This chapter explores the presence and significance of art history and complementary studies at Brighton in the context of curriculum development, particularly in the period from the late 1950s to the late 1960s. These subject areas have been far more than a subtext within the history of the Brighton School of Art, yet the nature, quality and impact of art history and complementary studies teaching, and the way in which they have been viewed by staff and students during different eras, have been through a great deal of change.

In carrying out the research for this book, the authors came across very different individual responses to, and memories of, this topic. One ex-student, for example, having become aware of the anniversary project, was moved to submit the following comment:

‘I wanted to say how important to students of my generation – the first cohort of the new, “degree equivalent” Diploma in Art and Design in 1963 – were the lecturers in Art History and Complementary Studies.’

The author of this statement, Hywel James, and several others interviewed for this book, referred to lecturers and lectures that had a long-lasting impact on them, as well as to the tensions and developments these subjects were undergoing. As a means of providing a flavour of the personal and educational significance these subject areas had for many people, two specific individual accounts of art history and complementary studies are given later in this chapter.

The first part of this chapter, however, looks at the wider picture of major national changes to the art and design curricula that lay behind these individuals’ experiences. The following overview of curriculum and assessment changes, and the implications for Brighton (along with other art schools in Britain), is written by John Vernon Lord, Professor of Illustration and author of Chapter 4.

Post-war curriculum and assessment development: John Vernon Lord

The Ministry’s Intermediate and the National Diploma in Design

In 1946 the Ministry of Education organised Art and Design education into two parts. Students took a Ministry’s Intermediate Certificate in Art and Crafts followed by a National Diploma in Design (NDD). The Certificate and Diploma each took two years to complete, and the examinations had a dual system of assessment. Students’ work was first examined internally by the college staff and then by the Ministry’s assessors, the latter making the final decisions. The Intermediate course was designed to provide a broad foundation, followed by the NDD, in which you could specialize more deeply within specific art and design disciplines. Both required the submission of current sheets of work and sketchbooks, together with roughs and final pieces of work responding to set examinations. A body of appointed external examiners assessed the work centrally.

Art studio room with closely packed easels and students, one in a dress another in a tweed jacket, paintingFor the Intermediate examination all candidates were examined in figure drawing, modelling, still life and pictorial composition as compulsory subjects, together with a specialist subject such as lithography or lettering. The focus of the Intermediate was that all those who passed the examination demonstrated that they could draw. In those days drawing usually meant an ‘accurate’ representation of the visible world, aiming for what might be described as the actual appearance of things. Anything that smacked of decorative drawing tended to be frowned upon. Students were expected to observe closely the measurement and proportion of the figure in the life drawing class. Training the eye to appreciate form and structure, and assess relationships, was seen as a basic necessity for all students in art and design. ‘Objective drawing’ was often given as a title for drawing classes in those days. Certain academic circles frowned upon distortion in drawing, and cartooning and comic type illustrations were seen as a carnal sin. Sketchbooks were not allowed to be loose-leafed and you were not permitted to stick items on to the pages. They had to be ‘genuine’ studies from direct observation.

Passing the Intermediate was normally a condition of admission for the two year Diploma. The National Advisory Committee on Art Examinations had been set up in 1949 to administer the National Diplomas in Design: this qualification was the main one available to art and design students throughout the 1950s. If the Intermediate gave you grounding in objective drawing, the two-year NDD course that followed allowed you to develop a slightly more personal approach in the making of images and artefacts, though still fairly prescriptive. However, it wasn’t long before colleges of art became keenly aware of the idiosyncratic tastes of external examiners. Stepping too much out of line from examiners’ tastes might result in failure, and the power of external examiners was something that perturbed many art and design tutors at the time. It sometimes happened that the work of the more adventurous and capable students, who were attempting to break the boundaries of their subject, was deemed not to be up to standard.

