A lot of nonsense about art schools

In Edinburgh College of Art, Rambling on November 11, 2012 at 3:20 pm

I’m incredibly good at rambling and that’s how I seem to think things through, in that it’ll all be in my head somewhere, but for it to make any sense at all I need to write it all out or say it all aloud to myself. But I forget what I’ve said if I do the latter, so writing works better. It’s kind of the same with doing things, I couldn’t tell you why I’m doing something a lot of the time, it’ll just be something that almost needs to be done, it’s only after doing – maybe a few minutes, maybe days after – that it makes any sense. So yeah, this huge long thing is mostly in response to the essay I’m supposed to be writing at the moment (there was a sudden productive moment late last night when I actually got past the first paragraph, so I’m currently making that better and adding in some references, it’s easier now I’ve moved past the first paragraph). The question, so this might make some sense:

Design your own art school. Taking the lecture and your own research into account, which practices would you include, and why? What kind of student do you envisage? What qualities and skills would they need to acquire in your institution?

I’ll have to do feedback for this as well at some point soon, which is going to be a real pain. Because I don’t really have much idea what I’m supposed to be doing, and the things I have to grade myself against aren’t entirely relevant to what I’m going to be writing, or I don’t think so anyway…

1. RESEARCH: Use a variety of appropriate critical approaches to show a broad understanding of visual images, artefacts, built environments and texts
2. ANALYSIS: Demonstrate an applied knowledge of the main theories of Visual Culture Studies
3. COMMUNICATION: Convey pertinent ideas using appropriate and coherent formats

The last one is – I have no idea if I’m being coherent, or working in an appropriate way though!. But I really doubt I’m going to show an applied knowledge of the main theories of visual culture, I probably would have to if I was doing one of the other essays because they’re quite…visual culture-y? But the one I’m doing is like the…endurance drawing classes compared to material experiments. I have different things in my bibliography, although there’s one book that’s kind of dominating it at the moment because it’s the answer to absolutely everything art school related (although it doesn’t look like it’s just one book, seeing as it’s a collection of essays), so I need to find the same things said somewhere else… But there’s a range of things, or I think there are – I’ve managed to crowbar Martin Creed as well as The Dynamics Of Creation in anyway. I’m sure I was meant to be talking about art schools…

It does assume that art can be taught, which I don’t think is necessarily true. Bits of art can be taught; technique, skills, process, theory, art history, being able to talk about your work – those can be taught, and that’s kind of what you’d expect from an art school. But the real kind of…root, basis, foundation, of art seems to be very instinctual. You can’t replicate that need to make art, that impulse to draw or make or photograph or whatever it is that you do. How can you when almost every artist you ask will have a different reason for doing it?

Work is a fight against loneliness, against low self esteem, against
depression, and against staying in bed
– Martin Creed, Work #470

I make art primarily because I enjoy the process. It’s fun making things.
– Pete Docter

Making art is an act of discovery
– Kit White, 101 Things To Learn In Art School

Hobby modellers do it for a hobby, but that’s serious too. Sometimes, for a man, who, unlike the far superior female, has limited emotional equipment, hobbies can assume great importance
– Ian Marchant, Men and Models

John Cage said something to the effect that anyone can do his work, but the fact is nobody else has done it. I take this to mean that the artists real work is in setting the parameters and executing a given project. It’s about the courage to actualise ideas that transform passing thoughts – often trivial – into art.
– Perloff, in Theasurus Scienta Lancastriae

Freud said psychoanalysis could throw no light upon the technique or gift of the artist
– Anthony Storr, The Dynamics of Creation

That’s just a load of possibly relevant things… Point is, you can’t teach someone to want to make art – it doesn’t matter if they’re any good at it – just like some people just have a natural disposition to science or maths or languages or anything else, the same is true for art. Working, making, is just something that often needs to be done, it’s not very nice if I don’t work, I don’t like not working. Working isn’t really something I can explain very well, or why I like working anyway. It’s kind of…a way of feeling alive, instead of just being – like going to a gig or festival and feeling the floor shake from all the people dancing, or hearing thousands of people sing the same words. It’s that…connectivity. Whether it’s between you and hundreds of other people, or you and a piece of paper and some ink or a camera or anything else. That’s why I work. Or I think so. And because what else can I do? All there is is work. Thinking is work, writing is work, photographing is work, drawing is work. Everything is work. Martin Creed says it better (I think I like him so much because he says things I couldn’t quite put into words).

Having said all of that…I don’t think art school is devalued, or worthless, in any way at all. But it’s not the only way of doing things, maybe art school isn’t the best way for everyone. Going to art school doesn’t make you an artist. It just means you’re a student for longer. Art school – and to a certain extent, universities – feel so isolated, it’s kind of mysterious what goes on. I have no idea what other departments do with their time, I don’t even know what the design students do! And finding out anything useful about university is incredibly hard, impossible maybe. I wanted to know the little things – timetables and when we’d be expected to be in and just…every day things – when I was applying to all these places and none of those things were really…available. Maybe because I’m a tad obsessive about knowing tiny details of things. It’s kind of why this is so detailed with the little things, maybe it’s useful to potential ECA people, or curious people. And whilst we have all these (pretty amazing) visiting lecturers come in, they’re not public lectures. Maybe those do exist, but I’m sure there’s people that aren’t students that’d be interested. I know there’s evening classes and what not that go on, but it does very much feel like we’re stuck in this little bubble. Which is good for kind of…nurturing that instinct to make things, because it’s somewhere neutral, there’s a lovely quote from a bit of Why Art Cannot Be Taught that says the same thing nicely. But then everything I say is said much better somewhere else.

