In this essay, written in 2014 during her first year teaching at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art & Design, Harrison surveys the troubled global landscape of higher education and sketches out her vision for The Art School of the 21st Century. (Word count: 5,668)
- Frontispiece “Bureaucracy makes parasites of us all”
- THE ART SCHOOL HANDBOOK
- Continual Change is the Only Constant
- Academic Capitalism
- Absurd Consequences
- Critical Pedagogy
- All Schools Should Be Art Schools
- The Art School in the Art School
- What Is To Be Done?
- ART, TECHNOLOGY, SOCIETY: THE ART SCHOOL OF THE 21ST CENTURY
- Understanding New Technologies
- Learning about other Disciplines
- Engaging with Society
- Time and Space for Thinking and Discussion
- Appendix 1: Academic Capitalism
- Appendix 2: The Art School in the Art School
It was on April Fools’ Day 2013, perhaps appropriately, that I began my new ‘career’ in academia, having been appointed Lecturer (Teaching & Research) 0.5 FTE in Contemporary Art Practices at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art & Design (DJCAD) at the University of Dundee. One of the requirements of my ‘probation’, which lasts three-and-a-half years until 30 September 2016, was to undertake the first module of the Postgraduate Certificate in Teaching in Higher Education, called ‘Facilitating Learning’. Despite the extra workload this entailed, I was pleased to have the opportunity to complete my first formal teacher training – to reflect on my teaching practice to date and to identify, consolidate and build upon my pedagogical ideas, most of which have been developed over the last decade by reviewing my own experiences as a student in three different art schools: Nottingham Trent University (1998-2001), Goldsmiths College in London (2002-03) and Glasgow School of Art (2008-10).
I was also determined that my research and writing for the Facilitating Learning course help me to make sense of my new dual role as a ‘teacher’ (educator) and ‘researcher’ (knowledge producer) within the Higher Education system – globally, in Europe, in the UK and in Scotland – and then more specifically within the institution in which I am now based. By exploring the values of an art school education, I hoped to reassert my belief in its importance, the necessity to struggle to safeguard it and to set out a realistic plan of what it would be possible for me (and my colleagues) to achieve at DJCAD, both in the short- and long-term.
This text is in two parts. The first part (The Art School Handbook) sets the scene and provides a grounding philosophy for my teaching and ‘research’ in relation to the wider values that I hold and my practice as an artist. It concludes with some simple ways I can implement my new ideas about what constitutes ‘good teaching practice’ within the constraints of the existing courses in the Art & Media department. The second part (Art, Technology, Society: The Art School of the 21st Century) looks to the future, analysing the ways in which the world is changing to propose ideas for how the art school should evolve in order to meet the changing needs of different and diverse groups of students, and society in general.
Frontispiece: “Bureaucracy makes parasites of us all” – screen print by students and staff of Hornsey College of Art, produced during their six-week occupation of the college from May 1968, in which they attempted to reassert “the age old ideal of the university as a community of learning”. They were motivated by the belief “that education should be relevant and joyous” [emphases added]… and not “insulated from the problems of the contemporary world.” (Hornsey College of Art 1969)
THE ART SCHOOL HANDBOOK
Continual Change is the Only Constant
When Donald Clark says there has been more pedagogic change in the last ten years than there was in the whole previous millennium (Clark 2012), he is talking specifically about the implications for teaching and learning of new networked technologies. I intend to examine the pros and cons of these more closely in the second part of this text (Art, Technology, Society: The Art School of the 21st Century). Before that, I must address the other dramatic changes within Higher Education that have unfolded in a similar time frame. Changes which are arguably the result of the same ‘free-market forces’ that have driven all this technological ‘innovation’ – but changes which are, alas, not cause for such optimism.
In ‘Pedagogic Projects: ‘How do you bring a classroom to life as if it were a work of art?’’ – a chapter in her recent book Artificial Hells, art historian and critic Claire Bishop sketches an alarming picture of what she refers to as ‘academic capitalism’:
“Professional academia in the UK, and increasingly in Europe, has since the 1980s become increasingly subject to the continual withdrawal of government subsidies, leading Higher Education to operate within a business framework. Entrepreneurial research activities, encouraging partnerships with industry, increased student participation at lower national cost, and incentivising the recruitment of high-fee-paying overseas students all led to the encroachment of the profit motive into the university…” (Bishop 2012 p.268)
It is within this context that I begin my teaching career, and so I intend to use the first part of this text (The Art School Handbook) to work out how I can best negotiate my way through this landscape of increased external pressures and conflicting demands. I am not interested in learning how to ‘play the system’ (as much of the literature seems to advocate (Ketteridge et al. 2002)), but in working out how I can carve out just enough space within it where I can still operate with integrity and focus on creating “experimental content and delivery”, which allows for the “epistemological inquiry for its own sake” (Bishop 2012, p.269) that I believe has the potential to be truly liberating.
