Art Education and the Kannangara Report

I spent several weeks trying to articulate Schools 4.0 approach to art education (teaser article on Medium, video on YouTube), and only during editing did we discover what the Kannangara report had to say about Art:

From the section on Mental Development (16. and 17.)

Notice the importance of art for self-expression, and thereby the development of creativity, and the danger of examinations for art:

We stress particularly the various forms of art and music. They are important not only for their own sake but also because of their high cultural value. Above all, they provide media for self- expression. This is the most important, because it gives that element of originally which is so valuable in the mental development of the child and even more in the life of the nation. Much of learning is mere repetition or copying. The most useful citizen is he who can face a new problem and find his own solution. The spark of genius is nothing more than the spark of originality. In any walk of life the ablest man is he who instead of following tradition blindly, does a thing slightly differently because he thinks that the result may be better. It makes no difference whether the problem is to abolish unemployment or to get a better crop out of a paddy plot. History, Geography, Mathematics, Language and all the other academic subjects do not as a rule, produce this quality except in the highest ranks of learning. It is essential therefore, that the child should be given opportunities to develop means of self-expression. Art and music are admirable for this purpose because the child produces something which seems to him to be good, and not the answer at the back of the book which superior people have already provided for him. These subjects must, of course, be taught with discretion. A painting may have genius even if it has no perspective. Above all, they must not be made the subject of examinations unless the child has become a specialist and has to be taught technique. A music lesson that consists in the playing of a single “piece” a thousand times in order to pass an examination is not a means of developing self-expression but a means of killing the desire for it. It is not mental training but mechanical drudgery.

Even thought they are not “desiccated by examinations” (what an amazing expression!), they are not “extras” - they are part of the curriculum. The proposed use of art to learn other subjects foretells the current STEM to STEAM discourse (but the latter is more dangerous, since it does not have art for self-expression). They highlight the importance of art for mental development

Though we emphasize that these subjects must not be desiccated by examinations, we emphasize also that they are not frills or “extras”. They are an essential part of the child’s education and should be taught as such. Fortunately, they are in their nature so interesting and they are so remote from the drudgery which is inevitably associated with much “learning” that it is easy to develop them as extra-curricular activities and so to remote them from the category of tasks. Nevertheless, they should find a place in the curriculum itself. Painting, singing, dancing, modelling can be learned in class, though there should be something of the joyous abandon which ought to characterize extra-curricular Activities. Nor need they be dissociated from the teaching of other subjects. Nature study and geography provide means for the development of artistic talent and also for the acquisition of other kinds of knowledge. History can be learned in the form of pageantry and drama. “Literature” should not be a mere matter of translation and ought never to be artificially withered by excessive annotation. Once it is understood by parents as well as by teachers that this kind of training is essential to complete mental development and therefore to the child’s future career, whatever it may be, there will be less complaint of frivolity and of waste of time. Far from being frivolous, it is essentially serious, and the fact that the work can be made more interesting than the multiplication table gives it merit which that admirable invention can never possess.

