Alternative art schools
The unnatural order of things
Terry Smith discusses the Experimental Art School.
I don't think there has ever been a Golden Age of art schools. They seem to me to have always been dogged with problems. Perhaps crisis is the natural state for any art school. In-fighting, political maneuvering - these all seem to be part and parcel of institutions that are never quite sure what they are meant to do. Students will learn as much from their fellow students as from any teaching; being in a community is probably the most important experience. Learning is not an art, it is a practice. If anyone decides to do something as well as they can, and just does it prolifically they will usually get better at that task; if they don't, then it's not for them. I think it's all very simple but perhaps that's my problem, I think everything is simple1.
In 1977 I took a year out from college between my second and third year. I decided to see every degree show I could around the country, together with fellow Goldsmiths student John Wallet. We visited as many art school final degree shows as possible. We saw most of them. The outcome was an article in Artscribe magazine called 'BA means goodbye'. This gave us a unique insight into the current art practices as expressed through the degree show. We met students and teachers and heard many stories - some good, some bad. In those days colleges were not linked by any national common consensus. They had distinct and different approaches. Making a choice about where to apply was as much about the philosophy of the course and its tutors as it was about the facilities they offered. Most of them were famous for something, either by the reputation of the teaching staff or by the particular bias of the school.2
I have been thinking seriously for years about creating a new model for an art school, (what artist hasn't). I have managed to meet and work with some very interesting people who have taught me a great deal3, and so I have amended my proposition many times to accommodate each new situation. Right now we are about to launch the Experimental Art School, quietly, in Venice, with Soundings4 and we are planning the first real project - a forty-eight hour event at Modern Art Oxford. The school is an open proposition - there is no centre, no building, no shape. We will simply inhabit spaces when we need them. It is vulnerable and insecure and disorganized, it is also risk-taking and ambitious. Its success or failure is of no consequence, it's what happens in between that's important.
The fact is my motivation for this proposition is not to create an art school where I am a teacher; I just want to be involved in a school where I can be a student.
1 There are many factors that are outside the educational systems that of course impact on the student experience. The latest government attack on education is just the most recent change to the entire education system. It seems clear that the cuts are ideologically based and not about insuring a strong educational experience for the future citizens of this country.
2 Maidstone was known for its video department; Goldsmiths and Nottingham famous for their conceptual aspect; whilst Leeds had a political agenda.
3 From Chloe Briggs, who is based in Paris, to the Islington Mill Art Academy in Manchester and in London with Sarah Rowles (Q-Art London) and Department 21 (RCA) and critical practice based at Chelsea.
4 Three days of discussions each morning during the opening days of the Biennial. This is in collaboration with Bill Furlong, Artquest, Q-Art London and the De La Warr Pavilion.
Terry Smith has exhibited internationally since the 1990s and in 2008 was given a Paul Hamlyn Foundation Award in recognition of a body of work that encompasses site-specific architectural interventions, video installations and sound works. In 2006 he formed workinprogress with Clare Fitzpatrick - a not-for-loss organisation dedicated to supporting experimental art. Smith's solo show 'Now and Then' opens at the John Hansard Gallery in Southampton in November.
First published: Research papers March 2011
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