work through a whole series of changes, or even stylistic developments, today. Today artists, like boxers for example, have to get it right first time and hope that they can pay the bills for the rest of their lives.
PB: If you want to succeed in the art world, you can’t have a career without having a practice, but you can have a practice without a career. ❚
This extract is from a conversation that took place at Spike Island in Bristol on October 27, 2007. The full transcript can be found at www.artmonthly.co.uk/ pastevents.htm
■ We haven’t taught you anything you didn’t already know Select the most appropriate answer: Strongly Agree, Agree, Don’t Know, Disagree, Strongly Disagree.
The only legitimate opinions about art education anywhere – not simply the UK – must come from the mouths of students, not from the stock of ornamented fantasies of ‘teaching and learning’ invented by educational handlers who have long ago given up on being anything but clerks dedicated to sucking the life out of any evidence of optimism, creativity and fun that might emerge, against all odds, in the dank recesses of those illdesigned and ill-lit architectural monstrosities that pass for studios, workshops and common rooms. We all know what the students say: we want better and we want more. And they should have better and more – and fast. But society doesn’t work like that. All the stakeholders must have a go at negotiating the future of the landscape in order to decide what kind of educational opportunity will be on offer. So the travesty of student satisfaction surveys and league tables showing excellence in ‘teaching and learning’ will continue to convince some that the voices of students have been heard. In the end, what will art education look like? Will it be an experience based on the model of the liberal arts, or a curriculum tied to the needs of business? What do the experts in ‘teaching and learning’, the deans, have to say? The Group for Learning in Art and Design (GLAD) – 50 academics managing and teaching art and design in higher education – have already stamped our existing programmes ‘not fit for purpose’.1
According to GLAD, art and design education must reflect ‘the multi-disciplinary nature of the creative industries’. Professor Linda Drew, dean of academic development at the University of the Arts London, is the editor of this study. I have not read the study in full, but my gut feeling is that GLAD is trying to put a brave face on the hard facts of art and design recruitment. Every lecturer knows that recruitment in fine art is falling; what sur
prised me was the fact that undergraduate design enrolment fell for the first time in seven years. During the early 80s, fine art departments in universities experienced a similar decline in enrolment, yet graphic design and advertising design courses saved the day, paying the bills that would enable smaller fine art cohorts to continue to exist. Will this scenario be repeated? We need to see the figures! Actually, the fall in absolute numbers entering art and design is not a surprise to all lecturers teaching outside London. Vice-chancellors are well aware of the looming demographic disaster and anticipate a big fall in student numbers by 2012. There simply will not be enough university-age students in the pool in the UK. Pretty soon, all that will be left in the provinces is post-1992 universities with a business school and a school of art, media and design. (Or maybe just a school of creative industries?) So, when Drew tells us something we already know – ‘the creative industries have changed dramatically and so must we’ – we should consider the other facts we know as well. It is simply not the case that ‘art education is at risk of becoming conservative’; rather, art education is in danger of becoming extinct in the context of liberal education. Why? Because these are the features of the current crisis: unfavourable demographics for higher education in general and the prospect of negative economic growth. Higher education in the UK twitches whenever the charge of ‘elitism’ or social irrelevance is raised. It’s a good stick, and the state wields it well. And why not, you should ask. Apart from one or two private institutions, it is the state that provides the core funding for higher education and academic research. This means that educational policy at all levels is constantly reminded of its social responsibility, constantly placed in proximity to an agenda not of its own making. The argument for liberal art and humanities used to be the defence against the total instrumentalisation of higher education. Muckrakers of the early 20th Century, like the American novelist Upton Sinclair, exposed and criticised the connection between ‘big business’ and academia. Today, the first thought of the academic is sponsorship. I say, let the creative industries pay a fair share of the bill for educating highly skilled, well-trained graduates in art and design. Have they ever? More worrying is the state of the economy; the question of art education cannot be addressed in isolation from that. The economy and educational policy both run in cycles, but it is education that stands to lose more and more of its autonomy as arguments that tie it more firmly to the economy become increasingly persuasive. Since I have been engaged in higher education, there have been four recessionary cycles, including the current downturn. Hard economic times always force people entering higher education to make difficult choices. Today’s recessionary climate will encourage middle-class tuition-paying students to do likewise – that is, to choose the most costeffective degree outcome. That working-class students will face a much starker choice should be clear. New Labour’s target of 50% of university-aged students in higher education, proposed long before recession was in the air, has not been met. Ironically, that figure is beginning to look
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