Killing Couture

We have all seen Sir Ken Robinson’s TED talk entitled Do Schools Kill Creativity? You know which one I mean, the most watched TED talk of all time, the 20-minute masterpiece whereby the English author poignantly and humorously points out the fundamental flaws in modern education with regards to the systematic quelling of creativity. One piece of this speech that really stood out for me was when Robinson discussed the ranking given to subjects in schools:

“Every education system on Earth has the same hierarchy of subjects... at the top are mathematics and languages, then the humanities, and at the bottom are the arts. And in pretty much every system too, there’s a hierarchy within the arts. Art and music are normally given a higher status in schools than drama and dance. There isn’t an education system on the planet that teaches dance everyday to children the way we teach them mathematics. Why? Why not? ... We all have bodies, don’t we? Did I miss a meeting?”

He goes on to argue that this is because of the ignorant “you’re not going to be an actor, so why prioritise drama” arguments which all of us have heard so many times throughout our education. Robinson’s speech says more than I ever could about the disparity between the arts and the sciences in schools. However, I would like to focus more on his reference to the hierarchy among the arts. In the decade since his 2006 speech, there has been a change. Drama, for example, has ascended to the level of Music and Art, with institutions such as the National Youth Theatre and a widespread focusing of the transferrable skills gained in theatre to thank for this shift. Dance, though still not part of mainstream curricular teaching, is at least heavily encouraged as an extra-curricular, with films such as Step Up and television acts such as Britain’s Got Talent’s Diversity sparking a generational allure for modern and progressive dance.

Fashion however, still doesn’t even have a seat at the table, and this is, in my opinion, a crying shame. Fashion is an art form. Think about it. It all starts off with sketching. The importance of colour combination, symmetry and originality are all plain to see. Is there such a difference between Kate Moss being Mario Testino’s muse and Jacqueline being Picasso’s? Besides the aesthetics, fashion, like art, is a means of expression. Coco Chanel said that “Fashion is not something that exists in dresses only. Fashion is in the sky, in the street, fashion has to do with ideas, the way we live, what is happening.” And she is correct. Talking of Picasso, why should his chilling 1951 Massacre in Korea, or just about anything by Banksy, be given more credit for documenting social issues than various figures’ support for the LGBT community and Pussy Riot in the build-up to the 2014 Sochi Olympics, or Supreme’s stance on racism in the American police and legal system with their Supreme is UnAmerican t-shirt? The answer - they shouldn’t. Fashion, both in terms of technical style and zeitgeist significance, holds its own.

The thing is, the world has accepted this. Last year’s Alexander McQueen exhibition at the V&A received as much media coverage and acclaim as any art gallery did. As celebrated designer Zandra Rhodes told The Guardian, “the same amount of artistic expression goes into clothes, a piece of pottery or a painting. I’ve founded a [fashion] museum on the basis that I think it’s an artistic form that should be remembered.” So why is this not the case? Look at Cambridge University, a self-acclaimed leader in liberalism, innovativeness and creativity. Why then, does their Art History course study architecture, but not even give fashion a look in? Why is money pumped into student galleries, choir concerts and tours to foreign countries, while University fashion shows and aspiring designers struggle to raise enough income to realise their ideas? If you asked the bursar for funds to travel to New York or Paris for fashion week, they’d laugh in your face. Why? To borrow from Sir Ken, we all wear clothes, don’t we? Did I miss a meeting?

        Queues for the Savage Beauty exhibition outside the Met Gallery in New York

Tradition is a huge culprit. Traditionally, fashion has been seen by the world of academia as frivolous, as something which the non-intelligent and less capable divulge in. Also, returning to the Science vs Art debate, throughout history the two have been pitted against each other as two ends of a spectrum, as non-compatible. You only have to look at how readily you accepted my saying “Science vs Art” just now for proof - this attitude is ingrained. This is the first thing that must change. As comedian Tim Minchin stressed in his UWA honorary degree acceptance speech:

“Please don’t make the mistake of thinking the arts and sciences are at odds with one another. That is a stupid, and damaging idea. You don’t have to be unscientific to make beautiful art, to write beautiful things. If you need proof: Twain, Adams, Vonnegut, McEwen, Sagan, Shakespeare, Dickens. For a start...The arts and sciences need to work together to improve how knowledge is communicated.”

He is right - mainstream curricular education has to focus on a way of bringing together the arts and the sciences, and fashion should be included in this conversation. More specific to fashion, tradition is again at fault. The old stereotype of fashion being ‘for girls’ has of course been broken worldwide, but has it been rejected in education? Statistics would suggest not: the 2015 Cambridge Assessment Research Report showed that 90% of students doing Design and Textiles GCSE were girls. This, frankly, is scary: one must only look at the wealth of male designers, from Karl Lagerfeld to Gosha Rubchinskiy, to see that the industry is far from a sphere limited to women, and this fact should be reflected in the encouragement of student participation in mainstream bodies of education.

Finally, we need to realise that this doesn’t have to be a giant step. I am not saying that people should ditch the ruler for the dress (though rulers are, of course, integral for a fashion designer), or the test tube for the runway. There doesn’t need to be a revolution. All that is needed is for GCSE and A-Level Art to include modules that study fashion design, and the history of fashion. This would inform people, spark an interest from a young age, and give a scope for creativity that is just not there, without forcing people to solely study fashion. I am not putting other arts down, I am trying to bring fashion up to a similar position which, with these small changes in attitude and procedure, is a very real possibility.

Written by: Francesco

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