Taking the Plunge: Hastings students in at the deep end!

Since 2014 adult students from Sussex Coast College in Hastings have had an annual date with art history specialists from The Courtauld. Each year Humanities students hoping to head for Higher Education take a unit in Critical Studies as part of their Access Diploma. This is basically a ten-week, fast and furious introduction to the histories of Art and Design. It’s a tough call for any student, and tougher if art galleries aren’t high on your list of priorities. Nevertheless, these students will raise their game if they have access to primary resources, and it would be difficult to improve on the quality of The Courtauld’s collections. But before the students discover the delights of the Gallery, the Courtauld visits them.

One day a year, usually in bleakest February or March, a specialist art historian educator from The Courtauld visits Hastings to present a day’s workshop activities for Access students, in support of their Critical Studies unit. No-one knows what might happen but the outcomes have been brilliant. Students who say they know nothing about Art become enthusiasts. Uncertainty is turned upside down to become enjoyment. And when students are told that, in return, they must visit The Courtauld and give individual presentations about works in the Gallery, there are always those whose immediate response is something like “over my **** body… no way!”

But the students do visit, and, after an Easter vacation in which they are expected to research works they have chosen themselves from those on display, they take the plunge and discuss an artefact – in situ, in the gallery space – that they have usually only ever seen once before. In around five minutes they offer their responses to a range of works from the medieval to the modern, often with a break at the Bar at the Folies Bergere in between. The outcomes are always extraordinary; for their tutors, for the Courtauld educators and, especially, for the students themselves. Everyone involved learns something new. Students gain confidence in presentation skills, and the value of visual evidence in unusual settings – History perhaps, or English Lit. Courtauld Educators, who regularly lead tours, refresh their thinking about artefacts that they might not otherwise include in their activities.

The result? The students return to the closing stages of their course upbeat and invigorated, and suddenly the murky waters of research don’t seem quite so daunting. You should try it.

(Above: Visit to The Courtauld Institute of Art and The Courtauld Gallery)

Dr Julian Freeman, former Sussex Coast College Access Co-ordinator, and current Courtauld Educator.

For more information about our Art History For All programme for schools and colleges outside London, please contact Helen Higgins, Oak Foundation Young People’s Programme Coordinator education@courtauld.ac.uk 0203 947 7589