Letters Volume 31 no 5 May / June 2017
A New Statesman article last year reported that ‘The Creative Industries Federation, a membership organisation that represents the views of the UK creative industries, states that 96 per cent of its member’s support remaining in the EU…’
A major reason for this was Creative Europe, a €1.46 billion fund set up by the EU for the cultural and creative sectors, which, in its first two years, ‘supported 230 UK cultural and creative organisations… with grants totalling €40 million’ according to the Arts Council.
A summary of findings from The UK Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee on the impact of Brexit on the creative industries described Creative Europe as a ‘highly effective programme supporting the UK’s creative sector’ and warned that if no replacement was set up by the government ‘…the creative sector’s capacity to flourish and realise its international potential is likely to be diminished both to the detriment of the sector and to the detriment of UK citizens access to diverse cultural works…’
The programme allows for non-EU countries to access its programme ‘under certain conditions’ so the UK could continue to benefit after leaving the EU, but nothing is certain. Promises have been made about funding…but we all remember that bus ‘promise’ of NHS funding. Concern was also expressed regarding international students and ‘their future rights to study, work and stay in the UK after graduation’ and the impact this could have on ‘keeping artistic talent within the UK’.
UCAS has already reported a 7% drop in applications to universities from EU students. This will undoubtedly mean a loss of diversity amongst students and consequently a culturally poorer UK.
Matthew Clemo, vice president of Erasmus Student Network, said that ‘our generation is on the verge of being taken back to the dark ages of closed borders and intolerance towards others.’
In this current political climate of potential closed borders, travel bans and walls, when it appears that intolerance, suspicion and segregation are being encouraged, and openness, exchange and free movement are under threat, it is perhaps our duty as creatives to reach out beyond our local community to open up lines of communication, exchange and collaboration internationally, and offer our wholehearted support to initiatives already set up to do just that.
Art has the potential to transcend borders, cultures and languages… the onus appears to be on us.
Meryl Hopper, Plymouth College of Art
Your feature in the last issue was gripping, a real page turner. Right from the off, the history of early academies and Renaissance schools was succinct and fascinating yet, (knowing your work), with a hint that all would not end well. Progressing through the intervening centuries to post World War II changes I began to feel agreeably discomfited as you pause together the strands of what proved to be my own experience. I could relate the content of your article to my own teachers, then tutors, school and art school experiences… Although having attended polytechnics from 1969 onwards I always refer to my training having been at “art school”.
I am an unapologetic modernist who still believes in and is fired by abstract painting and my last year of teaching foundation students one day a week I revel in teaching analytical drawing and tell the group that when they, for example, draw the skeleton it must convince a doctor of anatomy completely or it’s a waste of paper. I was taught by similarly stringent methods and as I approach retirement I now attend life classes and sketch from nature as a foil for my abstract work.
I can’t however forget the thriller the 60s and all that went with the “fearless experimentation”, (jackdaw quote), that I first saw at Leicester pre-dip in 1969 maybe that is bound up with so much nostalgia that I can’t separate it objectively and I did eventually complete a full freed the Paloma at Manchester later when drawing was taught with rigour and we had visiting lecturers Bruce McLean ‘s and Adrian Henry’s to add a change of diet.
Portsmouth Polytechnic was where I was given the opportunity to continue the journey to abstract painting and whilst this was not always an easy transition it is proved to be the most satisfying thing in my life.
(First published in The Jackdaw, March 2017)
Your feature on art education brought back troubling memories to me. I once took an “advanced diploma in painting” at the Central School of speech and drama, an award given by the open University. We went to nights a week and all day on Saturday – above us we could hear the screams and yowls of the young Thespians.
We started with painting and drawing taught by someone who were trained in illustration. Then in the second year a new teacher was introduced as work involved throwing down balls of her hair onto the floor. “If I catch you painting still life again you will fail this course,” she said to me. “This is 1998 not 1898.” She didn’t like me at all but I kept going as I learned a lot in the course, not about painting but about critical theory and post-modernism, as dictated by Marxists in the University of Paris’s. It was almost like a Marxist art course, bent on defying the “politics of ownership”, which meant no painting and a rejection of bourgeoisie aesthetics. I had to keep writing essays and bringing in the Heidegger all the time. We also had to attend endless meetings. The teacher kept getting rid of people in the year behind us, including a young Nigerian lad who kept painting his home village. Eventually there was not enough people left in the year after us for them to carry on the course. It imploded. I think the college sticks to acting these days.
I went on painting still life in secret, never managed an installation and received the worst marks of anyone on the course. I was upset at the time but learned a lot by doing it, not about painting but about the art world.