Coldstream and the Diploma in Art and Design

A National Advisory Committee on Art Examinations had been set up in April 1957. It reported to the Minister of Education on the possibility of giving a greater measure of freedom and responsibility to colleges in constructing their academic courses and assessing students’ work. In Circular 340, the Minister announced his intention to establish an advisory body, with terms of reference to cover all aspects of art in further education with the exception of architecture. As a consequence of this, the National Advisory Council on Art Education was set up in 1959, with Sir William Coldstream in the chair.

October 1960 saw the publication of the Ministry of Education’s First Report of the National Advisory Council on Art Education. Its recommendations offered detailed proposals for a new award to be known as the Diploma in Art and Design. The existing four year Art and Design education scheme, which incorporated the two-year Ministry’s Intermediate Exam and the two year National Diploma in Design (NDD) was to be replaced by a different scheme; a one year Pre-Diploma course (later to be known as Foundation courses) and a three year Diploma in Art and Design (known as the Dip AD).

Recommendations in the first Coldstream Report stated that entry to the new Dip AD would depend on a satisfactory completion of a pre-diploma course, five O levels[1] and a minimum age of 18. Of the five O levels, three subjects should be recognised as being ‘academic’ and one of them should be in a subject considered to provide evidence of English language ability.

There was also what was known as the ‘let-out clause’, where ‘Students of outstanding artistic promise who are capable of taking a diploma course but have not obtained the proposed minimum educational qualifications should be eligible for admission to courses and, if successful, should be awarded the diploma’[2]. The interviewing staff at Brighton had to seek permission from the Principal, with accompanying justification, to accept students in these exceptional circumstances. Many students who didn’t fulfil the standard, required qualifications were taken on, and a number became outstanding professionals. The quality of the portfolio of work, together with the students’ responses at interview, were always seen as the crucial evidence as to whether they should be accepted onto the course or not.

In 1972, after sampling seven years of student completions from the Graphic Design Dip AD course, it was discovered that the final grading of students’ work (when measured against their entry qualifications) provided scant evidence in support of the standard admission requirements. Indeed, this analysis suggested that those who had failed their Dip AD had the highest average in O level results, and those who obtained a third in their Dip AD had achieved the highest A level results when at school.

The Coldstream Report had advised that courses should be conceived ‘as a liberal education in art’. The report had established four areas of specialisation: fine art, graphic design, three dimensional design, and textiles/fashion. These were to be called chief studies. Experimenting in different media and materials was to be encouraged during the early stages of the diploma course. The report stated that ‘The history of art should be studied and should be examined for the diploma’ and ‘about 15% of the total course should be devoted to the history of art and complementary studies’[3]. However as it emerged later, approximately 20% of courses were devoted to, and examined in, the history of art and complementary studies.

Subjects like electronic or digital media, and photography and film, were subsumed within fine art or graphic design courses; at this time, such developments did not seem to be envisaged as independent subjects in their own right. The terms ‘performance’, ‘installation’ and ‘alternative practice’ were hardly ever used (if at all) in Coldstream’s nomenclature. These terms, as well as ‘lens oriented studies’ (for photography and film) were to assume greater importance later on. At Brighton the terms ‘combined arts’ and later ‘alternative practice’ were adopted for an area that is sometimes known as ‘conceptual art’. This was an unsatisfactory distinction, as most assumed that all fine art and design courses should be conceptual. ‘Interdisciplinary practice’ is another term that has been used at Brighton to distinguish art works that do not go under the names of painting, printmaking and sculpture.

An independent body was set up to administer the new Dip AD award, and the report stated that there should be some form of external assessment of examinations conducted by schools.

Summerson and the new Dip ADs

In March 1961, the National Council for Diplomas in Art and Design (the NCDAD) had been set up by the Minister of Education (with Sir John Summerson in the chair) as an independent self-governing body to administer the award of diplomas (Dip AD) available to students in colleges of art and design. In July of that year, the NCDAD published its Memorandum No 1, providing general guidance on the submission and conduct of the new Dip AD courses.

