As a student, I necessarily find myself wondering which educational path would best suit my future career. I have always been passionate about art and, for as long as I can remember, I have always been advised not to devote myself to it. I was born and raised in Italy, the country of wonders in terms of artistic and cultural heritage. Tourism holds a good slice of the economy. Travellers are eager to visit and soak up the magical aura that exudes from every pore of the Boot of Europe.
With treasures of this kind in abundance, the educational system should provide the right tools to make future professional artists. The country’s devotion to culture has always been underpinned by its investment in internationally respected universities. The University of Bologna is the most ancient university in the world (established in 1088). It provides a wide range of courses for conservation, restoration, media, and media production; in the same city, the Academy of Fine Arts has trained artists since its foundation in the 18th century.
During my bachelor’s degree in Art Teaching and Communication at the Academy of Fine Arts in Bologna, I was surrounded by other artists, but the actual opportunities to collaborate with them were surprisingly few. Furthermore, the means provided during the course, as well as the teaching methods employed, often proved to be unstructured, disorganized, or not practically useful for work purposes. Once I started the Master’s in Arts, Museology and Curatorship at the University of Bologna, the differences became so palpable that they needed to be voiced. The University offers a wider variety of opportunities than the Academy and displayed better co-ordination within and outside the institution itself, but lacked, most of the time, space for artists themselves. Only a few courses are devoted to production while the Academy clearly remains a leader in practical courses, especially in painting, sculpture and applied arts.
Nevertheless, and interestingly enough, the separation between makers and theorists in the arts has always existed: it’s the Academy vs the University. One must make peace with it: despite numerous efforts, including some implementation of both theoretical and practical courses, and the equivalence, guaranteed not long ago, of the two, it seems like the system is not ready to provide continuity and direct relations between the different professionals working in the arts. Renato Barilli, art critic and scholar, defines this separation as a “fragile and almost invisible wall between the two” (Barilli R., Artribune, N.59, March-June 2021). This lack of exchange, in his opinion, is also visible in the difference in incomes the professors receive (much lower in the Academies) and with often no possibility for them to switch from one environment to the other.
This division does not favour collaboration, empathy, or creation, and this in turn causes a rupture that shakes the whole structure to its foundations. The collision is inevitable, and the contrasts that result from it show the real obsolescence of the present system, both in terms of education and work. How can knowledge, from creation to communication, flow naturally if it is thought, organized and transmitted in such different ways, and if there is almost no permeability between the two worlds?
Barilli finds the solution in the organization of the already well-established Departments of Fine Arts, where all the aspects, from painting, sculpture and photography to art history and art theory are smoothly integrated for the student.
In Italy, the separation might be invisible but it is still tangible, and very much in the way of everyone willing to work
in the arts field. Other cultural forms and organizations might be a good starting point: they could, perhaps, represent a chance for the institutions to put aside the fear of losing their apparent supremacy within the artistic sphere to rethink the system and rewrite its future. Many more occasions for encounters between students need to be implemented, opportunities have to be provided and new bonds created: this is the meaning of a new understanding of the system, Academies+Universities.