Bridget Riley, Gillian Wearing and Jeremy Deller Call On UK Government to Curb Decline of Arts in Schools

In further news: Estate claims Robert Indiana spent last years ‘in squalor’; original sketches discovered beneath Leonardo’s ‘Virgin of the Rocks’

School children at Tate Britain, London, 2019. Courtesy: Getty Images; photograph: Stuart C. Wilson

School children at Tate Britain, London, 2019. Courtesy: Getty Images; photograph: Stuart C. Wilson

Arts lobbying organization, the Creative Industries Federation, has published an open letter to the UK education minister Gavin Williamson, calling on the government to address the ‘damaging’ decline of arts in schools. ‘We are deeply concerned by the falling numbers of young people studying creative subjects at school’, the letter states, citing an 8% drop in students taking GCSEs in creative subjects since 2014/15. The letter also cites research on the importance of creative subjects in schools, aiding future employability and cognitive abilities. It points out that childen from low-income backgrounds might only have access to the arts through school studies. ‘Studies show that children who do not have access to arts and culture are at a disadvantage both economically and educationally in comparison with those that do,’ the letter says. ‘A system which means that only more privileged young people are able to access arts and culture does a disservice both to those young people who suffer as a result, and to a society that believes in the importance of social mobility and equality of opportunity’.

The letter singles out the English Baccalaureate system for sidelining the arts – the secondary school policy makes sciences, English, maths, a language and geography or history compulsory, while no arts subjects are included. Signatories to the letter include leading artists Bridget Riley, Jeremy Deller, Gillian Wearing, Sam Taylor-Johnson and Bob and Roberta Smith. Last year, Taylor-Johnson spoke to frieze about the importance of teaching creativity in schools. Art classes ‘gave me a voice as well as a place to experiment, fail and succeed,’ she said. ‘It taught me that all ideas were valid and worth exploring, to think, to dream and realize.’

As a legal battle over the legacy of Robert Indiana unfolds, a lawyer acting on behalf of the late artist’s estate has filed court documents which allege that Indiana was severely neglected by his caretaker in his final years. The papers claim that Jamie L. Thomas left the artist to live in ‘squalor and filth’ prior to his death in May 2018. While the artist held USD$13 million in the bank, his home was ‘littered with animal feces and urine,’ the documents allege, according to Artnet News. The claims have been made in a countersuit to Thomas’s own lawsuit against the estate, in a bid to collect legal fees from another lawsuit against him by New York’s Morgan Art Foundation, over the alleged production of unauthorized works in Indiana’s name.

Protests in Hong Kong over an extradition agreement with mainland China, which activists say will limit human rights in the city-state, will become the subject of a production of Giacomo Puccini’s Turandot, directed by the dissident Chinese artist Ai Weiwei. The opera, which debuted in Milan in 1926, is set in China and tells the story of a prince’s quest to win the hand of Princess Turandot. In June, Ai said that his interpetation of the opera would be ‘immersed in the contemporary world’. Now in comments to the Art Newspaper, Ai said that the Hong Kong protests ‘will definitely be reflected in the opera’. The artist’s project is set to open next March at the Rome Opera.

Sketches and hand prints belonging to Leonardo Da Vinci have been discovered beneath his painting The Virgin of the Rocks (1495-1508), exhibited at London’s National Gallery. The gallery has uncovered original designs for the figures of the angel and Baby Jesus: ‘In the abandoned composition both figures are positioned higher up, while the angel, facing out, is looking down on the Infant Christ with what appears to be a much tighter embrace,’ the gallery says. Handprints were also revealed – either the work of an assistant or of Leonardo himself. The findings were made possible through macro x-ray fluorescence maps showing the presence of zinc (contained in the pigments), and through infrared and hyperspectral imaging.

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