We invited IB Diploma graduates to reflect on post-IB life and offer perspectives on topics of their choosing. Alumna Frances Marsh is one of this year’s cohort of alumni contributing authors.
By Frances Marsh
In the UK, there is currently an alarming dismissal of art in schools. Creative subjects, whether music, drama, photography, dance or any other practice, often fall by the wayside in favour of traditionally ‘academic’, subjects that are ascribed more worth than their ‘soft’ counterparts. Art is seen as something lovely, but not crucial. The creative arts are at the extreme end of a hierarchy which values STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) subjects – generally because of their alleged importance for future jobs, the economy, growth, progress. But the arts, and creativity are just as important and that is why for me, the arts – subject group six of the IB diploma, is so brilliant!
Moreover, there is not only a hierarchy but a false dichotomy between so-called STEM or academic subjects and artistic ones. Computer science, for example, can go hand-in-hand with design practice. Theatre and literature are natural allies and just because you are a talented linguist does not also mean you cannot be a talented dancer, and vice versa.
Creative arts subjects are seen as the antitheses of educational rigour. Sometimes those students who do choose the arts are stigmatised as not clever enough to succeed in these academic subjects; at my school, the IB was seen as the option for those who were academic. But who gets to define what has academic value?
In each of the five options in ‘the arts’ currently available, IB students take ownership of their own creative practice, creating original work in addition to carrying out more theoretical, research elements of that are again shaped by the individual student’s own creative interests. So group six can go hand in hand with the academia of other subjects, if that is what interests the student. Studying Visual arts, for example, I often found common themes in my artistic study and practice with my studies in Literature and in History.
Arts in the IB offers the opportunity to be creative within a formal education system that almost never allows this to happen. Group six is particularly great because it is liberating in the way it allows students to shape their own education:
- It gave me the freedom to do the sort of art that I liked;
- I found out what I was interested in, what stimulated my curiosity, creativity;
- I had two years to work alongside and collaborate with my peers;
- I got things wrong;
- I got things right;
- I tried new methods and techniques.
I began the Visual arts course firmly entrenched in the education system that preceded my IB Diploma. I was doing painting and thinking about modernism, researching a canonical history of art. But I soon realised that IB allowed me to go far beyond this and 18 months later, I was pushing the limits that secondary school art had set for me and I was instead making works using wood, perspex and laser cutters.
My cohort really bonded as a group and together we re-evaluated what we had thought being an artist meant; one of my favourite memories of the course was a workshop run after school by one of the group to collaboratively create an installation of wire sculpture people.
Studying the arts and setting aside time for creativity within formal education is important – as an outlet, for fostering imagination, as respite from German grammar and as an opportunity for these important moments of community, collaboration.
Frances Marsh received her IB Diploma at Finham Park School in Coventry, UK in 2012. She completed her undergraduate degree in English Literature at the University of Durham and is now on a European Voluntary Service placement in Brussels working for IFM-SEI, an international children’s rights movement. She is passionate about accessible education, feminism and human rights, all of which were fostered during her IB studies.