Yellowed newspaper spread with images of 1960s international students and pictures of the Grand Parade building. Reads Peep behind the scenes at Brighton's dynamic art college: subtitle reads the first in a series of articles on the work of this important college

‘Peep behind the scenes at Brighton’s dynamic art college’, Ref: U-BSA27, U-BSA27a (Uncatalogued). Brighton School of Art Archives, University of Brighton Design Archives.

When visiting the colleges of art, the panels that had been set up by NCDAD were asked to consider a range of issues. These included: the curricula and syllabuses of the proposed courses, the standard of work and the arrangements for selecting students on courses, enrolment figures[4], the form of honours or distinction to be introduced into the Dip AD awards, the quality and experience of teachers, the available accommodation and equipment, libraries, communal facilities and amenities for students and conditions for the conduct of examinations, including the approval of external examiners and their involvement in assessment procedures. The constitution and responsibility of the colleges’ governing bodies and the responsibility accorded to principals were also looked at.

Brighton had submitted course proposals in all four areas of specialism but failed to achieve approval to run courses at Dip AD level in Three Dimensional Design and Fashion Textiles. Fine Art (Painting) and Graphic Design were the first courses to be approved. There was general disappointment that the Fashion Textiles and Three Dimensional Design courses hadn’t been approved, and there was particular dismay, indeed outrage, when the Sculpture element of the Fine Art course wasn’t approved.

Out of the 201 art and design courses, submitted by the 73 colleges which had been visited throughout the country in the first round, only 61 courses were approved to run the Dip AD in 29 colleges. There were only 18 educational establishments in England and Wales that were selected to run Dip AD courses in Graphic Design (Graphic Design embracing both the subjects of illustration and design).

The first year syllabus in the appreciation of the history of art and architecture looked forbidding. It started with cave painting, Greek art, Byzantine mosaics and icons, and then moved on to Italy (fourteenth-eighteenth centuries), tracing the development of Renaissance art. France was the next country to be explored, from the fifteenth to mid-nineteenth centuries, including illumination and tapestry. The study of Spain involved of El Greco, Velasquez and Goya, and Germany was represented by Cranach, Durer and Grunewald, together with the development of woodcuts, line engraving and etching. Flemish and Dutch art of the fifteenth to seventeenth century came next, especially the work of Van Eyck, Bosch, Brueghel, Rembrandt and Vermeer, followed by the invention and development of mezzotint and lithography. The second year syllabus embraced the ‘last hundred years in Europe’, including: ‘Impressionism, post-Impressionism, Expressionism, Surrealism, Cubism and Abstract Art, illustrated by the works outstanding in their field and ending with a résumé of British Painting of the 20th Century’[5]. In the third year the Graphic Design syllabus for Painting and Sculpture was ‘discussed according to subject, viz Religious, Figure, Portrait, Landscape, Still Life and Abstract’. At the same time ‘at all stages the architecture of the period will be studied together with the social and cultural background’[6]. This mind-boggling panorama of art history was timetabled for just two and a half hours per week.

As for the newly proposed Dip AD course in graphic design at Brighton, very little discussion on the curriculum or any forward planning took place. The introduction of the new Dip AD courses were seen by many as an attempt to form an academically acceptable ‘degree-equivalent’ status for Art and Design. It was also planned that the assessment of work would be carried out by combining more closely the respective judgements of both internal and external examiners. The introduction of the Dip AD was essentially an attempt to give some independence and autonomy to colleges hitherto bound within a rigid centralised system of examinations and set courses.

In September 1963 the College began to operate the Dip AD courses in Fine Art (Painting) and Graphic Design. Each course recruited twelve students. The old two plus two years of art and design system (the Ministry’s Intermediate (two years) with NDD (two years) thus gave way to a one plus three years system of Pre-Diploma or Foundation Course (one year) with the new Dip AD (three years) scheme.

