What should a person consider when thinking about applying to Art School?

Painting Studio, Falmouth School of Art, 1972

A couple weeks back Stephen B. MacInnis asked this question and posted some good, intelligent replies…I was supposed to answer it too…but typically though I did write something down never got around to posting it in time.  Well here it is…

Where do I feel most comfortable making art

Where do I feel most uncomfortable making art

Where can I see comfortable art

Where can I see uncomfortable art

Where will I be able to swing a cat

Where will I be able to swing several cats

Where will I find a ready supply of cheap mice

Where will I be able to skin a cat (or mice)    note: I do not advocate actually skinning livestock of any kind.

Who will I find to talk to me about art

Who will I find to listen to me talk about art

Who will have anything to say about art

Have I anything to say about art

Where is the nearest crafts (wo)man

Where is the nearest technician

Where is the nearest historian/theorist

Do they know what they think they know

Does this place have a good;



Woodwork shop

Metalwork shop

Print shop


Can you see paint peeling on the walls

Is there a healthy level of rubbish lying around the studios

Are the H&S notices half hidden or torn

Is this place lived in

Am I a bit wacky

Is the candidate next to me a bit wacky

Is the tutor interviewing me a bit wacky

Is the Head of Faculty a bit wacky

Good Fortune 3

Wonky Geometry 4, Mixed Media, 60.5 x 51 cm., 1988


At long last I’m getting around to my recipe for turning the Art Schools back into Art Schools rather than University Departments…you’ll need to scroll back through this blog a few weeks and half a dozen posts to see why.

It was fascinating to hear the recent news of the student loan book, and the near certainty that it is soon to be likely that the whole ‘adventure’ will have a zero sum effect on the nation’s finances…i.e. it will have been a total waste of time.  So all the aggro and the bureaucracy and the politics will have been for nothing.  Maybe the politicians will wise up…and maybe they won’t.  Either way it makes a mockery of the idea that classical capitalist market ‘solutions’ do anything to improve a nation’s educational competence. And it suggests that the relentless focus on utilitarian ‘training’ at the expense of disinterested education for it’s own sake actually does the opposite of that intention. And on top of everything else how ironic that the politician leading all this had an old fashioned liberal education himself.  Rant over but what might be done to bring art education back to something approaching genuine value as opposed to an ersatz ‘R&D’ functionary status for the ‘creative industries’?

Of course I’ve already suggested that getting the Art Schools out of Universities is the key to all this but as that may be many years off or might never happen at all what are the alternatives? Here are some of my suggestions…

No overt modularity…I’ve wrestled with this for years but come to the conclusion that on balance modularity isn’t helping at all. It creates a legalistic and ‘de minimus’ mindset that isn’t conducive to a properly developed practice.

Formative feedback only and no graded assessment in year one…actually even a few Universities have flirted with this at Level 4 (that’s the first year of undergraduate study in ‘old’ money) and to my mind it’s fairly absurd grading art students in the first stage of a developing practice, at that early stage they need maximum latitude to try, fail, and try again.  In my book we would pass to fail on the trying aspect, not the achievement….a straight pass or fail… To properly embed the practice it would be good to take the focus on grades out of the equation altogether in this critical first year.

Compulsory grounding in Art since 1750… ‘the Canon’…at least a basic grasp of which can then form the jumping off point to begin consideration of what has happened over the past few decades…it might be counter much of the post-Duchampion bollocks that passes for a meaningful practice nowadays(as you can see I’m getting warmed up now).

At least 50% of teaching from 50% fractionals…let’s get back to having a goodly deal of the teaching from those who have a live, active, juicy and current practice.

Detailed media introductions across the board…conducted by skilled practitioners in their particular field of expertise (this one pretty inevitably linked to the point above I suspect).

Specific tuition in creative studio strategies…there’s a good deal of work might be done in this area, we currently expect students to emerge from a, in the main, regimented and streamlined utilitarian secondary education and start being fully fledged independent creative operatives…no wonder so many of them haven’t a clue where to start when they are dumped in the studio and pretty well much told just to get on with it.

Not the whole answer I suspect but it would be a decent starting point…

Wonky Geometry 5, Mixed Media, 60.5 x 51 cm., 1988