George Wallis – Artist Teacher

George Wallis (1811-1891) is a nineteenth-century artist and teacher. He introduced the earliest known use of the term “artsit-teacher” when describing his educational practices and theory at the Manchester School of Design in 1845 (Wallis, “A Letter”), where he served as the second headmaster.

Wallis served as an instructor in several Government Schools of Design in England under the auspices of Somerset House and William Dyce–the influential administrator and practitioner who played a key role in the development of the South Kensington Schools system that came to dominate arts education in the UK during the mid-nineteenth century.

Wallis was a significant art teacher and museum professional during the nineteenth century, held honored positions at the most important schools and museums, and served the government of Britain on several occasions in the name of art, design, and education.

Wallis’s theory is informed by a diverse array of his professional practices as an artists, teacher, educational philosopher,  exhibition designer, and student.

Wallis was born in a small town called Wolverhampton,  outside of Birmingham. At seven, his father died and he was adopted by his uncle, who was a designer. His uncle’s profession was a significant influence for him at an early age. He produced work accredited for artistic talent since when he was young.

During teenage years, Wallis got the opportunity to visit a design exhibition in London. The lack of professional standard demonstrated at the exhibition contrasted with his fortune to be trained by his uncle since when he was young. Inspired by this event, Wallis returned back to his hometown and planned for ways to combine his personal interest, talent, and motivation to provide quality art education opportunities which was was rarely seen in that time throughout England.

Prior to seeking official connection with the Government School of Design in 1841, I had, as a young artist, devoted considerable attention to the question of art as applied to manufactures. Having seen during a residence in Manchester, 1832 to 1837, and in the Staffordshire Potteries,Wolverhampton, and Birmingham, from 1837 to 1841, the utter neglect of everything like artistic principles in the various industries of those places, in 1839–40, I publicly lectured on the subject; and subsequently formed an experimental class at Wolverhampton to test certain methods of teaching elementary drawing by black board illustrations on a large scale, thus satisfying myself of the value of such a method of instruction.

Prior to Wallis, art and design students were instructed to reproduce the exact same drawing examples provided to them. Wallis’ blackboard illustration method inspired students to derive their own motions based on the motions of drawing demonstrated on the oversized blackboard. It was considered a revolutionary method of teaching in England back then.

In 1837, the British government decided to establish the first nationally funded art and design education system, establishing design schools in industrial cities across the country. In 1841, Wallis joined the first teacher preparation program in the nation. His early exposure in design and his confidence in his artistic practice allowed him to perform exceptionally in this program. He had started exhibiting as a painter 10 years prior to him starting his experimental teaching practice.

Wallis believes that besides artistic practice, relevant industrial experience is also an important factor for cultivating an artist-educator. Good art education curriculum should be tailor-made, requiring considerations of various aspects of the curriculum in relation to the students, such as selection(of visual examples), originality, constructive criticism, taste, morals, intrinsic and extrinsic motivation(Daichendt, 75), etc.

As an educator, Wallis put immense emphasis on originality, which was usual as an educator in his time. He believed there is space for originality not only in arts, but design education as well. He thinks that the process of creation should not be the process of imitation. Students should not learn from the example the presentation itself, but how another artist or designer appropriated that form to a certain expression. The students shall then should use the same principle to appropriate a voice that belonged to him or herself. When making is guided by a voice that is original, the result will be naturally unique and creative.

Wallis also emphasized taste, rather than practicality as an important aspect of design education. He said individuals, upon having formed a uniquely personal taste, will naturally select designs that appropriate that taste to its best ability, and drive up the quality of design industry as a result. Taste should drive market, not the other way around.

Wallis also mentioned the importance of moral and rewards. He thinks that students need to attend classes regularly as well as been rewarded for their good behavior and progress.

Wallis believed that theory and practice reinforce each other in order to produce “higher senses” in the arts and design.

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