The following is the section on Music and Arts

  1. The development of music, both vocal and instrumental, is an essential need for Ceylon. For the development of vocal music there is ample scope. For the western-educated there is a vast store of songs which they can attempt to interpret. No genuine Ceylon vocal music can arise, however, until there are attempts at creation, and at present there are few signs of creative activity among the English-educated. The tale is different among the rest. Though only a beginning has been made towards the revival of eastern music, there has already appeared some creative activity, and a bright future may be expected.
  1. The scope for training in instrumental music is limited by considerations of space and equipment and by the highly individual nature of the training required. The school should aim rather to supplement the instruction given in the home than to supersede it, though it should also be prepared to give facilities for the use of the school instruments and the school teachers where they were desired. If this were done, the disadvantage under which many children labor, that there are neither instruments nor accommodation at home, can be removed. Also, the parent would be sure of obtaining a competent teacher. Supplementing the teaching in the home would require teaching in musical theory, which could in large measure be associated with singing and dancing. Also, the school should have as many orchestras, Eastern and western, as it can muster. In any event, the schools should not encourage the debasing of music by cramming for examinations. Music more than any other “subject” has been debased by the examination mania, and the long list of examination “successes” which appears at intervals in the newspapers is one of the most distressing features of our system of education. The mechanical drumming of set pieces which must go on in many Ceylon homes is a menace to all standard of musical appreciation. It bears little relation to music and is more like the process of mass production. There is little difference between stamping ‘‘music’’ out of a piano and stamping rail out of a steel plate, save that the latter operation is more exact.
  1. Musical appreciation can be learned by other methods. The gramophone enables the finest music played by the finest executants to be brought to the school, and much can be done by the use of the radio. Lessons on musical appreciation can be made a joy if they are appropriately illustrated. They must, however, be given by teachers who themselves have a high standard of taste.
  1. The field for education in art is much wider, though here too equipment is necessary if the teaching is to be successful. It is, for instance, undesirable that schools should limit drawing to the medium of pencil crayon, which is the least successful of the media capable of being used. Pastel, watercolor, pencil, pen and-ink and pencil crayon should all be employed. Nor should art be limited to drawing. Modelling in clay and handwork of other kinds should be possible. The cottage industries of Ceylon require work of high artistic merit in many media from cadjan to clay. The artistic tradition of past generations in local products has not been entirely superseded by mass-produced crockery. Much of the local pottery, copperware and silverware bears evidence of a high standard of taste which should be stimulated in various media at school.
  1. Art education has so many advantages that great emphasis should be placed on it. It trains the hand, the eye and the mind in certain specific directions. It makes one see more in the everyday things of life. It gives practice in imagining beautiful designs and pictures, both of which have been sadly neglected in the rush for Matriculation certificates. It gives an absorbing field for concentration. This is evident to everyone who has seen a class, listless and inattentive, completely absorbed in creative work. Adolescents in particular tend to lose themselves in day-dreams when they are expected only to be receptive, whereas artistic work enables them to sublimate their emotion. This characteristic is of profound-importance in enabling young men and women to adapt themselves to social conventions which appear to them to cramp their personalities. The fact that the student is required to do something and not merely to know something is also of profound social significance. Mere knowledge is of no great value to the world; its value lies in the ability to make use of it. The Sinhalese and the Tamils have artistic traditions of a high order, and we look to the development of education in art as a means for redressing the unbalanced system produced by the blind imitation of English education which has obtained in Ceylon for much of the past century.
  1. Its success depends, however, on the production of the necessary teachers. It is unfortunately inevitable that the weaknesses of an educational system are visited upon the next generation through the medium of the teachers. The achievement of the objects mentioned above has been hindered by poverty, poor material and equipment, unqualified teachers, teachers without vision or powers of appreciation, managers and parents who have little understanding of the true meaning of education, and even the examination fever - for much of the development which has occurred, is due to the establishment of art as an examination subject, the surest way to kill creative ability and to stifle imagination.
  1. Much of this cannot be reformed without a change in the general social environment. It is the old problem of the hen and the egg. Until there is a lively artistic opinion, whether it be wholly oriental or mainly occidental or, as is more likely a fusion of east and west, parents and schools will demand good teachers and good teachers will be forthcoming. Meanwhile, the initial impulse could be given by the establishment of more, and more representative, art galleries and the creation of schools of art. Art societies already established should be given very encouragement.
  1. The development of artistic appreciation in the schools is not solely a matter of teaching art as a subject. Every effort should be made to give the child a pleasing and refined atmosphere. Poverty is the only excuse for giving our schools the severity of a monastery, and poverty is not everywhere a justification. There is no excuse at all for the crude daubs which stand for decoration in many schools; they give the impression that the children are regarded as primitive barbarians to whom only splashes of startling and incongruous colours appeal. If money can be put on decorations it must be spent tastefully. Pictures should be carefully chosen-good reproductions can in normal times be obtained very cheaply. There is no reason why a class room should be dull and depressing.
  1. Various forms of art can be brought in aid of the teaching of other subjects. Drawing is one of the methods of teaching natural science, history and geography. Plays should be acted, or at least read with parts assigned. Parts of history can be dramatized. A cultured teacher can find scores of ways of making learning interesting and a means of general education. One of us has vivid recollections of a highly cultured headmaster who discussed with the combined sixth forms once a week any subject in which he happened to be interested - Why so many of the best singers came from Italy, why the Dutch had produced so many great painters. whether a portrait should be "just like’’ the sitter as the world saw him, why the art of staining glass had not survived, whether Tennyson was a poet or Lundseer an artist, why a second-rate novel became a best-seller, which was the finer Cathedral, Durham or Gloucester, why the Puritans disliked the drama, what difference there was in the technique of de Maupassant and O’Henry and scores of similar subjects. As with most true English education there was no examination; but hundreds of schoolboys in this way were encouraged to read and to see with critical eyes what otherwise they would have passed by blindly.