I’ve had a few discussions about Art departments in Universities over the past two weeks. It seems to be a topic that’s in the air of late with the advent of several ‘free’ art schools and the (relatively recent) liberalisation of University designation in the UK that has allowed yet more institutions to gain the title (including a number of specialist Art & Design HE venues). Amongst many of us there is a growing distress at the way in which the academic environment occasions a culture clash with what, for many artists, is the ethos of Fine Art.
The counter claim (and I think a fair few of our colleagues may support this view) is of course that we have gained a great deal from the current arrangements, not least a share of the research cake and a stronger context in which to operate. I don’t doubt the truth of this (at least in the better organised institutions) but nonetheless the disadvantages out weigh the gains for me. I’d stress that this is no rose-tinted view of the past though there is undoubtedly some nostalgia bound up in the perspective. But it’s interesting to me that an artist several generations younger than me such as Ryan Gander is aiming to set up a ‘free’ PG environment. I keep threatening to myself to disinter the old Patrick Heron piece in the Guardian/Telegraph newspapers in 1971 and the corresponding flood of letters (both for and, it has to be said, against) that argued out the demerits of art schools being incorporated into the then ‘polytechnics’. The words of ‘Nibs’ Dalwood in his response maybe chimes with the situation today – “they [the Poly’s or now Uni’s] are too big, too static, too institutional, too degree-orientated and too stupid to ever be the natural habitat of practising artists and designers”. Strong words maybe but not entirely off the mark.
It’s a theme I’ll develop in this blog over a next few weeks alongside some of this ‘Wonky Geometry’ that seems a good metaphor for the way in which the Art School at its best operates as a counterweight to the way in which ‘new’ Universities seek to homogenize the educational experience and shoehorn it into a utilitarian purpose.