Artist, activist and author Bob and Roberta Smith is extending his tenure as Patron of Art UK for a second year. The Royal Academician tells us why he believes creativity is crucial for young people.

From painting an open letter to a prominent politician, to writing his book titled Art Makes People Powerful, the work of Bob and Roberta Smith sends an unequivocal message that creativity is crucial to society.

Through Our Public Collections We All Own Art

Through Our Public Collections We All Own Art 2016

Bob and Roberta Smith (b.1963)

Parliamentary Art Collection

Art UK is fortunate to have Bob and Roberta's support as Patron for a second consecutive year in 2024, as we continue our mission to connect everyone to the art they own. There can be few better advocates for our ambitious learning programme.

'We know that within schools, the arts have been diminished,' says Bob and Roberta. 'I've done a lot of work trying to push back against the EBacc (the English Baccalaureate set of GCSE subjects), which essentially marginalised all the arts and limited the number of arts courses that kids did in secondary school. When I was doing that, it dawned on me that for primary school teachers, some PGCE (postgraduate certificate in education) courses might offer just a few hours on how to teach art to children.

'The trend is more and more to be teaching very little children inordinate amounts of maths and English, and not much creativity. If you don't have the arts in your DNA then that's quite a difficult subject to teach. It's about a visual sensibility that you might not be familiar with as a teacher or a parent. You want to introduce children to visual art, but you're not an artist. So how do you begin?'


Look 2020

Bob and Roberta Smith (b.1963)

Pallant House Gallery

It was this question that led Bob and Roberta to write Art Makes People Powerful, an activity book full of prompts for putting pencil to paper. Taking the book out to the public for workshops and watching families engage in the activities, he sees a brilliant fit with Art UK's learning programme, specifically our resources which support teachers, such as The Superpower of Looking.

'It all starts with introducing people to pencils and paper, and if that's done when kids are young – really young – you know you're going to be halfway there,' he says. 'It's much more difficult to introduce adults and teenagers to visuality if they haven't done any mark making or art before. So, we have got to get the arts into primary schools.'

Bob and Roberta is one of several influential cultural figures – including theatre actor Tonia Daly Campbell, artist Harold Offeh and V&A East director Gus Casely-Hayford – helping Art UK do just that by bringing their enthusiasm directly into the classroom.

His entrancing video on close looking at Henri Rousseau's Surprised! is part of our new primary-aged programme The Superpower of Looking.

Free-to-use videos and lesson plan resources are supported by CPD sessions for teachers to give them the confidence to teach visual literacy and improve children's observation skills and oracy through the study of artworks.

Bob and Roberta has seen first-hand the electrifying impact it has last year he made a surprise of his own by dropping in on a year four class at Gomersal Primary School in West Yorkshire.

Bob & Roberta Smith at Gomersal Primary School

Bob & Roberta Smith at Gomersal Primary School

Mandy Barrett is a specialist art teacher at the school near Leeds and her wonderful art room is testament to the power art education has to engage and inspire children – and the visit made a real impression on Bob and Roberta.

'I was sitting there in that room,' he says, 'and the kids had watched my Superpower film and Mandy had asked them what was going on outside the painting. The kids were thinking, well, there might be another tiger or there might be crocodiles. Or it might be that it's not actually in the jungle, it is in a zoo, so one of them is drawing the city. I saw that, actually, this is about looking and it's about teaching the kids to research the real world.

Mandy Barrett teaching The Superpower of Looking

Mandy Barrett teaching The Superpower of Looking

'As I looked around the walls of that room there were paintings of historical events which were supporting the history curriculum; there were images of the landscape and ideas about the weather, which were supporting geography. And, of course, there was storytelling. And really, that is about society and our humanity.

'Through visuality, Mandy is joining the dots between all of these siloed subjects. That day and being in her art room was a complete revelation for me. What was going on there is what should happen in every school in the country. That classroom is the antidote to artificial intelligence.'

Teacher Mandy Barrett with artist Bob & Roberta Smith

Teacher Mandy Barrett with artist Bob & Roberta Smith

Bob and Roberta argues that as the acceptance of AI grows and threatens to automate traditional professions such as accountancy or law, we need to find new ways of training young people for a world of work that will be very different.

He says: 'To teach knowledge in a way that links up subjects and teaches kids to join the dots is amazing. That should really be rolled out everywhere in primary education because it's teaching kids to use their human curiosity. The Superpower of Looking is so important because it's teaching kids to really look at the world.'

The Superpower of Looking is just one way in which Art UK's learning programmes are making a real difference to young people. Importantly, they don't only support educators but are available for anyone, anywhere to access for free. By supporting our Big Give campaign, you can help us continue to connect everyone to the art they own and – in the words of Bob and Roberta – make people powerful.

Make your donation today and help connect every young person to the art they own.

Gemma Briggs, Director of Marketing and Communications at Art UK