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Where the education takes place
Sarah Rowles examines how conversation and discussion can be considered an education in contemporary art.
Two months ago I took a friend to see a couple of contemporary art exhibitions in London. They hadn't studied art before, like me hadn't grown up to see contemporary art, and even after our visit, thought that it was all a load of nonsense. They said they felt intimidated by their inability to 'understand' what it was they were seeing.
Two weeks ago, after the opening of the exhibition 'Q-Art Presents II', the same friend joined myself and some of the artists from the show at the pub.
Two hours after we left the pub, their Facebook status read: 'Artists definitely have views on the world, stimulating ideas and conversations!'
There are two interesting observations that can be drawn from this recollection. One - that art is perhaps made far more accessible and far less intimidating through listening to conversations on art and the artist's ideas. Two - that if we were to instead refer to what we know as contemporary art as an 'ideas' discourse, it may become far more comprehendible to those who see art (and quite justifiably so as many of us were brought up this way) as something akin to craft.
HE art education, by nature of its - and arts - framing, is presumed by many (those who study it and those who only encounter contemporary art now and again) to be the only way into understanding and practicing contemporary art. But what happens when we consider the much-reiterated statement that art, because of its plurality, is a subject that 'cannot be taught'? If we agree with this - and many do - then we must rationalise that an understanding of contemporary art is attained through one of the following means: a. as a matter of cultural capital (we were exposed to it throughout our upbringing and viewing it is almost second nature) or b. that unlike other topics, art education is an education that takes place through non-didactic means.
Let us look at what educational structures operate within art schools, and if they can - or do - exist elsewhere:
The UK art college educational experience is structured as a series of conversations: There are crits where artists present work to their peers for feedback and discussion; there are one-to-one tutorials where a tutor offers advice and food for thought; there are seminars where a group discuss and debate a topic at hand; and there are studios -designed open plan to allow for conversation with peers to take place. Knowledge of artists, exhibitions, opportunities, professional practice, ideas, references, issues of current debate, readings, ways of seeing, locating common ground - is all information learnt and gained through exchanges with others.
An education in contemporary art then, seems to come about as a result of artists talking. It is probably no coincidence that this is also the name of this website.
Here are some examples I have found of the above categories of exchange taking place within the Artists Talking blogs:
Current issues/ debate:
Emily Speed: All the cuts just seem incredibly reactionary, rather than strategic, and I feel like a big bad-decision tsunami is sweeping over us with no warning and with nothing that can be done to stop it. Except protest that is.
Susan Francis: The speed at which these cuts have been brought in has purposely wrong-footed everyone and allowed no time to organise or facilitate discourse or influence in any way. Don't underestimate what strength of protest can do though...
Susan Jones: It's all well and good to 'protest' (volubly, visibly) after a policy's been made but the issue is how can you pre-empt/influence the discourse/evidence parameters that lead up to a policy being defined, well before it is implemented?
Empathy and support:
11/12/10 - 16/12/10
Rob Turner: Now Jane, I'm looking at these blogs searching for stuff to help me start painting. I'm looking to justify its manufacture in this time we live. I was forced to leave it, like a left-handed person might be forced to use their right hand by social conditioning...
Jane Boyer: Rob, I think painting is as relevant today as other media, more so in a way, because it is one of the few remaining media that merge the body and mind in a tangible extension of the self. To my mind that makes its context the whole of the human experience...
Rob Turner: All your conclusions are exactly the same as mine...Part of this this 'self pity painting rant' is really a cathartic strategy to actually start painting
Jane Boyer: I hope I can accompany you sometimes on the journey...
Exhibition opportunities/ meeting people:
Jane Boyer: Hello Rosalind my name is Jane Boyer and I also have a blog here on a-n. First let me congratulate you on the success of Core Gallery - it is a real achievement...I am very intrigued by your work and would enjoy discussing issues with you...
Rosalind Davis: More than happy to talk!
Rosalind's blog: There is also another new and exciting development. Core Gallery has a new member, an overseas associate, Jane Boyer who I met through our blogs here... Jane is coming on board to assist us and we are most grateful and lucky for this. Jane is going to help us on a variety of levels and we are planning to make the gallery more sustainable and we are all going to work on a funding strategy so we can implement a proper educational programme.
Rosalind Davis: The Director of Arnolfini has posted this on their website. May be of use...
Why the Arts Matter, Key Facts:
- The UK has the largest cultural economy in the world relative to GDP.
- Every £1 invested in culture produces £2.
- In the last 10 years, the creative and cultural industries have grown faster than any other sector, accounting for 2 million jobs and £16.6 billion of exports in 2007.
- Eight of the UK's top ten visitor attractions are museums.
- More people go to museums than football matches...
Emily Speed: Good stuff. Love a few facts to back myself up with... thanks!
Exhibitions/ knowledge of artists/ readings/ ways of seeing:
Jane Boyer: When I was in London, I saw two exhibitions which were focused on body as symbol, one sculpture and one painting, both media espoused to be 'dead':
1. Rachel Kneebone at White Cube: 2. G.L. Brierley at Madder 139:
These paintings were exquisitely crafted. And I think perhaps Brierley was poking fun at our propensity to see all bodies as overtly sexed and freakish. Her bodies were not the usual pleasure objects or objects of desire, but rather like stuffed toys for sex. Distorted body used to symbolize its own obsessions. So now it's back to you, Rob. What are your thoughts?
Rob Turner: 15th December: I will start my response with two examples of painting (or use of paint) which have shaped my whole approach to making art. A) The Ngurrara Canvas 10x8m 1997. B) The Hundertwasser House ...I find both totally awesome...
Discovering other artists' practice:
Aliceson Carter: I sent members of flickr that live & use film near the 23postal locations on the processing envelope, a roll of kodachrome. They are taking photographs of the address on the packet. They then post to Switzerland & kodak send it to Dwaynes Lab in Kansas, processing ends 30dec. I am also going to document Dwaynes & have my film processed in the last batch. WOWZER
Debate, discussion, discovery, promotion, empathy, support, exhibitions, personal professional development, meeting people, friendships, sharing of information - are all things which like in art school, happen on a weekly basis on Artists talking. These few example excerpts of comments and blogs indicate that providing there is a space - physical or virtual - where like-minded people can meet, art education through conversation can happen anywhere.
As well as providing a space of community and therefore strength for the blogger, Artists talking also has the very unique and very real potential to permit an access point for non-artists or anyone wishing for a non-intimidating introduction to the subject - a way in. Similar to the way my friend entered our conversation at the pub, our friends, family, or anyone, can very easily log-on to see artists (who make those seemingly unintelligible objects!) openly discussing their ideas, and processes. And this may allow shed some light.
For yourself and for every conversation you've ever had with someone trying to access your or other's art and failing; for all those times you yourself have looked at others art and felt intimidated but not said anything; for all those things in the art world you are baffled by and for all of those times you've felt isolated and wished their was someone who might empathise - write a blog. Write a blog, open up and be as honest about your ideas, processes and ups and downs as you can. Then encourage everyone to read it.
Q-Art London launched in November 2008 as a forum for critical exchange, networking and peer-review for visual art and visual culture students and graduates from across London’s major art schools. A potential ‘autonomous art school’ in the making, Q-Art London has been holding monthly convenors across London’s major art universities, inviting students to present and discuss work in a critical, peer-led environment.
First published: a-n.co.uk March 2011
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