(First published in The Jackdaw, March 2017)
You raise important issues in your comprehensive and thoroughly researched article “what happened to art education?” I have a few thoughts and observations.
In the spring of 2007 I wrote a letter to Art monthly Outlining some of my main concerns regarding the decline in the provision and standards in undergraduate fine Art education. The jackdaw immediately reprinted it there are about 1500 responses, all overwhelmingly endorsing my analysis.
My observations were based on the experience of 40 years; seven years as a student, the remaining 33 is a practising painter and part-time lecturer, and, finally, eight years as Prof of painting at the Royal College of Art
During those eight years I chaired the entrance exam and over that time I oversaw an expansion and applicant numbers whilst simultaneously witnessing a decline in the standard of undergraduate work, both practically and intellectually.
Last year, after having been approached by frustrated overworked and bullied teaching staff at the University of the arts, London, I wrote a piece entitled “the Blind screwing the blind”. On this occasion I simultaneously submitted the text to the jackdaw and Art monthly. The jackdaw published it immediately and an edit Art monthly chose to ignore it, confirming a climate of fear.
Towards the end of your article you hit upon the paradox of accreditation. To enable students access to loans, all institutions that seek to offer degrees have now to be accredited. This is where the “agenda” is enforced. I’ve witnessed small, independent institutions being “brought into line” by large institutions (institutions that deliver thoroughly unsatisfactory courses) when seeking degree accreditation. The message is “do as we tell you” or else.
You rightly point out there is no real hope of breaking the cycle because of the current requirements for teaching and employment more generally.
The dissolution of the CNAA was a disastrous and retrograde step. It opened the door to the fall’s and mean-spirited corporate model which now permeates higher education like a cancer. At the risk of repeating myself – certification has replaced education.
You also raised the thorny issue of teaching. For far too long is been a matter of approval or disapproval on the part of the lecturer. This outmoded and authoritarian method has to cease. A more intelligent, creative and empathetic approach has to be embraced.
What’s even more depressing is that corporate behaviour, like rising damp, has reach postgraduate schools such as the Royal College of Art with disastrous effect. Already some of the best academic staff are leaving as ambitious exiles from UA (L) start to assume senior management posts causing student unrest.
I have two reservations about your analysis. The constant reference to conceptual art is mistaken as all art has a conceptual component to some degree. I also find the term “figurative” painting somewhat coded and opaque.
We mustn’t lose sight of the fact that the lowering of standards in education is politically motivated. Over the last 10 years I said pretty much all I’ve got to say – but no one seems to care all to be listening. And out right boycott is the only solution as it’ll threaten revenue, followed by a comprehensive review. That – and a fresh start – one that involves studio apprenticeships..
(First published in The Jackdaw, March 2017)
With reference to your latest editorial (has the arts Council betrayed its origins) your last paragraph credited TS Eliot with the foresight he showed in the 1930s.
I would like to draw your attention to something Constable said in his last lecture given on July 25, 1836 to the library and scientific institution in Hampstead which I used while commenting in my own writings about State Art in my book Portcatho: portrait of an artist’s colony (Halsgrove 2006).
He said, “the first impression and a natural one is at the fine arts have risen or declined in proportion as patronage has been given to them or withdrawn, But it will be found that there has often been more money lavished on them in their worst periods than their best, and that the highest honours have frequently been bestowed on artists whose names are scarcely now known.”
(First published in The Jackdaw, March 2017)
There are issues in “what happened to art education?” That demands serious consideration.
The government has undermined the art base at secondary school level. When I complained about this I received a reply from my MP, Rebecca Powe, stating that this is not the case. She wrote: “the new progress eight will measure pupil progress in eight subjects, five ebacc and three others which could include creative although occasional subjects. The ebacc will not be appropriate for a small minority of pupils and we have committed to an alternative expectation, the plans for which we are seeking views.” There are no plans to insist upon art for all pupils, and many secondary school heads are now too indifferent to risk art being taught. That, coupled with poor levels of provision and resource seeing, means that figurative art will continue to wither away in state secondary school education, but not in public schools. As pointed out in “what happened?” The real long-term problem is the fact that university art departments teach little or nothing. I have recently encountered young artists who travel to Florence and the US to work alongside mature figurative artists in ateliers in preference to a UK university course; and expensive model that seems to be growing in popularity. It seems to be the only way to acquire basic handling skills, apart from the excellent Prince of Wales’ drawing schools.
Any artist to browbeat is a student into conceptual art knows nothing of art education theory and philosophy, and there are those whose arrogance is based on no more than despotic unquestioning faith rather than knowledge. With BA provision, there may be three ways forward but there is, it seems, little or no will to reform the status quo.
