Mnemonics lack depth for Art

Deep Water

Are there essential facts that every student should know? What would you include/exclude? Knowledge-based curriculum is on the rise; what is it? Does this apply to all subjects (including visual arts)?

A knowledgebased curriculum is about harnessing the power of cognitive science, identifying each marginal gain and acting upon it; having the humility to keep refining schemes of work, long term plans and generating better assessments. – Nick Gibb, 2017

Tom Sherrington¹ suggests four components summarised here:

  • Providing an underpinning philosophy
  • Specifics in detail
  • Remembered, not merely encountered
  • Sequenced and mapped deliberately

He goes on to conclude: “It’s way beyond some reductive idea of rote learning and regurgitating facts for no purpose.   It’s about ensuring students always have a secure knowledge platform allowing them to reach the next level.”

What would be the underpinning knowledge for Visual arts?

I have been struggling with this idea for the past couple of months as I have been asked to provide an answer to this by my regional MAT (multi-academy trust). In my last blog post, I put forward some examples to be critiqued (Aunt Sallys), and I am awaiting feedback from a reviewer/QA. Essential, my hypothesis was that the essential formal elements of artistic practice were only understood through deep understanding, ie. practice. Likewise, art historical developments in the visual arts (major movements in Western visual arts like Cubism, Surrealism etc) are more deeply understood through practice too.

It was put to me that key knowledge could be encoded in Year 9 for retrieval in Year 11; set deep into the memory then recalled when needed if the memory encoding can be done in a fun, entertaining and appealing way. Not rote-learned but entrusted by way of mnemonics. Could visual arts be mnemonically encoded too?


Well, we do it with colour theory all the time… or do we? The ROYGBIV mnemonic helps us remember the order of colours in a rainbow/spectrum but tells us nothing about complementary contrasting colour, mixing tertiaries etc. In a practical sense, even this most basic artistic mnemonic lacks depth.

(W)e need to seize opportunities to broaden curriculum content out into much more than a series of well remembered facts. That’s the bottom line – the lowest common denominator. While I accept that perhaps we haven’t even achieved this as well as we might in the past, it is still no more ambitious a goal than getting the kit on a footballer without aspiring to put him on the pitch. When I teach the Romans, I firstly accept one thing:- I’m not going to have the time to teach it all. These historical periods are massive. So you have to focus in on the key areas and things you want them not just to KNOW, but to UNDERSTAND. – Debra Kidd, 2018²

Providing an underpinning knowledge for art is an abstraction from actually undertaking the making of art. There can be no deep understanding of creative, practical subjects without practice. Students approach learning in one of two ways: either in a kind of utilitarian, surface manner, wanting only to memorize as much as possible, in order to pass exams; or in a deeper, more meaningful manner, wanting to understand the material and relate it to their personal lives.

Alfred Korzybski introduced and popularised the idea that the map is not the territory (1913). In other words, the description of the thing is not the thing itself. The model is not reality. The abstraction is not the abstracted. This has enormous practical consequences when we are looking into knowledge-based curriculum for the arts that I have posted about before here and here.

Limitations of Abstracting knowledge

There are mnemonic systems out there made popular by world record holders and gamblers alike. The Memory Palace, Loci, Major system, PAO and other linguistic/imaginative systems have been used for centuries in one form or another. Books like How to Pass Exams (1995) by Dominic O’Brien, a world memory champion, use an accelerated learning technique (based on PAO) to memorise key facts.

These mnemonic devices lack context, don’t guarantee understanding and are time-consuming. All well and good if I want to commit to memory the names of the world’s longest rivers and have a few hours to memorise and practice recall. Does an ability to recall from memory the names and lengths of rivers give me a deep understanding of fluvial processes? Erosion, deposition and transportation might better be understood through fieldwork. In my Geography GCSE, do I show my understanding of processes through the names or will I just maybe get a few extra marks if I can recall names and lengths?

In practical terms, mnemonic techniques might eat into valuable curriculum time for the visual arts, time better spent doing than encoding facts to memory. I am open to dialogue though; take a look at memory techniques here to see the Art of Memory, and if these are relevant in conveying knowledge of the visual arts.

