What is Art School for?


What is Art School for?

As questions about contemporary art education abound — from the Houses of Parliament to artists’ studios — Liz Mitchell asked key art school representatives across the UK what they thought. The response was an unexpectedly impassioned debate, centred primarily on the concept of curiosity…

“You may think
That the Art College is very free and easy. But it is not.”

This statement was made nearly 50 years ago, by the Association of Members of Hornsey College of Art (1968). Earlier this year, it appeared in big vinyl lettering on a gallery wall at Manchester School of Art. I saw it in July, reviewing the exhibition We Want People Who Can Draw, and it has stayed with me ever since. The new academic year is just beginning at Manchester and with it, my second year teaching Contextualising Practice. The task is challenging and rewarding in equal measure; I am an art historian/curator by training, not a teacher or even an art practitioner. But since embarking on a part-time PhD three years ago, the art school has slowly seeped into my system. And with it, a question: what exactly is art school for?

We Want People Who Can Draw was organised by a small group of research students and lecturers. Its main audience was other students and lecturers. Its content included posters, pamphlets and ephemera that documented the unfolding of political activism in the art school during the 1960s and ‘70s. But the exhibition was not just a historical essay. Its curators were posing a challenge to the contemporary art school. In a world where education has become a product to be sold, where students are regarded as customers and learning is parcelled up into discrete units measured by commercial transferability, what kind of place has the art school become? And what is art education for?

“Go to free lectures (there are lots out there), club together with like-minded people and spend the tuition fee renting a studio instead”…..


Read the rest of the article on The Double Negative website: www.thedoublenegative.co.uk

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