Sunday, 13 July 2014

Another brick in the bookcase

Ah the perils of working in a bookshop. In between the day to day mishaps and writing my next blog post I came across (actually it sort-of interrupted things) a brilliant book, 'Art School: Propositions for the 21st Century'. Bringing together a collection of essays, interviews and case studies from Arts institutions, arts educators, critics, former students, curators and artists around the world it is the perfect read to dive in and out of and as I have found already, contains some magnificent, inspiring and accurately insightful observations/ideas that extend beyond the thinking that this is a book primarily concerned with 'teaching' or 'education'.
Everywhere you read and virtually everyone you talk to about arts education at the moment has a pretty bleak view on its future. 'Things are most definitely not what as they once were!' Simply the way art is taught (if you are among the few who believe it can be 'taught' at all) seems to require an approach that is more experience driven/unique to the more conventional sides of teaching and perhaps has therefore unjustly suffered (despite a long fought resistance) in the hands of those who don't understand it; often perceived for its being at odds when forced to comply with more institutionalised ways of educating instead of being supported/understood in its own right. Where some open minded institutions may adapt and thrive under the pressure to conform, narrow minded management on top of squandered resources escalated with cuts in arts funding nationally have been met with an increasing anxiety that has seen many arts establishments buckle. The emergence of independent art schools and artist-led art schools in response to these failings, backed by the growing student dissatisfaction spurred by increases in tuition fees is in some ways unsurprising and raises the important debate that there is a considerable, valid and perhaps long overdue need for reviewing how future generations of artists will be nurtured. 
I think these are issues that affect all artists, particularly those considering or beginning their art education but also to those who have been through these experiences already and/or continue to work with these institutions. How the concept of the art school evolves, reinvents itself over the next few years, I speculate will have impact on where our innovative thinkers/makers come from, how we value art (in the broadest sense of the word), where will we cultivate/inspire future generations of artists and how art proliferates to work with other disciplines. Without having read the whole thing yet I think this book goes someway at offering some potential solutions those questions.
Personally, I am still trying to unravel the mysteries of my own art education that continue to have impact on my thinking and decision making in and outside whether I am making art or not, whether I am successful in my art pursuits or not.  It is one of those rare experiences, of the kind that tend to stick with you and influence who you are and how you react to life's situations.
I've had to put posts on Bill Viola and Matisse on hold for now, as it seemed all too important and exciting not to share some of the things I read...

1) The following is one of the best quotes I have found about how I felt in the transition between my formal art education and 'being an artist' in the real world, so to speak:
‘Artists undertake to transform themselves continuously through their practices and throughout their working lives. For an artist there can be no separation from being someone and learning to become someone. The reason to continue to be an artist lies in an everyday rediscovery of what remains to be said or done. Being an artist is no different from learning to become an artist. The process of rediscovery of what it is that he or she needs to do transforms the artist on an everyday basis. The horizons of the artist’s self continuously expand to take in the incremental unravelling of what the artist still desires to inscribe on his or her consciousness and the attention of the world.
The day that an artist realizes that his or her stock of things left to think about and to do has depleted to a point where it measures less than what has been done already , the artist might as well stop practicing. This means that in order to continue working, the artist learns to constantly prepare for the unknown, for what remains to be done. An artist’s education is never finished. School is never out. ‘ –Raqs Media Collective ‘How to be an artist by night’

The whole essay is excellent too and can be read via the following link:

2) It is worth reading this piece in its entirety created by students as Columbia University and reads as a list of creative, observational, political, environmental, social, architectural, strategic proposals for an imaginary potential art school. Factors such as historical context, geography, funding, power relationships, infrastructure, facilities and institutional relationships were considered as terms for generating ideas. I certainly found several things to be very reflective of my own experiences and many others which I thought would be welcome/beneficial additions to current art school programmes.  Extremely thought provoking, self contradictory, silly, entertaining, serious, imaginative, honest and poignant...come to think of it a lot like art! This is the sort of reading that should be compulsory for anyone within the institution of art education; managers, tutors and students alike and for those artists, like myself who still look back in wonder as they continue to make sense of it all.

Nobody asked you to do nothing /a potential school
Report prepared in November 2007
At Columbia University, School of the Arts, Graduate studio program.
Liam Gillick

 NB: This isn't the entire version. I edited it out to include the main points, but stress its worth reading it all. Alternatively highlighted in orange are the few points I particularly enjoyed, if you don't have the time!