¹Tom Sherrington What is a knowledge-rich curriculum? Principle and Practice,, 6th June, 2018

²Debra Kidd A Rich Curriculum,, 11th June, 2018

Essential Art Knowledge

stairways to heaven

“Art shouldn’t be sidelined, it should be right there in the front, Art teaches you to deal with the world around you. It’s the oxygen that makes all the other subjects breathe…” – Tate Shots

A couple of weeks ago, I put out a request on Twitter for collaborative assistance with a new idea for Art & Design educators. Variously described as a ‘fundamental knowledge’ course or even essential art knowledge for non-artists, it is a new idea for me and the Multi-Academy Trust I work within. Without going into too much detail about the Trust itself, it seems that our way of teaching art and design is subject to change… Thanks to many collaborators on Twitter, I have put together some ‘Aunt Sally’ proposals based on suggestions and responses made. Here I will share my initial responses bearing in mind that I seem to be the only art teacher within the MAT involved and I am happy to keep bouncing these around!

Full thread (via Spooler):

Our MAT teaches GCSE art & design in Y9 and 10 and is looking at a way of creating a 3 yr course that involves a ‘fundamental knowledge year’. This is a year when drawing/tactile skills will be practised for 2 hrs and essential knowledge for 1 hr a week /2

Problem is, what is essential, fundamental knowledge that ALL students should know about A&D even if they don’t do GCSE. No, I don’t mean ‘how to draw’! /3

I’m looking for fact-based examples or processes that can be recalled as ‘essential’ two years later… some examples to follow. /4

Eg. Ten steps to create a ‘two point perspective’, 10 steps for effective colour mixing for skin tones, 10 steps for pinch, coil and slab pottery, 10 steps for creating graphic posters in Photoshop. Remember, no actual creative activity, just the process to recall. /5

Maybe examples could include 10 ways to differentiate Impressionism from Expressionism, 10 words of vocabulary to talk about Abstraction, 10 uses for photo-studio lights etc. /6

“What madness is this?!” You’re thinking, “we teach a creative, practical subject!” I know; but what if you’re being asked to justify A&D for ALL students in Y9 as essential ie. even to those with no interest/aptitude. /7

Can you help? I have gone with a 10-step process to start with… Is this an activity that interests you? I am looking for 10 facts that GCSE art and design students SHOULD know other than practical skill development. Pls RT and have a think over the weekend. /End

Here are a selection of your responses:

My response was to look at Formal Elements and some art historical movements but to insist that a practical aspect is part of the lesson. I don’t see any way of doing a knowledge-based lesson in art and design and not having some tactile aspect!

Formal Elements: Line Y9

The Formal Elements are the parts used to make a piece of artwork. The aim of this lesson is to create a fundamental understanding of the use of line in the visual arts.

Formal or visual art elements can include line, shape, form, tone, texture, pattern, colour and composition. They are often used together, and how they are organised in a piece of art determines what the finished piece will look like.

Formal elements are common to many artistic forms and terminology can be used interdisciplinary within the arts. For example, rhythm, composition and harmony are equally valid expositions in drama and music as well as the visual arts.


Lines are used by artists and designers to describe objects, add detail or create expression. Lines define an artwork and reveal the artist’s techniques. A line is a mark made on a surface that joins different points. Lines can vary in length, width, direction and shape. Artists and designers can use lines for many different reasons:

Lines can show the subject’s physical appearance:

·       the outline of shapes and objects

·       details of features and patterns

·       surfaces and texture

·       tone, light and shade

Lines can suggest something more than just what can be seen:

·       movement

·       mood and atmosphere

·       the subject’s emotions

·       the artist’s emotions and ideas

In Practice

Using a variety of drawing media to represent objects, people or places.

Observational drawing of still life objects (natural or manufactured forms) using pencils (HB, 2B and 4B, graphite sticks, tortillon). A portrait of a classmate or the self, using ink (India, biro, fine-liner, brush). A study of an urban or rural landscape using charcoal or pastels (oil, chalk, conte).

