summer. The Alien watched them from within the glass-fronted shop, as a sea creature might watch from an aquarium, seeing them pass and disappear into the mist. ❚
All quotes from Ursula Le Guin, The Lathe of Heaven, Panther Science Fiction, London, 1971.
JAKI IRVINE is an artist currently living and working in Dublin. She has taught at Goldsmiths, Central St Martins and Dun Laoghaire Institute of Art, Design and Technology in Dublin.
Joseph Beuys destroyed all his college work, calling it his training work. And that is what I think we need, a healthy attitude; maybe instead of a degree show at the end, we should have a huge bonfire. ❚
TERRYSMITH is teaching fellow in drawing at the University of the Arts Wimbledon.
■ The art of learning One thing seems to be endemic in the whole culture of education today: the idea of assessment. There is more and more paperwork, no one wants to write it, no one seems to know what to do with it, and no one will ever read it. How did we get here? The story so far: in order to survive, art schools had to seek the protection of universities, but that protection came at a price. Like all mergers they can easily become takeovers. One of the costs of the acceptance of university systems is an assessment procedure that is wholly inappropriate for art education. There will come a point when more time is spent on the assessment of students than on teaching them. The BA classification system, despite all the safeguards, is really a form of self-assessment for the college. Let’s be honest, the degree in the outside world is next to useless, whatever grade is given. No museum director, gallery owner, critic or writer has the slightest interest in what grade is achieved. The only issue is if the students want to continue their education. I do not know if the grade system is important here – it should not be, students should be judged on merit. My first proposition is to make the degree a pass or fail. But there is a more dangerous outcome to this assessment system. Students know better than ever what the minimum requirements are for them to collect a degree, and make work that fits the assessment criteria. The result is that the work becomes standardised. Standardisation means mediocrity; mediocrity is the enemy of art. My second proposition: drop the dissertation. We are training artists not writers. And my third proposition, last but not least: abandon the degree show. I think it stunts growth and experimentation, forces an unnecessary anxiety and puts the emphasis on presentation and style rather than on substance and risk-taking. I feel very strongly that the energy and focus of the degree show distorts the whole art school experience. I think it is time now really to rethink everything. Students have less actual space; as a consequence I think they have less dream space. It is easy to forget what is the core activity at an art school. I think it is a place to experiment, to play, to be challenged and a place of magic.
■ Education: a mirror or a lamp? There are four constituents in higher education: students, teachers, facilities and curricula. You hear a lot about the first three. Student problems, faculty hiring and improving facilities are often in the news. Rarely do curriculum issues make the news unless they come from the religious right. ‘Intelligent design’ is design for the unintelligent, but at least it provides a debate about subjects and the methods of teaching them. Parents and prospective students of a college will know teachers’ names, ranks and qualifications. If a faculty member has achieved fame in his or her field, they will even know a bit about their professional life. But they will not know anything about the teacher’s pedagogical life. Nor will they enquire. They regard a syllabus like the owner’s manual of an automobile. Everyone has one but no one reads it. Parents may not know about pedagogy but they know real estate when they see it. So colleges parade their facilities. They commodify education in response to a society which is acquisitive but not inquisitive. A building with a colonnaded faççade goes down really well; it symbolises classical ideals. However, it should contain the latest in technology: cutting edge and classical are an ideal combination. Through these things, the complexity of education is simplified into images. If you ask anyone which of the four constituents is most important, they will answer the students – it seems obvious. If you ask what is the purpose of education, they will repeat, ‘the students’; they will answer ‘who’ to a question about ‘what’ and they will not notice that they have done so. They confuse recipient with content and product with purpose. And students are the product of education; they are a type of commodity that parents pay for. You see this vividly expressed at graduation ceremonies: the product even comes neatly wrapped in a cap and gown. It is difficult to imagine that any institution of higher education would base itself on transitory elements but many are doing so. In systematic terms, that is what students are. They come and go; and in the limited time they attend college they present a variable factor. In these formative years, students change frequently and continuously. These traits are valuable because they stir up the learning atmosphere. But to base education on them is highly questionable. At its best, education is about principles that embody lasting values, not temporary ones.
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