At least we are still protected from the worst of this ruthless marketisation of Higher Education in Scotland (where tuition fees were abolished in 2000 following the devolution of power from Westminster). In fact, I chose to make my home in this country precisely because it feels like less of an ethical compromise to be employed as a teacher within a system that still “believe[s] access to education should be based on ability to learn, not ability to pay” (Hyslop 2008) and one which has made significant commitments to widening access to diverse and disadvantaged students over the last few years (Universities Scotland 2012).
There are, however, many aspects of Claire Bishop’s sketch (see full quote in Appendix 1) that are still sadly recognisable from my experience of teaching at DJCAD – an independent art school until 1994 – now subsumed as one of four ‘schools’ within the College of Science, Art and Engineering (one of four ‘colleges’) at the University of Dundee (UoD n.d.). Nowhere more so, than in the University’s perverse prioritisation of a certain kind of ‘research’ over its teaching, as it ‘competes’ with other universities to win funds from the only pot of money available to Scottish Universities, which is still controlled by Westminster: via the UK’s Research Councils (Collini 2013, p.12).
The super-bureaucratic systems which have been recently introduced to “control research at the input stage by resource allocation conditions” (Collini 2013, p.12) are having many absurd consequences – negatively impacting on staff, who are actually proven to be more productive the more autonomy they are allowed (Brown & Carasso 2013), and on the educational experience of students, as well as on the sort knowledge being produced. As Claire Bishop explains:
“…the key currency in today’s university… is no longer culture or moral values [emphases added] but a de-referentialised concept of ‘excellence’: it doesn’t matter what is being taught or researched, only that it is being done ‘excellently’.” (Bishop 2012, p.268)
These problems seem even more acute within art schools that are now part of larger university institutions, as the standardised methods of accounting for the social and economic ‘impact’ of scientific research are forced upon creative practitioners, whose work may be far more speculative and, indeed, more personal. Writing in the London Review of Books about the marketisation of Higher Education last year, Stefan Collini highlights the actual ‘impact’ these processes are having on staff:
“The logic of punitive quantification is to reduce all activity to a common managerial metric. The activities of thinking and understanding are inherently resistant to being adequately characterised in this way. This is part of the explanation for the pervasive sense of malaise, stress and disenchantment within British universities… It is the alienation from oneself that is experienced by those who are forced to describe their activities in misleading terms… scholars now spend a considerable, and increasing, part of their working day accounting for their activities in the managers’ terms. The true use-value [emphases added] of scholarly labour can seem to have been squeezed out; only the exchange-value of the commodities produced, as measured by the metrics, remains.” (Collini 2013, p.12)
I have been working as an artist for over a decade (which I now continue alongside my current fractional post at DJCAD). The process of ‘self-reflection’ suggested by the Facilitating Learning course (Cowan, 2006) is one, therefore, that I am familiar with. I continually reassess my previous work alongside my current interests and concerns, in order to work out how the ‘use-value’ of my practice can best align with the wider values that I hold and my aspirations for greater social, economic and environmental justice. I explored this process in my 2012 essay ‘Counter-Hegemonic Propaganda Machine’, a manifesto of sorts, written for The Art of Life: Understanding How Participation in Arts & Culture Can Affect Our Values – a report published by Common Cause (Harrison 2013a). I thought I had it all worked out, and yet, two years later, having begun my first tenured academic post with ‘research responsibilities’, my exceptionally personal area of enquiry is now subject to co-option and coercion by other more questionable agendas.