Visual Context: Cubism Y10

Visual language is based on elements and principles that, when used together, create works that communicate ideas and meaning to the viewer. Visual language has developed out of cultural context in different regions over time. The aim of this lesson is to create a fundamental understanding of one of these visual and contextual references; Cubism.

Cubism was one of the most radical movements in avant-garde art at the turn of the 20th century. Cubist artists portrayed the world as it was known rather than as it was seen, challenging the imitation of nature in a realistic that had dominated Western art for over 500 years.


Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque worked so closely together on their concept of a new artistic style that they felt they were ‘like being roped mountaineers’. Instead of showing a landscape, an object or a person from a single viewpoint, they combined several features in the same composition to be seen simultaneously. Solid objects were fragmented and rearranged into unrecognisable patterns. They abandoned perspective in favour of the two-dimensionality of the canvas and the qualities of paint, collage and 3D relief were representative of the art, not the subject matter.

Breaking rules

Picasso had been influenced by African art; distortions of proportion and wildly expressive contortions. He collected landscapes by the Impressionist, Cezanne who had rejected conventional perspective techniques for creating depth in favour of experimental views and shifting positions. Braque also explored landscape, his geometric, simplified forms tilted backwards and forwards confounding the viewer’s perception of space and depth. It is the description of these ‘bizarreries cubiques’ (odd cubes) that coin the name for the artistic visual style.

Analytical and synthetic

Initially, a phase of cubism arose that dissected an object as it is existed in the space it occupies. This analytical phase entailed detailed analysis and reassembly within an almost entirely abstract surface of intersecting planes and angles. The objects had been atomically fragmented and reanimated, not how we would see it but know it to be there. A later synthetic phase moved away from abstract notions of reality toward exploring shapes, textures and patterns using materials other than traditional paints including the collaging of ready-made materials, pre-printed material (a wood texture wallpaper) and the emphasis on two dimensionality.

Creative influences

Cubism’s aesthetic included ideas on geometry, multiple viewpoints and conceptual versus visual reality. The picture is not meant to imitate reality but present its own reason for being. As an avant-garde intellectual movement, it was contemporary with Einstein’s Theory of Relativity and Freud’s Psychoanalytic Theory of structures of the human mind and perception. Conceptual art spread throughout Europe and the US and its influence as a visual language starting point forged other movements such as Vorticism, Futurism, Orphism, Russian Suprematicism and American Precisionism.

In Practice

Using a variety of artistic media to interpret an element of an Cubist piece of work; a scene from a café table painted using acrylics and collaged newspaper, a detail of a portrait in oil pastels. To use one’s own primary source images taken in multiple viewpoints of a still life to create a study using card and plaster mod-rock. Alternatively, a photographer might make multiple images of a seated person and reassemble them in Photoshop to create a new conception of a figure in space.

I have done several more, I don’t know if they’ll be of any use. I will keep posting on this as it may be something that becomes more relevant as knowledge-based curriculum models develop. As yet, I am unsure as this will be delivered by art specialists or what year groups.

Contributors so far:

@caerleonartdept, @paulcarneyarts, @artysu1, @annequinton, @theartcriminal, @MrsHilltoutart, @lennyvalentino, @louiseclazey, @jobaker9, @etonburyA, @artteacherhwn, @purpleinksplat, @simon_burrage

Five Things (2019)


Five things achieved this year:

  1. Favourite recipes
  2. NCTJ L3 Junior Journalist registration/Understanding Apprenticeships
  3. Neil Armstrong/Moon landing mural
  4. Set designs and theatre blocks
  5. ‘Tokyo Build’ art project

1  By the end of January 2019, nearly 250,000 people pledged to try a plant-based diet for the month¹; this figure includes around 47% who pledged to continue for the rest of the year. Most trying a ‘vegan’ diet (plant-based yes, but popularly known as vegan diet) were meat-eaters wanting to be flexible and try PBD for health and environmental reasons. The publicity generated was immense (and the flak too) and I decided to blog six of my favourite dishes during January with the pretext of It’s just food…”. It is just food after all and people shouldn’t get too hung up on labels. Try the spicy rice dish next month.

