Somewhat more than five hundred years ago a rebirth of humanism rekindled habits of enquiry and debate. Earnest discussion, private research and repeated attempts to abandon apprenticeship to an artist's studio in favour of formalised teaching began to gel into the forerunners of the academies of art and universities. Many famous painters and sculptors played a key role in initiating those changes, which rolled out across Europe in the centuries that followed. However, painters and sculptors had long wanted to escape the status of a mere artisan. Thus one of the goals of the academic approach was to increase the status of the painter and sculptor; but that same quest inspired some painters and sculptors to claim personal charisma and mysterious talents, in due course nourishing the idea of genius. These were notions that came into conflict with the organising principle of the academy, to which some artists became hostile. This is important because ambivalence towards art education has persisted through to the present day.
Collections of art works have long been assembled to promote awareness of individuals, organisations and ideas, or to enshrine them in memory. They have been devoted to wealthy collectors, to booty accumulated during imperial conquests, to artists, to periods and to themes (such as "Modern Art").
In the establishment of the CNAA Collection we see a celebration of what we might reasonably take to be the generator of Britain's achievements in this field: the universities, colleges and academies of art and design.