Alongside my casual chatting with colleagues I had plenty of time to think over the issue of Art departments in Universities whilst sitting and listening to a presentation on Employability at a local University one lunchtime a week ago. It was a fairly typical delivery with an hour of bite sized contributions from the Vice-Chancellor, one of the Pro Vice-Chancellor’s, a couple departmental Heads and five current or recent graduates with their respective stories of the journey into employment. In parts very good and overall very workmanlike (geddit?). And this is one of the best Uni’s in the Midlands at this side of the business.
But hardly inspirational nor I felt getting at some of inherent contradictions in it. After all if institutions are ‘teaching’ creativity, flexibility, e
ntrepreneurialism and so on how come such a panoply of support systems (especially those that spoonfeed…) are required? It also struck me that for most students (certainly those from medium or low income family backgrounds) the world of work has already taken huge bite-sized chucks out of them long before their studies are completed – chunks of soul destroying badly paid service sector jobs that help pay their way through studies that often take a poor second place to the necessary crust earning.
And that for me at least, is the ‘nub’ of the problem for art students. Where once a bit of part-time work was a supplement to the basics that could be fitted in around the practice now it takes a disproportionate slice of the pie. I count myself to have had immense good fortune to have been able to go through most of my art education in such a manner. Of course the external climate is far more hostile too and this relentless focus on the ’employability’ and associated utilitarian agendas inevitably creates a deleterious effect on what has always been the activity that sits atop the economic condition of any society.
How it can be accommodated and what might be done to create a better condition for the Fine arts education within our current circumstances is what I’m thinking most about and to which I will return…but not until I’ve taken a week out to go off to New York City!