NCTJ Journalism graphic
NCTJ Journalism

2  The opportunity arose at the end of December 2018 to apply for CPD training that would actually be of personal interest. I saw that the list of qualifications included Apprenticeships and as a result thought it would be interesting to find out more. I didn’t do an apprenticeship myself, no one at my school has done one either and yet we are often expected to offer advice to young people as if we are highly knowledgeable about all routes and careers. I have had several post 16 students studying A level Photography with me who didn’t want to go to university but did want to continue studies in the subject. How can I advise other than ‘speak to a careers professional’? CPD places were limited and the process a bit baroque; nevertheless, I passed the entrance interview, exam and procedure to study a Level 3 NCTJ Junior Journalist qualification. Some of my previous media experience and my preferred emphasis on photography enabled me to get started on a course that could lead to valuable PR and communications knowledge. Although I did a few months (regular online and face to face with my NCTJ tutor, who was superb), it became apparent that a trainee apprenticeship doesn’t mesh well with a full-time teacher, despite applied knowledge. The biggest stumbling block was where and how to undertake the essential knowledge tests. Schools aren’t geared up to allow teachers days off (and these are all term time) so funding was unfortunately withdrawn and I didn’t complete. Ironically, I still have NCTJ trainee membership until June 2020 even though I can not actually achieve the qualification! At least I have an insight now into how to apply  and get on a journalism qualification…

neil a.jpgarmstrong

3  To celebrate the anniversary of the first moon landing of 20th July, 1969, our year 8 students worked on small card panels featuring the famous image of Neil Armstrong on the lunar surface using oil pastel and collage. The 280 panels were laid out as a giant tiled carpet in our school quad forming a temporary mural celebration.

Screenshot 2019-02-14 at 20.25.45.png

4  We do lots of performing arts projects and I have contributed designs for sets/props etc for the past few years. I quite enjoyed the idea for this performance which I can be co-credited with… The dance piece was based on a World War One theme and rather than build stage flats with ruins and battlefields, my colleagues and I built the 3′ square blocks. My black acrylic paintings on selected sides could be assembled to make the ruins of a Somme church and then flipped to feature the infamous ‘Your Country Needs You’ poster.

5  Although not yet a completed project, the ‘Tokyo Build’ idea is based on the 1:20 scale models by Christopher Robin; these are exact replicas of Tokyo buildings, complete with grime, graffiti and weeds. For our students’ inspiration has led to cardboard scale buildings, understanding 3D building techniques and in the new year, detailed pain work and Japanese-inspired urban graffiti. As a new scheme of work that unites multiple art disciplines, it may not yet have been completed by students but is all planned and modelled in anticipation. I will post the completed project to share on completion with student examples.


¹According to The Guardian, 31st January 2019 and the Veganuary website.

Top 5: Eco Disaster Movies

Brad Pitt in World War Z

Everyone has their family favourite Christmas holiday movies, from Elf to Die Hard. We watch those too but I do like to throw in a disaster movie or two! Why are these suitable for Christmas holidays? Redemption is the common theme and this is the core of all time favourites like It’s a Wonderful Life, which is actually quite a darkly themed movie. There are so many to choose from and lots of sub-genre; zombie apocalypse (see World War Z, 2013), meteoroids, asteroids and impacts (see When World’s Collide, 1951) and pandemics and epidemics (see The Omega Man, 1971). I prefer the eschatological, man-made disasters… especially for their humour, yes, there are some great comedy moments!

Here’s my Top 5 Eco Disaster movies for the holidays:

1  Wall-E (2008)

2  2012 (2009)

3 The Day After Tomorrow (2004)

4  Geostorm (2017)

5  The Day the Earth Caught Fire (1961)

Hope you enjoyed this little list and you’re encouraged to make your own Top 5! What would yours be?