In ‘Rebel Without a Course’ (a polemic published in Art Monthly about the proliferation of practice-based PhDs within art schools over the last decade), Peter Suchin is scathing about the actual ‘impact’ this professionalisation and commodification of an artist’s ‘research’ can have on the integrity of the work they produce:
“In order to fulfil the criteria in any meaningful way… the fine art researcher will almost inevitably be drawn away from any meaningful practice… All fine art involves research at some level… ‘though the form it takes may not be quantifiable by any conventional, assessable criteria’ [Patricia Bickers]… [Artists] ‘must be resistant to certain kinds of co-option’ [Michael Baldwin]. This idea of an artistic and politically vigilant mode of investigation [emphasis added] is compatible neither with science nor with mainstream education, nor does it align itself with government schemes in which so-called research is remunerated according to a pseudo-Masonic hierarchy and distribution of funds.” (Suchin 2011, p.12–14)
For me the conundrum of how, or indeed, whether to work in this context feels even greater since, over the last year, I have begun to conceive of the consistent driving force for all my ‘research’ (as an ‘artist’, an ‘activist’ and now also an ‘academic’) being “to investigate, expose and challenge the absurd consequences of our capitalist system, and the impact ‘free-market forces’ are having on our society and individual day-to-day lives” (Harrison 2013b). Now – having firsthand experience of the ongoing struggles of my Union at the University of Dundee against the managers’ proposals to begin strategically axing all teaching staff without ‘research contracts’ (in the College of Life Sciences and the College of Medicine, Dentistry & Nursing) (Aitken 2014) – I see no greater absurdity than that of a University which, in the ruthless pursuit of funding through a dysfunctional system, completely sidelines the educational experience of its students: its essential raison d’être.
The outcome of discovering all this and of having the opportunity allowed by the Facilitating Learning course to really research and reflect on pedagogical practice, has been to renew my enthusiasm in the power of education to effect real tangible change in people’s lives, and, in developing my role as ‘teacher’ over that of an academic ‘researcher’. For it is within the tradition of Critical Pedagogy (Sternfeld 2010, p.4) where I am able to find an area of work, which has a ‘use-value’ that does align with the wider values that I hold and my aspirations for affecting positive social change.
In his inspiring Foreword for the English edition of Paulo Freire’s influential 1968 book Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Richard Shaull writes:
“Education either functions as an instrument which is used to facilitate the integration of the younger generation into the logic of the present system and bring about conformity to it, or it becomes ‘the practice of freedom’, the means by which men and women deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world [emphases added].” (Shaull 1972, p.13–14)
Although Freire wrote the book in response to the oppression of “illiterate peasants” in Brazil, Shaull outlines how the “culture of silence” experienced by the poor of the developing world has parallels in “advanced technological society” that is “rapidly making objects of most of us and subtly programming us into conformity to the logic of its system” (Shaull 1972, p.13). For the reasons outlined above and for those explored in more detail in the second part of this text (Art, Technology, Society: The Art School of the 21st Century), it is this vision of education – with its inherent emancipatory potential – which I intend to make central to my personal “philosophy of teaching” (UCAT n.d.). Returning to this literature and continuing to research other contemporary theories of Critical Pedagogy, will help provide the “stability, continuity, and long-term guidance” that I need as I embark on my teaching career, enabling me to “remain focussed” on my “teaching goals and to appreciate the personal and professional rewards of teaching.” (Goodyear & Allchin 1998, p.106–107)
All Schools Should Be Art Schools
Discovering the tradition of Critical Pedagogy has also helped reaffirm my belief in the importance of the art school education, which, as I stated in the interview for my current post, I still believe “has the potential to offer young people the best possible start in life” (Harrison 2012). For it is only the art school education which places such an emphasis on the dual importance of the development of both the ‘critical’ and the ‘creative’ skills, which will enable young people to “discover how to participate in the transformation of their world” (Shaull 1972, p.14). I have since adopted artist Bob & Roberta Smith’s motto “all schools should be art schools” (Bob & Roberta Smith 2013) as my own and am committed to the struggle to safeguard them.
Given the revolutionary potential of the art school environment and the possibilities for ‘the practice of freedom’ it allows, it is no wonder it has born the brunt of such stringent attacks over the last few years from those in power keen to maintain the status quo – to the extent that in autumn 2010 the block grant made to support the costs of teaching in English universities was abolished entirely for Band C and Band D subjects, which includes the arts, humanities and social sciences (Collini 2013, p.6). Some have reacted to these attacks (in England primarily) by starting new ‘free’ institutions (in both sense of the word) beyond the constraints of the Higher Education system altogether (Free University Brighton 2013). Indeed, Claire Bishop cites the rise of ‘academic capitalism’ as one of key reasons for the current ‘educational turn’ in the art world as more artists and curators seek to produce participatory ‘pedagogic projects’ outside the established education system, which offer the potential for greater social impact than conventional exhibitions (Bishop 2012, p.241).