Expanding horizons? A personal perspective on art history in the 1960s, by Hywel James

Art history and complementary studies form a thread that runs through the historical accounts in several of this book’s chapters. In a number of interviews with ex-members of staff and ex-students who had been at Brighton College of Art in the 1960s in particular, the delivery of art history was presented as a slightly fraught issue. This is especially apparent in the student revolution chapter, where it is apparent that many students’ frustrations were triggered by feelings that art history was not relevant to their main (practice) studies, that it was autocratically timetabled and insufficiently contemporary in reference. Yet the developments surrounding art history and CS also stimulated very positive responses, such as from Hywel James, a student at Brighton College of Art (1962-7) and later the senior officer for art and design at the CNAA. In the following extract, Hywel James discusses his perception of the idiosyncratic yet stimulating and enduring value of the lectures he attended at Brighton.

‘Up to the introduction of the Dip AD the theoretical or critical studies were largely perfunctory, and often delivered by a single, part-time, member of staff who was usually given the “twilight” slot to teach “art appreciation”. In those days the library was generally poor, and the audio-visual equipment consisted of an epidiascope, or an ancient projector with black and white glass slides on loan from the V&A.

From 1962/63, art colleges like Brighton were receiving, often for the first time, students who possessed A level GCE in Art or Architectural History, and, again, for the first time, colleges were starting to appoint teaching staff with relevant, specialist qualifications in art history and other academic subjects.

Of course, in the early days complementary studies might consist of a ragbag of lectures and seminars, good in themselves, but sometimes apparently plucked out of the air, or consisting of the preoccupations and interests of the member of staff in charge. But at Brighton, in the early days, the head of the new department, Jean Creedy, hired a wonderful and diverse range of full and part-time teachers, and arranged weekly evening lectures by a very distinguished group of experts. This contribution was of great importance, both to establishing the credentials of the new qualification and to providing a general critical context for the work being done in the studios and workshops. Often resented by some of the studio staff, most of the students (at least in the early days) welcomed the genuine contrast such studies offered to the practical work in fine art, graphic design and so on. These studies felt like a valuable continuation of the work in art history or English literature or history that most of us had taken in sixth form at school.

Brighton had some very good people on the full or part-time or visiting staff between 1963 and 1967. I remember in particular Jennifer Fletcher and Erna Mandowsky, from the Courtauld; Rod Kedward and John Wilson from Sussex University; John Boulton Smith, Ralph Berry and Ray Watkinson – at first visiting, then full-time; and Pal Hougen (Director of the Munch Museum in Oslo), Albert Elsen (the authority on Rodin from Stanford), Victor Pasmore, Bernard Cohen, Jonathan Miller, amongst many others.

One thing I recall from the early days of Complementary Studies was a short series of talks on the human brain by a local doctor; during one session he whipped the top off a great dish and revealed a frozen brain! It was a greyish-crimson colour, alarmingly large and steamed gently under the lights of the lecture theatre as he carried it along the front row of students, most of whom shrank away from the thing. In a way this kind of thing typified the approach taken at college as theoretical studies evolved. They were a rag bag of subjects, some of them entirely sensational, others merely pretentious – Wittgenstein’s thought in three weekly, thirty-minute slots – but others really helpful in providing an historical or critical context for studio work which raised what students were doing in the studios and workshops far above the level of artisanship.’ [7]

Complementary studies: a history of design teachers’ reminiscence, by Gillian Naylor

‘As a pupil at Penistone Grammar School in West Riding, the aim was clearly to get students into universities and teacher training colleges. Students in the top class did not go to formal art classes, although we were allowed to spend Wednesday afternoons there if it was raining, as an alternative to ballroom dancing. Students aiming for Oxford or Cambridge had special lessons in Latin.

