A trip to the past…

David Manley Avatar


reveals this rather lovely small (30 x 30 cm.) canvas…one of several quiet delicate and intriguing landscape notions at work in the degree show of Helen Sayer.  I was visiting the LUSAD show on recommendation from my pal who knows one of the graduating students on the 3D Design:New Practice programme (of which more later).  I nearly missed a large dose of the show erroneously imagining that the suite of rooms facing the entrance to Fine Art contained all those graduating…maybe twenty or so.  Wrong!  in the lobby a map reveals another 38 shows…so 58 in all (and the catalogue tells me this is a small cohort!).  It’s a trip to the past as I used to be both an occasional VL and latterly a governor at the ‘old’ LCAD – back then a sizeable cohort might be 30…and,of course, before time began (when I was a student myself) 15 was such a large cohort the 6 person academic team at my old college claimed they couldn’t give us a ‘proper’ education at all!  Although its been said plenty of times, and by those better qualified and more articulate than I, 58 is a huge number of students to deal with meaningfully without fracturing the delicate relationship twixt cohort and a tutor…I doubt I’d even remember them all…

IMG_9228Though I doubt I’d forget one as striking as Tayler Fisher’s (see above).  The sculptures, paintings and their soundtrack weren’t subtle or especially clever but they commanded attention sure enough.  To be certain there was ambition and hutzpah about the installation as a whole – I guess the reason he was ‘up front’ is fairly obvious – it set a good tone for the show as a whole.

As I wandered through the shows I mused further on this, and warming to my theme, return to another conundrum I’ve discussed endlessly with colleagues in HE of late.  Is the blessing of talent, ambition and application able to expand exponentially or are we just a little crazy to imagine that so many more young people of the current generation can be as creative as the now seemingly tiny fraction we put through – say – back in the year I graduated – 1973.  I once roughly calculated that in that year around 900 graduates of Fine Art emerged (actually back then we were mostly diplomates).  I don’t know the figure for this summer but I’d guess at roughly 4000 or so.  So what we are saying is that there’s four times the amount of creative talent in society (maybe three, given the overall population increase) that warrant this level of education (actually its way more than that – take photography for example, hardly a degree level course at all back then, now one of the most popular and populous courses out there) today.  I simply don’t get it and there’s scant evidence to support the idea that we have exponentially expanded our creativity (and I’m not singling out LUSAD here – it’s seems true everywhere).  I know there’s a perfectly respectable argument that most students are not going to be ‘successful’ artists (by which is usually meant of course, financially so) but that the ‘transferable skills’ will serve them well – and that works to a point.  In these shows there were were tattooists, cartoonists, gardeners, taxidermists etc. who may well be useful members of society though whether a fine art degree will have significantly improved their skills and knowledge of those business areas is debatable?


Of course the best shows amply demonstrated how this kind of free wheeling, open ended enquiry can produce (as it always has) some wonderfully interesting and intriguing visually driven objects.  Here, besides those I mentioned already, were solid and appealing artworks.  Painting has traditionally been strong at Loughborough and though the seam of academically driven work is weakening there are still intriguing pieces to be found.  I liked Katharine Simmons installed painting sequence (above) and I was also drawn to Tristan Bridge’s distorted electricity pylons, though he will need to move on swiftly if not to become a one trick pony.  Nonetheless a canny looking piece.


Given the dispersal of the shows across the site I nearly missed another good show – this one from Megan Smith.  Deceptively simple, perhaps owing something to Eric Bainbridge or that peculiar strain of British sculpture of the 70’s (think of David King or Gerard Wilson), these pieces had a lazy elegance that betrayed some tough thinking in the conception and the execution. It was a tasty installation, consistent and clever (see below).


Also to be mentioned in dispatches, Laura McDonald’s animation and video work showed a conceptual maturity and a flair for presentation.  The way the work was installed…very theatrically for the animation and very coolly for the video…was most intelligently thought through.  Although not an area of practice I easily warm to it was nevertheless amongst the best work on offer.


The same might be said of  Isobelle Jones’s comic assemblage sculptural pieces.  Though I usually find this kind of figurative and narrative work less than convincing here the chaotic and deliberately clashing of material conventions worked so well and the quality of observation of the human condition was so acute I was completely won over.


So this was a show with some solid strengths – though you’d expect that – after all, LUSAD is consistently cited in the various league tables as a leading school and certainly attracts some of the best talent out there.  But there were a lot of shows that, at best, were ordinary and even some that were pretty weak too.  I should stress that I’m not trying to single out LUSAD as I’m damn sure a visit to the other courses in my neck of the woods would expose the same breadth of quality (more or less).  But it does seem to me that we are rapidly approaching a sort of critical point in the way we conceptualise what a fine art degree is, its purpose, and its fitness for that purpose, that chimes and maps onto the wider crisis in fine art itself in defining a meaning and purpose in the plurality of the post technology world we are pitching headlong into.

As I mentioned at the outset of this…it’s a wee bit ironic that at a time when the questions of what is, and what the purpose might be, of fine art; the rapid decline in the applied arts continues apace.  3D Design:New Practice is the ungainly, windy title of what is the combination of the Ceramics, Jewellery & Furniture courses that LCAD offered (and were widely admired across the HE A&D sector) “back in the day”.  You can’t blame the institution, everyone has done it (I even presided over something similar back when I ran a Faculty) and indeed it may be the only way to keep craft skills and intellect on the agenda at all.  But it all adds to the impression that the much vaunted and lauded ‘creative industries’ agenda that governments of all stripe over the past decade or so have trumpeted extends only to the digital and not to making by hand.  When the oil runs out and the few turbines and endlessly delayed French/Chinese Nuclear power stations we (might) have fail to keep up with demand the absence of the same may seem to be a tad unfortunate.





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