Illustration: “All schools should be art schools” – badge by artist Bob & Roberta Smith, distributed at The Art Party Conference in November 2013 in protest against “spending cuts and changes to the education system.” (Bob & Roberta Smith 2013)
The Art School in the Art School
There are others, however, (which it seems most relevant to highlight here), who have responded by proposing and / or implementing ‘micro-institutions’, which operate within the confines of existing structures, simultaneously offering both searing critique and real positive and practical solutions. In 2009, Joanna Spitzner, artist and Professor of Art, Design & Transmedia at Syracuse University in America, launched an experimental project The Art School in the Art School, which she continues to run today. She describes the project as existing “in relation (opposition, subversion, supplement, mimicry) to Syracuse University’s School of Art and Design, which embodies typical US art school and university educational practices” (Spitzner 2009). With aims not dissimilar to those of the students and staff at Hornsey College of Art (Hornsey College of Art 1969), Spitzner’s art school attempts to re-claim the power of education by generating “a creative and intellectual community through an open school / open source structure” [emphasis added]:
“Through activities such as classes, discussions, forming groups of interest, reading groups, critique groups, workshops, eating and drinking, publishing, and making, The Art School in the Art School seeks to create an experimental environment for shared inquiry. All events are FREE and open to the public.” (Spitzner 2009) (See full quote in Appendix 2)
Similarly, in her article for e-flux Journal’s ‘education special’ (published to mourn the 10 year anniversary of the Bologna Process), Irit Rogoff, Professor of Visual Cultures at Goldsmiths College in London, proposed the idea of a new institution Goldsmiths Free (Rogoff 2010, p.1). By offering a radically different point of entry: “free of fees and [need for] previous qualifications”, and a radically different modus operandi: “not degree-based, unexamined, not subject to the state’s mechanisms of monitoring and assessment”, Goldsmiths Free would allow for a new kind of knowledge to be generated, which would not be “framed by disciplinary and thematic orders” (Rogoff 2010, p.1). Again echoing the demands of the students and staff at Hornsey College of Art (Hornsey College of Art 1969), Goldsmiths Free would create knowledge “in relation to an urgent issue… the pressures and struggles of contemporaneity” – knowledge that “does rather than is” (Rogoff 2010, p.1).
What Is To Be Done?
And so, it is in this fashion that I will approach my new teaching role at DJCAD, creating my own conceptual ‘micro-institution’ within which to frame my teaching practice. To conclude this text, I want to focus on some simple ways in which I can implement these ideas within the constraints of the existing courses in the Art & Media department, focussing specifically on my role as the ‘Personal Tutor’.
For the last year (2013-14), I have been Personal Tutor to a group of fourteen Level 4 Fine Art students. The timetables I was issued for semester 1 and 2 indicate one day’s teaching with them each week. The convention within the department is to use this day for individual tutorials. This requires spending the whole day on a tight schedule, moving from studio to studio, and only allows 20 minutes contact time with each student. Because the students are so used to these tutorials (as they happen most weeks), they do not prepare thoroughly or take time to reflect on the discussions in order to take full advantage of the experience.
In the meeting I held with the Head of the Art & Media department on 11 March 2014, I was assured that I can use these teaching days differently and so I plan to experiment with a much more diverse timetable next year, which makes use of ‘Active Learning’ techniques. The evidence for which shows that the more you allow students involvement and self-determination in planning their learning and preparing content for teaching sessions, the more they learn from the process (Petty 2004). My hope is that this more open and less hierarchical approach will also help to build the “community of learning” (Hornsey College of Art 1969) and the “experimental environment for shared inquiry” (Spitzner 2009) which the radical examples I have cited call for (see the full list of aims of The Art School in the Art School in Appendix 2). Using a carefully planned Orientation Day at the start of the year, I hope to encourage the development of a strong peer learning group in which mutual support is offered and knowledge co-produced.