Art school is like agar-agar, and the students are the bacteria or fungi. They grow better on the controlled medium

There’s been two open days this semester, the first one was kind of stupidly done on a Saturday – you’d come to an open day to see what it’s like when the place is full of students, to see studios full of people working, not studios full of the crazy ones that can’t sleep and don’t have anything better to do with their time. The second was far better, in that it was on a Friday and it probably gave a far better representation of what it was like to be here. I just think maybe there needs to be more of that sort of thing – more open days, more blogging about what we do (because there’s this kind of…assumption I guess from a lot of people that art students really do much, and we do – most of the time anyway), more public lectures, more bringing the outside into our little bubble for a while.

As for what practices I’d include…ehm. This is probably just going to sound like I’ve ripped off the whole of this semester/intermedia. Sorry, but it’s worked well so far! It’s probably going to end up being more structure than practice, maybe they’re interchangeable. Mixed studios for sure – like for this semester we’re all mixed up so painting, intermedia, photography and sculpture are all together (although I’m not sure I’ve met a sculpture person at all). Across programmes and across years, we’re very divided by year. I guess fourth years would get a bit irritated with constantly having first years underfoot, but it is quite divided. There’s first year studios, second year studios and so on. We don’t really get to see what they’re working on, or maybe how they work is more accurate because there’s been several exhibition invites that’ve come through that I didn’t go to (painting, sculpture and intermedia I think).

A lack of boundaries between programmes too, so you’re not just…stuck with one thing; because it’d be really pointless if you mixed everyone up in studios so you get that diversity of ways of working and then didn’t allow students to try out what they see other students doing. If that makes any sense? So I guess what programme you’re on would be more to make it less crazy to know where everyone was and for boring admin things like that that I know nothing about, I can imagine it’d be pretty crazy if you just had 66 students who could do anything at all. And there’d probably be a bias towards certain areas, there’s a lot more painting students than any other programme for example. Is this making any sense at all? It’s already over the word count… Probably the easiest way to get that mix of students would be to either have HUGE open plan studios (with moveable walls or something exciting like that), so you can see across every programme, so they’re all available to the rest or just to have no set studios for programmes. But again that’d be a total pain for tutors to come round and do tutorials if no one had a set place to be…maybe a drop in studio space instead. There’s a nice essay (Undesigning the new art school) which is all about designing this amazing looking art school that’s shaped like a two bits of ribbon, so it goes back and forth on itself, all made of glass and moveable walls and all sorts of fun stuff. So you can look across from one studio and see into another, so they’re all layered in together with the lecture theatres and seminar rooms dotted amongst the studios. I do like that, that purpose built space for a very multi-disciplinary approach. It probably wouldn’t look as beautiful as our studios though, because they are beautiful in that high ceilinged way.

I have no idea how my poor students will have time to breathe let alone work, I’ve got so much planned for them (going on how much fun I’m having coming up with things for them to do I should obviously be a teacher…). Elective as well as mandatory classes for a start – we have mandatory drawing classes and our visual culture lectures and that’s all I can think of. It’d be kind of nice to have electives in things that aren’t especially art related, or even just one off lectures. I know the MAFA students get to do an outside subject so they get enough credits, but a lot of them have ended up with kind of…not very exciting subjects. And I don’t know about anyone else but I never want to take another exam again, a lot of those courses are exam based. I was convinced I didn’t have enough credits, so I was trying to find something nice I could do. Turns out I just couldn’t count. It’s just we’re part of this absolutely huge university, and it doesn’t feel like we really make use of that. It’s more like we get to use their stuff, their library and so on. I probably could just turn up at a lecture for some other course and no one would probably notice – or maybe they would seeing as it’s half way through the semester. But it’d be neat to be able to do some un art related things for a while (as much as I like working, there is such thing as too much work – and it’s no fun being at the point where you don’t know how to work anymore because you’ve done it too much). I mean there’s things I like/love as well as just art related things – I’d happily go along to lectures on linguistics/semiotics/semantics, or politics, or modern history or vet. med lectures for that matter. There’s things I’d love to know about, but I just don’t ever do anything about. It should probably work the other way too, other courses being able to do electives in art things… So that’d be kind of nice. I’ve completely forgotten what I’ve written. I’m going to stop writing soon, because it’s getting ridiculously long…

I can’t think of any more practice things for the moment, so what type of student… Simply put, as many as possible, as many as you can find, as many as want to be there. That was a lot shorter. I’m not sure I can specify too much, because I don’t really know and because having a very specific type of student in mind is…a bit contradictory if you’re mixing all these students up to get a range of things, for there to be a range of ways of working/making/doing you need a range of types of students. But generally speaking, the type of student that’s a bit obsessive. And ones that aren’t scared of books.

And I haven’t really thought about what they’d need to get from being there, so now seems like a good a place as any to stop… I need to be writing the actual thing for a start. And I need some tea.

  1. Excellent art school! Can I sign up? Second, Third and Fourth Years mentoring 1st years would be a good idea too. Then they can tell you the dirt about tutors and what to expect at assess. And it would stop the years being so divided. At DMU we call that the Guru and Grasshopper scheme – students love it and really enjoy it and it is excellent for course cohesion. You could get a quote from Ian about it to add to your essay seeing as he started it!

  2. I know what you call it! That’s what I was thinking! Or just showing us round so we’re not so totally lost… Alright, I’ll do a Bauhaus and set up a school somewhere, all welcome! Like DIYart school, but not…

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