We’re doomed!* – Part III Solutions

*Post title stolen from a line in Dad’s Army¹

Section of earth graphic - stock photo

It’s been a year since I last blogged on the environmental dystopia unfolding around us and amplified by our self-imposed Internet bubbles of information. Since then, we have had wildfires from Sydney to San Francisco via Siberia. We’ve had flooding from Bangladesh to Barnsley. Mass extinction has accelerated to up to 10,000 times the baseline extinction rate of one to five species per year. Oxygen in the oceans is being lost at an unprecedented rate, with “dead zones” proliferating and hundreds more areas showing oxygen dangerously depleted, as a result of the climate emergency and intensive farming². The last decade of exceptional heat is likely to have been the hottest on record and greenhouse gases have risen, prompting eco-campaigner, Greta Thunberg to declare that ‘school strikes have achieved nothing’.³ This is despite global campaigns (see XR in London and around the world) with public backing leading to jurisdictions that have declared a climate emergency. These amount to 266 million citizens, with 47 million of these living in the United Kingdom alone. This means in Britain now roughly 70 per cent of the population lives in areas that have declared a climate emergency. Yet billions are given to fossil fuel companies and national elections seem to lead to the same people telling the same lies.

beautiful Costa Rica


I mentioned some positives a year ago to focus upon. This is because, as a teacher, I feel impelled to discuss these issues with the young people I am responsible for (in a non-political way of course). They worry (I worry). This is not good for them psychologically and can lead to despair, frustration and anger with only an abstract notion of those responsible to direct it at. Let’s look at some solutions to empower them with:

  • Planting trees is a great way to help sequester carbon emissions. Through photosynthesis trees absorb carbon dioxide to produce oxygen and wood. By ensuring that the trees planted are native broad leaf species you can help to preserve the UK’s environment and biodiversity. The Woodland Trust is giving away hundred to thousands of trees for local communities and schools. Support them here.
  • Cutting air pollution can prevent deaths within weeks, according to scientists. They found the health benefits of clean air were “almost immediate and substantial” and stretched into the long term, saving billions of dollars. The World Health Organization says air pollution is a “silent public health emergency”, with more than 90% of the world’s population breathing toxic air. Levels of nitrogen dioxide in the UK, emitted mainly by diesel vehicles, have been illegally high in most urban areas since 2010. Time to swap to an Electric Vehicle (EV) or clean air public transport and make legislation that oil companies provide a fast and cheap recharging infrastructure on their garage/filling station forecourts.
  • The government said it would not agree to any future fracking “until compelling new evidence is provided” that proves fracking could be safe, amid concerns over ground tremors caused by drilling. A Whitehall report on the UK shale gas sector has emerged after a years-long battle to uncover the hidden documents – but with three quarters of its pages blacked out. The 48-page report, seen by the Guardian, includes 37 pages that are entirely blacked out and only one – the front cover – that was left uncensored. The government’s own data revealed last month that public opposition to shale gas fracking has climbed to record highs while support for the shale industry has slumped to the lowest levels since records began six years ago. Public opinion can make this ban permanent.
  • Supermarkets are reacting against single-use plastic. In June 2017 my family and I gave up single-use plastic for a month (see articles here) and due to the BBC Blue Planet II later that year, public interest was sparked and supermarkets became the front line in an anti-plastic social revolution. I can happily go into a supermarket and use paper bags for my fruit and veg, use my own jute shopping bags and have a selection of reusable drinks containers. We still have some way to go and big players like Coca-Cola don’t seem to be taking opinion seriously.

electric public transport

Some things still need fixing…

  • Electric Vehicles (EV) are incredibly expensive and prohibitive for many. What incentive to get rid of that old diesel car if there is no scrappage bonus and the car companies only offer discounts on replacing with another diesel?!  The other issue is misinformation about why someone would want to go to EV. They may not be cheaper to run, have confusing information on replacing batteries and have silent life threatening engines (to pedestrians and animals) but emissions are 50% less than a modern, conventional vehicle.
  • Cucumbers and bananas don’t need to be sold in plastic. Still too much plastic for the convenience of the supermarket which ends up in landfill or the oceans.
  • Public transport is better in the cities but towns haven’t been given the incentive to provide EV buses or trains. National train networks are also incredibly expensive and when you compare intercontinental train costs to short haul fights, you end up with typical benefit vs cost analysis results. For example, London to Berlin on the train from £70-£120 taking over 10 hours. Flight time 1 hour 50 minutes at between £19-£30.