The aim of Orientation Day will be to introduce ourselves, get to know each other and collectively agree on the timetable for the rest of the semester. We will discuss and decide on the values of the group and draft some ground rules for participation. Depending on which year group I am working with, this may involve splitting the group into two smaller ‘groups of interest’ (of approximately seven students) in which discussions can be less intimidating and more productive. We will agree on clear channels of communication that are accessible to all students (email or social networking, regular meet up times, offices hours etc.), which will allow for peer-to-peer support and sharing of ideas, as much as teacher – student delivery. I hope to conduct this meeting in a completely open and transparent way in which the pedagogical ideas being trialled are discussed, as well as the wider context of the art college within the ‘art world’ and society in general, so that they are “not insulated from the problems of the contemporary world” (Hornsey College of Art 1969) and are encouraged to engage with, think critically about and directly respond to the realities facing them in their lives. I will share my experiences and methods for researching and practising as an artist, to get the students to think more about what tools and skills they need to develop in order to become “self-directed learners” themselves (Grow 1996). I will propose some ideas for our timetable, which will revolve around a weekly group discussion and screening programme. Rather than just selecting content (texts / films) for the students every week, I will take inspiration from the “flipped classroom” (Knewton 2014) by helping them to research their own materials for these sessions, giving two students responsibility for preparing content each week.
In order to take account of students with diverse needs, I will still carry out individual tutorials (approximately two per semester). These will be longer than usual (half and hour or more) and there will be a much greater onus on the student preparing for these and reflecting afterwards. I will ask them to write a piece of text following the tutorial using prompts such as: what was discussed? How did you feel? What do you need to research further? These texts will help improve their writing skills, whilst also documenting their progress over the course of the year, and can be used as part of their submission for assessment, alongside the exhibition of their art work.
Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak cites the core aim of her teaching as making students “ready to listen” (Sternfeld 2010, p.9). I hope that this can be achieved by encouraging communication and social skills, the sharing of ideas and critical thinking, which will enable their ability to “thrive in an atmosphere of autonomy” that stage 4 learners demonstrate (Mehay 2010). These are all attributes which will be vital after graduation no matter what field students go into. But, whist they are still students, I aim to help create that all important “space of freedom and discovery” (Bishop 2012, p.269) and to facilitate their learning experience so that it is as “relevant and joyous” (Hornsey College of Art 1969) as possible.
ART, TECHNOLOGY, SOCIETY: THE ART SCHOOL OF THE 21ST CENTURY
One of the most striking things I have observed since teaching at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art & Design (DJCAD) (first on three month contract in 2012 and now in my current post over the last year), is the number of students who are suffering from mental health problems or who are researching and making art work about these issues. This is in marked contrast with what I remember of my time studying Fine Art at Nottingham Trent University, just over a decade ago (1998-2001). This is clearly not a mere anecdotal problem, or one particular to Dundee, as evidence shows that instances of anxiety, stress and depression have steadily increased over this period, particularly in young people, to the extent that “depression is now the condition most treated by the NHS”. (Fisher 2009, p.19)
As well as the isolation and disempowerment that results from the continual marketisation of Higher Education (and nearly every other aspect of our lives) – which presents our young people with “the crooked deal of high cost education exchanged for life long precarity” (Mute Editorial Collective 2011, p.6) and promotes a shift from active and empowered students, to passive consumers of education (outlined in the first part of this text The Art School Handbook) – I believe it is essential that we also address the role that technological developments have played in creating this “mental health plague”. (Fisher 2009, p.19)
There is currently much debate about the potential of new networked technologies to revolutionise education (Clark, 2012). However, the rush to embrace technology apparent in the recent proliferation of the ‘Massive Open Online Course’ (MOOC) (Montague 2014a), poses a threat to the physical space provided by university buildings (and the art school’s studio space), which provide the potential to be real life “communities of learning” (Hornsey College of Art 1969). The increasing shift of learning to online environments, dematerialises and atomises the educational experience to the detriment of our essential “social skills” and our ability to focus (Montague 2014b). Contributing to the recent ‘An Education Revolution?’ debate (Montague 2014b), writer Jay Griffiths outlines some of the potential side effects:
“The use of technology – for children above all – needs to be interrogated. The internet is unsurpassable as a way for the mind to follow its curiosity paths, taking new turns, following diversions, self-directing. But technology should answer yes to the question “is it convivial?”, in the specific sense that Ivan Illich defined in his seminal work Tools for Conviviality. Does this technology enhance freedom and autonomy? Does it aid imagination and promote creative relationships between people, and people and nature? Or does it reduce us to mere consumers?… Social scientist Juliet Schor shows that extensive screen time encourages consumerism, leading children to value money and brands. It induces depression, anxiety and low self-esteem, and harms children’s relationships.” (Griffiths 2014)
The purpose of the second part of this text (Art, Technology, Society: The Art School of the 21st Century) is not only to respond to these profound transformations happening on a global level, but also to contribute specifically to the current debate within DJCAD about the future of the Art & Media department. Given the pace at which new technologies are becoming omnipresent in all our lives, it is important that art schools continue to evolve in order to remain relevant. However, what is even more vital is that the art school begins to provide both the expert knowledge of, and critical distance from, technology, to enable its students to reflect on the way our increasing dependency on devices is affecting our individual well being and social bonds.