1. to stick with a system that will continue failing and eventually fade away
2. to reform education entirely from school to Ph.D.
3. to redesign the current higher education system using a revised analysis of visual disciplines for the future
Maintaining the system has demonstrably failed that the quality of artists produced. It thrives on short-term promotion because its prime impetus is financial. Musicians do not have this problem and it is forced to assert that it achieves its fiscal objective.
The success of YBAs was down to the self-interest of Charles Saatchi, rather than artistic merit. The assumption that you can address the making of an artist through state educational provision is also a pretence. It is pragmatic to accept that you can only move the horse to water, so a practical alternative learning model is required that will demand very hard thinking about excellence. Particularly, there is no inherent requirement to address social and political distractions such as racism, equality or all dominant identity politics. These belong to the affective domain of art making within the artist’s personal practice and they are completely irrelevant to art education practice.
This leads to the question of what kinds of knowledge artists engage with, because this is where art education has real-life justification that the taxpayer can pay for. This has never been in the affective domain. The need for life drawing is based on an empirical demand for drawing any image. You cannot depict what you do not understand. All figurative art develops this form of implicit knowledge, which encompasses everything in the visual world. The worse thing Duchamp did was to debase the retinal. Any detection contains empirical evidence from the eyes and brain and there is no art without this to draw a cultural analogy cognitive dissonant’s rules Western thought because there has been a very successful political project to destroy the use of the Socratic argument as a birthright in education. It has been replaced by a rational continental philosophy. When we lose contact with empirical values we enter a dark realm where pseudo art, cultism and kitsch are accepted as truth. This has no justification in art education apart from a feat indulgence. This leads us to consider the philosophical issues combining beauty morality and ethics.
There is a way forward which could maintain and reinstate these concepts into the learning process by teaching aesthetics. This means destroying the identity politics that Grayson Perry expressed in Playing to the Gallery when he said, “to judge a work of art on its aesthetic merit is to buy into some discredited, fusty hierarchy, tainted with sexism, racism, colonialism and class privilege.”
A bipartite system could be created were all University arts faculties are divided into designated figurative or conceptual bias in their teaching this distinction exists on a 50-50 emphasis could revitalise the entire system – all education is a subtle balance between innovation and conservation. Getting the balance right would be a good place to start, reasserting enlightenment values as opposed to identity politics. There would have to be a rule that students remain free to move between the two as they find their needs dictate. There would have to be clearly articulated judgment and assessment of skills for both halves. This could mean that the current conceptual tyranny could have its social engineering challenged and would need to justify its existence. Far far fewer fine art students would then acquire some real-world skills because they would have to achieve a demonstrable competence in both areas. Those departments that taught well would rise to the top, and the week would wither. The key would be radically reducing the number of students by emphasising their all-round quality (as the Coldstream reforms had intended). This would mean a return to real world sound judgments and criteria. It would also mean removing “sports direct” contracts with tutors and returning to the value of tenure by artists who have studied both aesthetics and education and are seeking excellence. Business ethics have no justification in university education and students are absolutely entitled to consistent teaching of sound demonstrable values. I know that I did get the courtesy of Mr Coldstream.
(First published in The Jackdaw, March 2017)
Few people have the experience, training of art and the guts to say what they feel and think about art as Derek Guthrie does. How he became displaced in Chicago is a mystery to me. Granted he may be difficult to work with but by nature, intelligent people are. Derek demands not giving in to the convenient norm or mainstream thinking of out art distribution system and it’s cohorts. Be that as it may, art often comes attached to various agendas –whatever the purpose– be it political, economic or something else altogether. The NAE, given it’s valiant history, attempts to cut through all that and look at the art it self- a tall order in this over mediated and messaged world. This is a painstaking task, one that artists and critics would rather forego for the most part. The Examiner often expresses unpopular ideas, ideas that people do not want to hear for fear their masks are ripped off. Pity those who cannot bear expressed ideas that are there for discourse, discussion, and discovery. This tendency to go along to get along is rampant in our society and highlights the passive disposition not to think. This largely why our society, on both sides of the world, is going to hell. There, I just made a value judgment that we have to make. If you think otherwise, I would welcome your response as the Examiner would –whatever you think…I would not be intimidated or put off. This is life in a process that the Examiner takes on over and over again. I do not think the Chicago crowd is up for this, because it is too daunting. That hardly matters. Daniel and Derek are in a positive mode and are functioning in the UK, something I look forward to. And so should you.
Allan Jirikowic in DC