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The idea of the art school in early nineteenth-century Britain

Quinn, Malcolm (2010) The idea of the art school in early nineteenth-century Britain. In: The idea of the art school in early nineteenth-century Britain, 08 June 2010, London, UK. (Unpublished)

Type of Research: Conference, Symposium or Workshop Item
Creators: Quinn, Malcolm

This seminar in the Manton Studio, Tate Britain was organised by Dr Malcolm Quinn as one of the outcomes of his sabbatical research. The seminar showed how the idea of the art school, as it was developed in the Select Committee on Arts and Manufactures of 1835/6, situated art, knowledge and pedagogy within public space. Following the Reform Bill of 1832, the idea of the public and the idea of the art school were brought together, in distinction from what was seen as the ambiguous, semi-private status of the Royal Academy of Arts. In this seminar, internationally acknowledged experts on the intellectual and artistic life of early nineteenth-century Britain, considered the idea of the art school in relation to the philosophy of utilitarianism, ideas of political economy, the role of the artist and the administration of public culture. Current debates on art school pedagogy and ‘the educational turn’ in art practice in the UK, have largely ignored the historical origins of the British art school. This seminar brought together staff and students from University of the Arts London, the ‘Art School Educated’ project at Tate Britain and from other institutions, to situate the idea of the art school within the development of a public visual culture in Britain in the early nineteenth century.

This research addresses three questions. The first question is historical: how did the utilitarian idea of the art school emerge in contrast to the academy of art in Britain in the 1830s, and what were its effects? The second question is philosophical and cultural: what were the necessary and sufficient conditions set by Adam Smith and Jeremy Bentham’s moral and political economies of taste that allowed the idea of the art school and the critique of art academies to be developed? The third question is political - did Bentham’s radical ideas on identity, cultural difference, taste and governance offer a viable framework for the pursuit of cultural policy objectives, and how does the utilitarian idea of the art school ‘cash out’ intellectually in terms of current approaches to utilitarian thinking in public pedagogy and public policy?

In response to these questions, Malcolm Quinn has developed an intellectual history of the utilitarian idea of the art school in Britain, an idea that developed in response to a problem of pedagogy in commercial society posed by political economic theory. He has analysed the art school idea as the product of a division within political economic reasoning between the virtue ethics of Adam Smith and the utilitarianism of Jeremy Bentham. This work includes Jacques Lacan’s account of Jeremy Bentham and ‘the utilitarian conversion’, and an historical account of the Bentham’s followers in the Political Economy Club and the Board of Trade who sat on the Select Committee on Arts and Manufactures in 1835/6. The application of utilitarian thinking to questions of public taste by members of parliament was an unlikely occurrence, yet it raised problems of ethics, governance and public pedagogy that persist to this day. Central to the account of the idea of the art school is Jeremy Bentham’s perspective on the relation between personal and social identity, inhibition and custom in judgments of taste, and the distinction between Bentham’s utilitarianism and that of J.S. Mill. The specific challenge Bentham offered was for legislators to incorporate a utilitarian consciousness within acts of government, replacing habits and prejudices of taste with a calculus of contingent acts across space and time.

The seminar also featured the article ‘The Disambiguation of the Royal Academy of Arts’ which has appeared in History of European Ideas 37(1) 2011 pp. 53-62, ‘The Political Economic Necessity of Art Education 1835 -52’ in International Journal of Art Education 30 (1) 2011, pp. 62-70, and lectures ‘The Chamber of Horrors: Art Education and Mass Culture’ at University of Cambridge Faculty of Education on 28 February 2009 and ‘Reading Reynolds With Bentham: the Idea of the Art School in Early Nineteenth-Century Britain’ at the Bentham Project Seminars, Bentham Project, University College London 2 March 2011.

Malcolm Quinn's research on the legacy of utilitarianism began with a symposium he organised on J.S. Mill at Tate Britain in 2006, entitled ‘On Liberty and Art’.

Additional Information (Publicly available):


Professor Sir Christopher Frayling
Dr Martin Myrone, curator, Tate Britain
Philip Schofield, Professor of the History of Legal and Political Thought in the Faculty of Laws and Director of the Bentham Project, University College London
Dr Malcolm Quinn, Reader in Critical Practice, CCW Graduate School, University of the Arts London
Richard Whatmore, Professor of Intellectual History and the History of Political Thought, University of Sussex

Keywords/subjects not otherwise listed: Art School educated project, TATE, Bentham, taste, Henry Cole ethics
Your affiliations with UAL: Colleges > Wimbledon College of Arts
Date: 8 June 2010
Related Websites: http://www.malcolmquinn.com/index.html
Related Websites:
Event Location: London, UK
Projects or Series: Research Outputs Review (April 2010 - April 2011)
Date Deposited: 10 Feb 2012 13:50
Last Modified: 10 Feb 2012 13:50
Item ID: 4313
URI: https://ualresearchonline.arts.ac.uk/id/eprint/4313

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