Decolonising Art Education Will Help Pakistani Graduates In The Job Market

Decolonising Art Education Will Help Pakistani Graduates In The Job Market
Contrary to popular belief; a true artist is born, not made. In Pakistan however, the mushroom growth of art institutes suggests that an artist is made, not born. These institutes offer undergraduate and postgraduate degrees in various fields of art. Polarisation is common in every walk of life in Pakistan and the same is reflected in art education at college and university levels also. This has created an academic mess affecting the future of thousands of potential art students, the faculty holding conventional art degrees and imposing invisible chains on Art, Craft & Design education. While issuing these degrees; the demands of the growing creative economy are overlooked and the artist community seems divided in acceptance of these degrees and disconnected with the emerging trends in the world – resulting in confusion in the art professions for hiring, especially in the academic sphere. Lack of research in terms of scope, possibilities and nomenclature of various fields of art in Pakistan is contributing to the divisions in the field of Art, Craft & Design.

The nomenclature of art degrees indicate a variety of names like Fine Arts, Art & Design, Visual Arts, Textile Design, Interior Design, Applied Arts, Graphic Design and many more. The most commonly used name is Fine Arts, which has problematic definitions and scope in the fast-paced economy-driven 21st century but still the academics of the field choose to keep quiet on the issue – irrespective of the fact that the graduates have difficulties in finding jobs in this field.

The general practice of using the term Fine Arts in Pakistan (which has its foundations in the 16th-century European concept of practicing painting, sculpture and architecture for purely aesthetic value) continues to be used in Pakistan. This term, however, has undergone a transformation over the centuries and is now more holistically termed as Visual Arts and Art & Design to include other relevant disciplines like photography, ceramics, printmaking, designing, performance art, digital arts and textiles all having a base of drawing skills. Until the English Arts & Crafts Movement of the late 19th century, there was a rigid distinction

Title: 'Art in Chains' - Medium: Ceramics - Artist: Hina Naeem - Source: Private Collection

between fine art (purely aesthetic) and decorative art and craft (functional). With time this arbitrary distinction has become blurred, and certain crafts or decorative arts (notably ceramics and textile mediums) are now increasingly used by artists for expression sake and it also provides application in the art professions. The fast growing usage of computer aided technology has shifted the focus from manual to mechanical production of art. However, the value of skill can never be undermined.

Despite global changes in this field, a majority of art institutes in Pakistan are still following the curriculum, art terminology and teaching pedagogies rooted in the colonial past. The art curriculum from higher secondary onwards is driven by 19th-century British guidelines, with the exception of few institutes where a multidisciplanary American model of art teaching is applied. The nomenclature of most of the art degrees has been changed to other names but ironically, in public sector colleges, teachers are still hired under the title of “Lecturer in Fine Arts” as no conscious effort has been done to equalize degrees with other nomenclatures. This practice sadly excludes other art disciplines based on art, craft and design.

Unlike Europe, in the Eastern regions of the world there was no arbitrary distinction between arts and crafts. The so called “craft people” enjoyed the same exalted positions in the royal courts where the nobility appreciated their work and they were called Ustad. After seventy five years of independence, however, art education in Pakistan is still dominated by the colonial divide between fine arts, crafts and design.

The structure of education in Pakistan is composed of school, college and university levels. Fine Arts is offered at college level both in public and private sector female institutions with the exception of few male colleges. The scope of Fine Arts changed with the second Industrial Revolution and the emergence of a new global order after World War II. In Pakistan, the curriculum of Fine Arts at college level has changed little since the time it was introduced by Anna Molka Ahmad, the pioneer of opening a Fine Arts Department in the University of the Punjab in 1940. The curriculum designed by a European educationist does not include the history of local art and craft traditions and students get a heavy dose of Western art history which results in the Westernised art production. Prior to the advent of the British in the Subcontinent, art was linked with manufacturing and industry with a holistic and inclusive approach for both design and painting. The art schools opened by the British, however operated with the teaching of an academic style of drawing practiced in similar conditions. The American model of art teaching developed in the 20th century and is rooted in the linkage of art with human psychology and productivity making it different from the European model. Developments in the field of Psychology gave visual artists more freedom in terms of subject, medium and concept to their art practice. It acknowledges the utilitarian aspect of art and also links it with industrial production.

The Higher Education Commission (HEC) in its draft of revised curriculum for Fine Arts, realised two important aspects of art education in Pakistan: art has been taught with a Western way of teaching and traditional arts and crafts have been sidelined. In spite of this admission, a workable solution has not been suggested by the Higher Education Commission, which results in the continuation of the old practices.

The two art institutions in Lahore; The Mayo School of Art (opened 1875) and The Department of Fine Arts in University of the Punjab (opened in 1940) had different paradigms and are still considered the oldest centers of art education in Pakistan. The earlier was based on the model of technical art education which was the main trend in Britain in nineteenth century, whereas the later was formulated on the blend of humanistic and academic art educational model rooted in the intellectual and aesthetic content of art, which was the basis of art education in Europe in the early 20th century. The Mayo School of Arts worked independently, however the Department in Punjab University was soon linked with school and college net work to teach art courses which provided a rational base for the students to pursue a higher degree in arts. The graduates opting for a career in art teaching follow the same British model of curriculum as it is hard to break free from traditions. The application of a multidisciplinary American model of art education can be observed in the art courses offered under Applied Arts in the College of Home Economics (now University of Home Economics) in 1955. The art program developed under the guidelines of Oklahoma University, was based on the ideals of aesthetics with functionality; an educational philophy adopted by the Bauhaus school of art. It was an multidisciplinary art program which provided the learner with an opportunity to study art history (both Western and local) craft traditions, psychology of art education, ceramics, weaving, interior designing, art research along with drawing and painting skills. The program provided entrepreneurial skills also. Because of the dominance of colonial legacy this pioneer multidisciplinary art program faced reluctance in its acceptance at par with the Fine Arts. However, the subjects taught under this program were later on adopted by other art institutions to develop a more professional approach in an attempt to adapt to the changing world of visual arts. Polarisation in the degrees and lack of acceptance on part of leading art institutes has resulted in confusion and affected negatively the quality of art education in Pakistan.

Part of the prerequisites for any art degree is understanding of basic drawing skills to adapt to any technique later on adapted for expression. The rapid growth of media and technology in the 21st century has made globalisation a threat to many of the world’s cultural identities. Modified art courses with the inclusion of content based on local art history and craft traditions can help in preserving the cultural identity and boosting the local arts and crafts through research and student exposure.

It requires a massive effort to decolonise and unchain the art curriculum and develop an acceptance for the shifting paradigms in the field of Art, Craft & Design.

The author is an art historian, researcher and educationist