Things will be out of sync. There will be a large sauna. The edge will be perceived from the inside and outside simultaneously. The idea of boundary pushing will remain. There will be lots more bicycles. Some surprising things will be free. There will be more difference. There will still be a studio problem. There will be big sheds. There will still be a sense that one is forced to find an activity. Delusion will remain. The question will remain, what kind of space are we in? ...There will remain a focus upon the idea of students choice. This will remain an incomplete project. There will be many places to sleep. There will be showers on demand. There will be the possibility of collective action. There may well be citizen artists. There will be a free, or progressive tuition scale (increasing expense with duration of attendance). There will definitely be massages from trusted people.... There will be a sense that there is less structure. ...Some things will be more mobile. Some people will be more migratory. Some effects will remain local... Some structures will be disintegrated. There will be fewer clear representations of power within the hierarchy of the place. There will be no possibility of an architecture that clearly expresses relationships. ... There will still have to be a building. ...In the manner of pre-schools there will be reading lofts and soft places to rest. ...Incomprehensible wealth will circle the school. There will be no equilibrium...Who is them will remain a reasonable question...There will be a reduction of appropriateness. There will be an increase in duration. Some will explore the potential of every possible resource. There will be large scale 3-dimensional printers, and scanners. Full time computer programmers will be available at all times. Student status will remain unclear. There will be even more examination of the idea of the university as a concept. An increasing attempt will be made to ensure an infection of disciplines by those who attend the school. Concrete, wood and water will be combined in most of the buildings and structures. Large terraces will be covered in plants. The structure will be located near the ocean. Composting will be used as a method of production. ..There will be a permanent thesis show. A cumulative thesis shows will continue forever with work being added every year. There will be a frustrated desire for consistent knowledge from the beginning of the year. There will be an encouragement of non-directed energy. Attempts will be made to create lots of seemingly arbitrary rules. There will be internal openness combined with public reticence. Friendly qualities will endure. Viewing ports will be suggested but the idea that they are cut into studio walls will be rejected. There will be a well loved swimming pool. There will be an abandoned climbing wall. Water will become the most popular meeting place. ...The studio will be a location of desire but some people will fight against this. Some people will dream of the creation of an honest nostalgia. There will be many spaces that produce incomprehension. Role playing will be discouraged. Repetition will be impossible. Someone will always doing something every day. There will be designated moments when you are there on your own, and you know it. Clear times when you alone are allowed in the building. There will develop the option of manual labour, students can clean the windows, dig drainage ditches and package chewing gum. A big experimental Greenhouse will be donated to the place by an anonymous benefactor. Animals will roam free and cause problems from time to time...Confrontation with past desires will be accepted as a normal part of life. New relationships with service will produce a new understanding of obligations. There will be places to jump around and wrestle. 4-dimensional studies will become a well-loved fable from the past. Personal relationships will multiply. Claustrophobia will not exist. Gaps in between shallowness and repetition will expand and fill the world with a whole new kind of artistic production. Teachers working alongside the students will forget to teach. Ghost towns will proliferate. Students choosing staff choosing students choosing staff will replace each other in perpetuity. Lectures in foreign languages with no translation will become the most popular event of the week. The institution will declare its politics and people will wait for the statements with eager anticipation. Statements of position in the society will be greeted with warm condescension. Collectivity as an assumption will no longer need to be questioned. Social status and hierarchy within the culture will no longer have any effect on what is produced but will still be understood. No mission statements will exist outside the ancient archives of the place. A description of whatʼs what will start each morning. Starting again every two years will mean that there is no them and us. No overlaps will be accepted. Keep asking what is collectivity even if nobody cares and you will be thrown out. Once accepted, you will stay, for a long time, but the faculty will change every year. Beta-testing rights for all things will become the norm. A strong graphic sensibility for all outside communication will become standard practice. Who is responsible will be the question of the day. Set something in motion will never be just for its own sake. The observation deck will be broad and wide and show a vast panorama. Planning will be a necessity. Populism will be excused. Good cases and bad cases will create a new language. Cultural importation will increase. Dispersal will endure. Open access will be the cause of many arguments... There will be no institutional furniture. Custom built databases and permanent data managers will be as common as their absence today. Drinks trolleys will be everywhere and regularly get restocked. Leakage will remain a problem. Speed of production will cause arguments. Suspended judgement will no longer be a defence. Interest from others will be the source of contentment. Continuing regardless will be viewed as a crime...Democracy and non-democracy of space will considered at the start of each year. Abuse of space will be encouraged. Uniforms will be optional. It will feel as if unicorns are about to return. There will be lots of different buildings...Orchards will bloom. The potential for growth will be suspended. The department of rhetoric and announcements will hold people at bay. No-one will feel qualified to develop a curriculum. Secondary production techniques will be encouraged. Large roaring fires will frame places of thought. An infinite number of departments will be established to represent the diverse interests of the place. A place to play music will be maintained and well loved. No painting will take place, but not because anyone prevents it....Instant mythology will flourish. The question of when should things finish will become a distant memory? An extensive program of field trips and events will take place before anyone gets up. Traces of these journeys will remain in the stories of the drivers.

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