It was billed as ‘The Great British Art School Debate’, so when I was asked to report on this event for a-n I was expecting sparks to fly as the evening progressed. In the end, the reality was rather different.

Maybe that was partly because of the confusion surrounding the event’s remit. Organised by University of the Arts, Camberwell, and supported by the Enterprise Collective, it was described in the information I received as an ‘exploration of arts and entrepreneurship’. The published flyer suggested something different, declaring that ‘graduates will discuss the relationship between enterprise and the institution.’

The panel consisted of Sarah Rowles (Q-Art London), Tim Balaam (Hyperkit), Will Jarvis (The Sunday Painter) and Zoe Tynan Campbell (Stumped Studio). The advertised chair, Dean of Camberwell Natalie Brett, was replaced by Martyn Simpson, Associate Dean of Chelsea College of Arts. The audience was small, in part due to degree show commitments.

The discussion focused mainly on the conflict between the current corporate obsession for enterprise culture and allowing for the “immersed creative and ‘radical uselessness’”of art education. These opposing views have been sharpened with the rise in tuition fees, which puts more pressure on a results-oriented degree.

Questions arose about needing to put students in a situation where they understand and obtain the skills to equip them for the art world. Should art schools be more responsible for introducing artists to their‘industry’, so they can sustain their practice and approach their art career professionally?

Two Camberwell Drawing graduates said they felt the bridge had been made between art education and the art world, but talking to them after the debate they revealed that they had not heard of the Centre for Recent Drawing, had not been to the Jerwood Drawing Prize and had only been recently introduced to the Drawing Room Gallery. Is this perhaps a true reflection of the knowledge gap between art schools and art in the real world?

As an industry, the arts have to work twice as hard to convey their tangible worth and value, and I would agree with Martyn Simpson that there will have to be more “intelligent tracking of artists careers” and the “worth” that their art school education has brought to them.

Sarah Rowles of Q-Art London has done extensive research into art, art education and professional practice across theUK. Unfortunately, her informative research was not discussed at length as it became clear that this ‘debate’ was only operating as a London art school PR exercise.

On the whole, this was an uncritical discussion with a lack of independent voices on the panel and no investigation of the alternatives to the ‘Great British Art School.’ Yet there clearly is a debate that should be happening, one that must be widened out across arts sectors, artists, graduates and students. As part of this, there needs to be a conversation between regions, universities and the alternatives that are out there. But for that true debate to happen it needs to be in an independent space, not in an art school with its own agendas.

Further reading: CCA Glasgow director Francis Mckee on degree shows and art education Read on