“How much time do you spend teaching skills, as opposed to, say, discussing originality or the art and culture of different times?”

There is no simple answer – because students are all different. It depends on who you get in your art class. It tends to change with every new group of students, and it also changes over the course of the programme.

My school has a very fluid student population and a fairly wide ‘open door’ policy with regard to admission to the Diploma Programme, so I get students arriving at the start of the course with little or no previous art experience. On the other hand I also have students who have already been taught by me for the previous few years, and these students often have good technical skills.

Whatever media or technique they choose, they need some level of technical competence – whether its digital art, ‘traditional’ painting and drawing, printmaking, sculpture etc – but if they are brand new to it then of course it’s a steep learning curve. In general in the early months acquiring technical skill(s) is emphasized.

That is not to say that we ignore the ‘theoretical side’ – we also look at art, discuss art, talk about concepts, ideas, what is a successful exhibition and what is an unsuccessful one etc. – that happens throughout the course – but certainly they need skills, and if they don’t have them its best if they start acquiring them as soon as possible.

The other part of the visual arts equation is ‘investigation’ skills, and again, I get students from other schools who have never written about art, ever. So for these students early on I go through ‘investigation workbook’ skills, thinking about art vocabulary, how to analyse an artwork, creatively combining words with visuals on a page etc.

Assessment is based on many descriptors, one of which is to do with competence, but in addition examiners want to see evidence of things like developing ideas and strategies for expression, confidence and inventiveness, ideas reflecting cultural and historical awareness, an accomplished resolution of ideas and medium.

Technical competence – skill – is important.

But by itself it’s not enough.