UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The beautiful in form and colour : art education curriculum in British Columbia between the wars Rogers, Anthony William


Art education has always had a place in the public school curriculum of British Columbia. By the end of the first world war this subject was well established under the title of "Drawing", and also played a part in "Manual Arts" and "Nature Study". However, art education means more than the prescribed curriculum. It must also include what was taught to teachers as art education at the normal schools and summer schools and what was actually taught to students in the schools. In popular thought the interwar period is divided into two parts, predepression and depression. However, the economic depression left the institution of education relatively unscathed and, in fact, education developed throughout the nineteen-thirties. The physical isolation of communities, which led to a division between the large urban schools and the small rural ones, probably played a greater role than the depression in determining education as did the subtle influence of the British majority among the population. In art education an important indirect influence was the growth of the artistic community and the development of a definable west coast style. If one man held a pre-eminent position in B.C. art and art education, it was William P. Weston. He achieved prominence as a painter and provided a key influence in the growth of the B.C. style. He played a significant role in the development of the art education curriculum during the nineteen-twenties and was largely responsible for the changes that were instituted in the 1936-1937 curriculum revision. He co-authored the 1924 B.C. art text and rewrote it alone in 1933. At the Vancouver Normal School and at the summer schools in Victoria he personally taught art education to many of the province's teachers and no other individual enjoyed as great an opportunity to influence so many. His approach to art education was, in effect, that which was current in British education before his departure from England in 1909. While such ideas were largely abandoned in Britain during the following years, he continued to develop and modify them in British Columbia. This led B.C. education to develop in some unique ways and the "New" education and "Pro-gressivism" did not have the impact on B.C. art education that it had elsewhere. Teacher training in art education at the two Normal Schools followed the prescribed curriculum quite closely. At Victoria the teaching was competent but uninspired, while in Vancouver Weston had a strong emotional and inspirational effect on his students. However, at both schools the teaching was skill oriented and involved a good deal of copying. This, in the public schools, often led to a rather rigid system of art teaching and particularly so in the city, schools where the text tended to be followed slavishly without concern for the underlying philosophy. In rural schools art was very often neglected. In some cases it was not taught at all while in others the emphasis was on practical arts with little regard for the prescribed curriculum. Teachers often did not have the text and the shortage of supplies led to them using materials students could obtain free from home. All in all it could be said that what actually took place in the schools failed to reflect the intent of the curriculum and that art was the poor relation among the subjects.

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