualises, communicates and provokes. Or does it? Two artists would like to offer a retort to art critic Oda Bahr’s review of the 2015 National Art Exhibition (Høstutstillingen). Bahr is unimpressed by what she perceives as a lack of provocation, the burlesque and political revolt in the art of 2015. She feels that the pieces are too perfect, and that the exhibition lacks friction. Has the art world really taken this dull and introverted direction in the context of a world on fire? Bahr asks, and makes no attempt to conceal her thoughts on the function of art.
If Bahr had been able to look into the crystal ball of the future, she would have seen that art is taking the shape of political revolt – on stage. For, as soon as we start looking at how the art scene is doing, it just happens.
An Attack on the Arts is an Attack on Democracy
The reception of the play «Ways of Seeing» at Black Box Theatre in Oslo was not only mixed upon its opening night in 2018. It kicked up a huge debate, among other things for its use of real-life videos of politicians’ houses. But perhaps in particular for being inherently political content-wise. The 15th of March remains standing as an important date in the world of art, culture and democracy, as the director of the theatre and three of the artists behind the play were reported to the police and accused of breaking the law that governs every person’s right to privacy. Prime Minister Erna Solberg expressed her opinions to the media at the time:
– My thoughts are that the people who wrote the play have to think about the fact that they are also contributing to a focus on politicians as well as their surroundings and the people around them, that makes it harder to be a politician. They have to have the backbone to endure it. I have to say I do find the speculations surrounding this worrying, Solberg said at a press conference a few days prior, opining that the play was speculating about the motivation behind the threats posed towards then Minister of Justice and Public Security, Tor Mikkel Wara.
If art can have such a strong effect that a Prime Minister feels the urge to comment upon it to the press, it is self-evident that it should be taught, treated, interpreted and prioritised more within the educational system.
«Dialogue» is the Golden Word
Dialogue is supposed to be the solution to everything; it acts as peacemaker, conflict solver, between countries, between countryside and city, between employer and employee, between pupils at school, within relationships? Is not dialogue and debate just what we need in order to develop?
Meet Rolf Pang, a manipulative fellow with only one goal – making sure the world revolves around him. The play «Pang!», staged by Riksteateret in 2021, written by German Marius von Mayenburg. The playwright came down with a case of Trump allergy in 2017, and he subsequently wrote this comedic and razor-sharp satire of the contemporary. Trump allergy is an ailment afflicting more people than just the playwright. And in 2020, three years after the play was completed, the entire world could see how threatened democracy was in a a country that prides itself on its democratic values. How did we end up here?
To be fair, the play «Pang!» is defined as entertainment. The combination of genres is substantial: comedy, satire, cabaret – a mixed bag, to say the least. But by now, we know that that is just the packaging, like it is with all art anchored in the real world. What needs to happen for us to incorporate art, culture and the understanding they bring with them into compulsory education – so that we can begin to properly understand art?
Annicken Dedekam Råge
If art can have such a strong effect that a Prime Minister feels the urge to comment upon it to the press, it is self-evident that it should be taught, treated, interpreted and prioritised more within the educational system.
(Illustration fold out by Sindre W. Goksøyr)
The arts have been losing traction in schools since the 70’s and been reduced from 20 percent of the total amount of lessons until 12. 5 percent in 2021. Children need more of the arts at school and please sign the petition that will be delivered to the Norwegian government in the election year of 2021.
Please sign the petition and pass it on.