When I went up to Oxford, I was allocated a student to show me round in the first week. She was very conscientious, showing me through the town and into many colleges. I was very impressed: it was unforgettable. I continued to look around the colleges and their gardens, cycling around Oxford and environs. With its many trees and lovely river, it was so different to bleak Penistone and the moors. With the help of Pevsner, I was introduced to many architectural styles through the exterior and interior of the college buildings.

At the time, there was no history of art department in Oxford. However Ernst Gombrich was Slade Professor of Fine Art and I went to his lectures, deeply impressed at his teaching. There were black and white slides on Ghiberti doors and Florence Cathedral and he discussed symbolism in detail. I wished I could have read History of Art instead of French. I had not heard of the Courtauld during that period; that came later.

After graduating, I went to live in London in a number of different bed-sits. After seeing an exhibition of silverware in one room at the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A), I happened across another exhibition of Primavera fabrics. I was very taken with these and went to the Primavera shop, owned by Frederick Rothschild and his wife. They sold a range of craft objects and fabric, and I bought curtains in graded shades of blue: it was like no other craft shop I had seen before. I subsequently got to know the Rothschilds.

I initially worked in Who’s Who in London, having been told I would not get a job in general publishing, as I had hoped. I then applied for a job on Design magazine in the Haymarket. Despite the fact I had no specific interest in design at that time, I wanted to escape the claustrophobia of Who’s Who, and went to the library to read architectural press books as preparation. The interview involved being asked to summarise handouts into three or four lines for use as news items, and being asked to do sums. As part of the next stage in the application process I was asked to discuss selecting watches to illustrate in Design. I described why I thought a watch recently bought for me was good. A few days later, I was offered the post.

I greatly enjoyed working for Design. Illustrations were naturally very important, and we had weekly staff meetings to select or commission photographs or drawings. The Art Editor would decide on the size and length of text, and there was a significant preoccupation with typography. The designers I met through Design magazine impressed me with their commitment to their work, and their willingness to share, discuss and read relevant magazines.

When I arrived at Grand Parade to work for Brighton College of Art, despite the fact I had worked on Design magazine my work was categorised as complementary study, and not as art history. I had a formal interview for the post at Brighton and was employed to teach late-nineteenth-century and early-twentieth-century design history; not art history. Nobody called it design history, it was not so highly considered and was not examinable. The work was rather like teaching in a school: every hour had to be filled and I was asked to teach French as well as renaissance studies to fill in the hours. By this time I had already published a Bauhaus book, and was working on the Arts and Crafts Movement.

I managed to borrow a British Rail Design Manual to use in teaching graphic design students. Another member of staff who saw me with this was astounded that I should use such a thing. During the student revolution in 1968, students boycotted some lectures but asked still to go to mine.


These accounts give an insight into an important period of major change in the teaching and assessment of art and design, where debates about admission, what constituted the ‘academic’ in the context of art and design higher education and how elements of history, theory and practice should be approached and weighted, were pushed to the foreground. The impact and consequences of these changes can be seen as very wide-ranging for students and staff during the 1960s and beyond.

[1] General Certificate of Education, Ordinary level (GCE O level), usually taken at sixteen years of age, and General Certificate of Education Advanced Level (GCE A level), taken usually at eighteen.

[2] First Report of the National Advisory Council on Art Education, London, HMSO, 1960, page 3.

[3] Ibid, page 8.

[4] Brighton had proposed an initial intake of 12 students in the Graphic Design area, 12 in Fine Art, 19 in Three Dimensional Design and 6 in Dress/Textiles.

[5] Dip. A.D. Graphic Design Syllabus, page 6. This was an attachment to an application document entitled National Council for Diplomas in Art and Design Application to the Council for approval of a course leading to the Diploma in Art and Design presented by Brighton College of Art and Crafts in 1962.

[6] Ibid.

[7] From an unsolicited email submission by Hywel James, 22 September 2008, together with follow up email of 29 September 2008.