The art school of the 21st century must respond by re-framing its learning around the complex, but foundational relationship between art, technology and society. In encouraging an understanding of the way in which society drives technological ‘innovation’, which in turn affects the way society functions, it will become apparent what role art and artists can play. Within this environment, students will be able to make much better informed decisions about the media they choose to work with – appropriating, or consciously rejecting, technology in making their art work, in order to offer an essential critique of the society from which they have come.
There are elements of all three of the current ‘pathways’ in the Art & Media department (Art, Philosophy, Contemporary Practices, Time Based Art & Digital Film and Fine Art), which should be built upon in a new ‘Art, Technology, Society’ programme. In the meeting I held with my colleagues on 11 March 2014 to discuss the future of Art & Media, the two clear attractions of DJCAD at present were identified as its ‘interdisciplinary approach’ and the ‘studio space’ it makes available to its students. It is essential that the new Art, Technology, Society programme retain and develop both these things, alongside the suggestions below.
Understanding New Technologies
In her short paper on the history of the Time Based Art & Digital Film pathway, my colleague ‘cyber feminist’ Cornelia Solfrank identified its essential “experimental spirit” (Sollfrank 2013) – born from encouraging students to develop skills in emerging technologies, which allow them to propose and pioneer new ways of making art. In depth knowledge of how and why various technologies were developed, as well as important practical skills in open and accessible technologies (open source, DIY, hacker culture and creative commons) will enable students to become active participants, rather than passive consumers in the technological ‘revolution’ that is unfolding.
Learning about other Disciplines
In his essay Multidisciplinary Curricula, artist and educator Ernesto Pujol describes how the traditional media of the art school “photography, video, painting, drawing, sculpture… installation” must be made relevant to the contemporary world, by combining the learning of these practical skills with exposure to other disciplines: “conservation, ecology, environment, ethics, cultural anthropology, urban sociology, behavioural psychology, global political science, economics, robotics, media theory…” (Pujol 2009, p.5). This ‘interdisciplinary approach’ is evident in the ethos of the Art, Philosophy, Contemporary Practices pathway (in which students split study between the Philosophy and Art & Media departments at the University of Dundee). However, in the new Art, Technology, Society programme this must go further. As early as the 1960s, Roy Ascott promoted the learning of ‘systems theory’ and behavioural psychology within the art school on his famous Groundcourse, to give students a better understanding of themselves and the world around them. And, in the 1970s, Joseph Beuys founded his International University for Creativity & Interdisciplinary Research to ensure that “culture, sociology and economics were integrated as the foundations of an all encompassing creative-programme” (Bishop 2012, p.243). The understanding of economics seems ever more essential in today’s world in which increasing marketisation has made ‘money’ more dominant in many more aspects of our lives. It is here where we should be grateful that DJCAD is part of the larger institution of the University of Dundee – for the access it allows us to expertise in other fields. The new Art, Technology, Society programme must allow and encourage students to undertake modules in economics, ethics, philosophy, psychology (and any of the other disciplines listed above), to enable a more holistic understanding of the world and to help bring new ideas and knowledge back into their work in the studios and beyond.
Engaging with Society
In his essay Education by Infection, Boris Groys highlights the paradox of the art school (and education in general) – that it exists to prepare students for the ‘real world’, whilst simultaneously shielding them from its harsh realities (Groys 2009, p.27). Groys’s idea of ‘infection’ implies that repeated exposure to the real “pressures and struggles of contemporaneity” (Rogoff 2010, p.1), is essential for understanding the power of art in helping us to make better sense of injustice and communicating our response to it. As a way of integrating the much criticised ‘professional practice’ elements of art courses (often tacked on as an afterthought), the new Art, Technology, Society programme should develop a substantial ‘placement’ component within industry, the public sector, the arts or beyond. In the spirit of the Artist Placement Group project of the 1970s, which aimed to explore “the role of the artist within a wider social context” (Tate 2004), these placements would be approached as though ‘residencies’, where students do not simple work for an organisation, but observe and critique it from within. Researching and making work in response to their experiences, would give students ideas and inspiration about what meaningful role they might play in society in the future. Encouraging them to be similarly curious and critical in observing the other activities and employment they undertake outside the art school, will enable them to appreciate how all their experiences are relevant to the way in which they understand and interpret the world.