flood affected homeIf all else fails

Goodbye old world, and hello apocalypse! For those of you not interested in perishing during the 6th mass extinction event, here are some survival tips:

  • You should probably start studying edible wild plants now. You’ll need to cover a wide variety of species, too, because we can’t know for sure which ones will survive the extinction.
  • Being able to harvest rainwater and having a store will be very handy. Obviously, this system works better for some regions than others. Another tool to have prepared for this exciting new phase on our planet is a desalination system (see removing salt from saltwater).

  • Invest in a mobile home to escape localised climate related issues or a home ideally is situated on high ground, far from the coast, near an aquifer, and surrounded by plenty of plant (and/or animal) species that hopefully won’t die off. You should also consider investing in the construction of a property designed to withstand common natural disasters for your area.

  • Be rich. Move to New Zealand. Be mega-billionaire rich and move to Space and/or Mars.
  • The maxim: “Only a fool wouldn’t be a prepper” relates to How to survive the climate-change apocalypse.


¹ “We’re doomed!” Private James Frazer is a fictional Home Guard platoon member and undertaker portrayed by John Laurie on the BBC television sitcom Dad’s Army.

²Oceans losing oxygen at unprecedented rate, experts warn, The Guardian Sat 7 Dec 2019

³Report on COP 25



Page Not Found - Instagram

I’ve quit and deleted Instagram… again. As can be read in this post from just under a year ago, it isn’t the first time. I have different reasons this time that I will outline here.

This was my sixth go; previous incarnations of my Instagram go back to 2012 and ‘A Photo a Day’ and then when I adopted a plant-based diet in 2014, I changed it to what I eat every day. The last (probably) version was meant to be my best photos using a DSLR but then iPhone images started creeping in and then just daily food snaps. Mainly, it wasn’t what I wanted it for.  The other reason has more sinister undertones and these relate to its current owners, Facebook.

These ‘silicone valley billionaires’ seem to be actively interfering in democratic values. Facebook has said that it will not check for false information in targeted political ads¹ and Zuckerberg has had secretive meals with President Trump, billionaire libertarian Trump-supporter, Peter Thiel (pro government surveillance. anti women’s votes) and white supremacist, Tucker Carlson of Fox News². I can’t support that by ignoring his politics just to use a photo-sharing app.

I had ethical concerns with Facebook buying Instagram in the first place; their dodgy use of data, location and privacy. Facebook got worse and worse and Instagram is also no stranger to the privacy scandals. In late 2018, it was reported that there was a security flaw in the Instagram feature ‘Download Your Data’, which leaked users passwords in plain text.

After the password leak emerged, Instagram was quick to announce that only a small number of users were at risk and the issue had been swiftly resolved. However, there are a number of other ways Instagram poses other threats to your privacy. For example, Instagram’s default setting will automatically track your location, unless you turn it off manually. This data is used to show you ads relative to the location where you spend a lot of your time. In addition, Instagram shares your in-app activity – such as likes, comments, your interaction with stories, etc. – with other users. Famously, the saying goes that free apps are never really free; you’re paying with your personal data.

How to Insta-delete

You can choose to temporarily disable your account (deactivate) if you want to wait out elections and are ok with funding racist billionaires or you can download your data and delete permanently through the web interface (not on your phone). Use the cog icon to request your data and do this BEFORE you delete completely.

Deleting your Instagram account can’t be undone – a deleted account can’t be restored. When you delete your Instagram account, all of your data, including photos, followers, likes, etc. will be deleted for good. In the future, if you choose to sign up to Instagram again, you won’t be able to use the same username again, nor will anyone else.

Go to the Instagram website. Then, Instagram’s Delete Your Account’ page. Select from the drop-down menu your reason for leaving. Enter your password and click ‘Permanently delete my account’. Your Instagram is now permanently deleted.