Time and Space for Thinking and Discussion
With all this work happening beyond the studios (online, in other departments and out in the wider world), it is inevitable that ‘efficiency experts’ at the University of Dundee will question the continued need for studio spaces in their current form. However, it is essential that we fight to safeguard them. There is a good reason why ‘studio space’ continues to be one of the greatest attractions of DJCAD at present, because this is the place for thinking and discussion, where “social skills” and “creative relationships” (Griffiths 2014) can flourish and conviviality abounds. In order to feel grounded and secure in an increasingly precarious world, students need a base where they can reconvene and discuss their experiences, to recover from ‘infection’ and contemplate how to respond. Individual tutorials, discussion groups, seminars and group critiques must remain a core component of the new Art, Technology, Society programme and they need real physical space in which to take place. No matter how advanced technology gets, it will never overcome the physicality of human life. We cannot upload students to the VLE! As the ‘Learning Pyramid’ demonstrates, the most effective way of learning anything is by “doing the real thing” (Petty 2004) and it is the studio that provides the safe place for students to experiment with materials and learn through making art works, which both succeed and fail. As well as encouraging students to understand and utilise new technologies, the new Art, Technology, Society programme must also encourage appreciation for the simple human interaction which takes place off screen and the irreplaceable social bonds this creates. As Cornelia Solfrank’s wise old professor once told her “we can turn a computer on, but we can also turn it off!” And so if students choose to develop and hone their skills in traditional analogue media (as many on the Fine Art pathway still do), it will not be through lack of imagination or lack of confidence to challenge the forms art can take, but will be a “free and autonomous” (Griffiths 2014) decision, which demonstrates a knowing rejection of the new technologies which are having such a profound impact on the way that we live.
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Appendix 1: Academic Capitalism
“‘Academic Capitalism’ leads to changes in the roles of both students and teachers, and affects both the aesthetic and ethos of an educational experience… Learning outcomes, assessment criteria, quality assurance, surveys, reports, and a comprehensive paper trail (to combat potentially litigious students) are all more important than experimental content and delivery. Assessment must fit standardised procedures that allow credit points to be comparable across all subjects in the university – and with the introduction of the Bologna Process (1999), to be equivalent across Europe. In the UK, the introduction of tuition fees in the [late] 1990s and the replacement of student grants by loans has rapidly turned students into consumers. Education is increasingly a financial investment, rather than a creative space of freedom and discovery; a career move, rather than a place of epistemological inquiry for its own sake [emphases added]. Ostensibly in the name of protecting students rights, laborious measures of control have been introduced that submit students and teachers to an exhaustive training in bureaucracy: all students in UK universities today (including art students) have to fill out compulsory ‘Personal Development Plans’ to address their career development – a mechanism to ensure that emerging artists and scholars always keep an eye on developing ‘transferable skills’ for a future ‘knowledge economy’. In other words, the contemporary university seems increasingly to train subjects for a life under global capitalism, initiating students into a lifetime of debt, while coercing staff into ever more burdensome forms of administrative accountability and disciplinary monitoring. More than ever, education is a core ‘ideological state apparatus’ through which lives are shaped and managed to dance in step with the dominant tune.” (Bishop 2012, p.268–269)
Appendix 2: The Art School in the Art School
The AS in The AS is a platform for self-organization: its activities are generated through suggestions, proposals, conversations, and finding ways to make things happen. In her essay ‘A Pedagogical Turn: Brief Notes on Education as Art’ (Podesva, 2007) Kristina Lee Podesva describes some aspects I would like to explore with The AS in the AS. I will simply quote her here:
1. A school structure that operates as a social medium
2. A dependence on collaborative production
3. A tendency toward process (versus object) based production
4. An aleatory or open nature
5. An ongoing and potentially endless temporality
6. A free space for learning
7. A post-hierarchical learning environment where there are no teachers, just co-participants
8. A preference for exploratory, experimental, and multi-disciplinary approaches to knowledge production
9. An awareness of the instrumentalisation of the academy
10. A virtual space for the communication and distribution of ideas (Spitzner 2009)