¹Congressional interview with Mark Zuckerberg

²Secret meetings with Facebook boss



KSI vs Logan Paul boxing match

Last weekend saw a boxing match between two ‘professional’ boxers in Los Angeles… with a difference. The fighters involved were facing each other in their first pro bout (their previous amateur encounter also featuring a fight between the pair). After six wild rounds, Olajide ‘KSI‘ Olatunji defeated Logan Paul by split decision, fifteen months after the pair fought to a majority decision draw in Manchester. The two men were making their professional boxing debuts and will take home a reported $900k each. How did this happen? Technology and the Internet. KSI (from the UK) and Paul are You Tube sensations seized upon by boxing promoters as profit for punches. The fight generated a total of 1.2 million pay-per-view buys worldwide, on YouTube and the KSI vs Logan Paul official website combined, including over 800,000 live purchases. This makes it the largest non-professional boxing match of all time. At £7.50 or $10 a view, the pay-per-view revenue is approximately an estimated £9 million or $12 million. Despite ‘real’ pros like Tony Bellew describing the fight as ‘insane’, even others who were in favour of the Internet-streamed fight, such as David Haye, have emphasised that the risks to health are very real and could have dire consequences.

This is another significant example of expertise and experience having little significance with some people. YouTubers are generally more accessible in terms of content and marketing to a younger demographic; an impressionable age-group that potentially believes that it is actually possible to become a global media sensation overnight and by extension, a pro boxer on a million dollar pay packet with only a handful of fights.

  • YouTube has 1.9 billion monthly active users worldwide.
  • 62% of YouTube’s users are male.
  • In the US, YouTube is used by 96% of the users in the 18-24 age group.


It used to be that teenage boys main career planning was ‘to be a professional footballer’ and this probably is still the number one response when asking groups I teach. After 10 years of You Tube, the second choice is now ‘You Tuber’. It is seen as an easy option requiring little effort and technical knowhow. Very much like pro footballers, only a few talented individuals actually get the breaks needed to progress to any kind of recognisable level. As for UK Premier league level, there are less than a handful from the town I work in let alone the school. Trying to explain that celebrity siblings like Joe Sugg (ThatcherJoe on YT) or Zoe Sugg (Zoella) actually employ media-savvy lighting techniques and an actual talent for performance rather than just mumbling into a web camera that led to 8 million subscribers on Joe’s vlog and his mainstream media career that has led to his stage acting debut in the West End production of Waitress at the Adelphi Theatre from September 2019.

Being good at keepie-up doesn’t make you on a par with Raheem Sterling. Likewise, falling off you bike into the canal doesn’t make you as good at slapstick You Tube as Smosh¹. It is true that, occasionally, a person comes up with a fairly original idea and presents it in an interesting and consuming way and can make it big as a YouTuber. A resident of my local area was one such beautician-based vlogger who achieved 1.8million subscribers and plucked up by a Disney personality as make-up artist. This is rare though an helped along by opportunity (being in the right place at the right time) or having the right connections; in the case cited, having a globally famous boyband member for a brother.

I am not suggesting that teenagers shouldn’t take up vlogging, or boxing for that matter. It’s the rubbishing of actual talent and expertise and the short cut to fame encouraged by X factor-like talent shows that make unrealistic impressions for teenage boys. YouTube has a ‘feature/bug’ that tends to display content through it’s algorithm that young people might enjoy. This can include ‘antivaxx’ video (non-medical experts), flat earthers (non-geographic experts or just plain barmy) and a whole ream of nutty ideas rubbishing NASA, moon landings and conspiracy theorists. Facts are being questioned that undermine actual experts and general trust. With face-swapping technology (that can also include ‘impressionistic’ software that can actually deep fake people’s voices), we might find that those with acceptable views and opinions are deep-faked into saying the unpalatable. We were at this point 10 years ago with Wikipedia. Ethically, there has to be some coordination of content as perpetuated by technology so as to avoid an Idiocracy².


¹24 Hours in a Haunted House // Smosh

² Idiocracy (2006)