Thursday, 3 December 2009

Art School

Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow.

[The front (north) facade of Charles Rennie Mackintosh's Glasgow School of Art on Renfrew Street, Garnethill in Glasgow, Scotland. Taken by Finlay McWalter on May 7th 2004.]

“I remember vividly the first day of the [Preliminary Course]. Josef Albers entered the room, carrying with him a bunch of newspapers. ... [and] then addressed us ... 'Ladies and gentlemen, we are poor, not rich. We can’t afford to waste materials or time. ... All art starts with a material, and therefore we have first to investigate what our material can do. So, at the beginning we will experiment without aiming at making a product. At the moment we prefer cleverness to beauty. ... Our studies should lead to constructive thinking. ... I want you now to take the newspapers ... and try to make something out of them that is more than you have now. I want you to respect the material and use it in a way that makes sense – preserve its inherent characteristics. If you can do without tools like knives and scissors, and without glue, [all] the better.

Hannes Beckmann, ‘Formative Years’, in Eckhard Neumann ed., Bauhaus and Bauhaus People, New York, 1970, p.196, quoted Josef Albers, Eva Hesse, and the Imperative of Teaching, Jeffrey Saletnik. Available on Tate website here.
Eva Hesse 1936-70
Studied at Cooper Union, New York, 1954-57
Received a Yale-Norfolk Fellowship, 1957
Studied at Yale University, New Haven CT, 1959

Academy / Modernist
• Talent / Creativity
• Romantic lonely (male) genius / everyone an artist.
• A potential / a given
• Skills taught / art taught
• Art is specialist / art is general, the disciplines of art special.
• Metier / medium
• Mastery / questioning or critique
• Past / the future
• Imitation / invention

Sixties Düsseldorf.
1961: Beuys appointed Professor of Sculpture.
1967 founded the German Student Party.
1969 founded the Bureau for Direct Democracy.
24 Nov 1970 Action Dead Mouse Isolation Unit
1971 Beuys changed his title to Professor of Free Art. Students applied to study with individual professors in Germany. Beuys abolished academic entry requirements, abolished fees and  replaced degrees with a 'Master Student' certificate. He accepted all applicants and 20 others who had been rejected elsewhere.
1972 a new Director of the Academy rejected 125 applicants and told Beuys to get into step with the school policy. Beuys replied by offering them all a place. When admin refused to register the students a 24 hour occupation began. A street protest coincided with a professors’ meeting which voted for Beuys’ dismissal.
Friday October 13, after three days of protests political police broke up the occupation.

Sixties Newcastle
The basic design course {or “basic form” or “foundation course”} in the department of Fine Art of Durham University at King’s College, Newcastle was innovative and attracted a deal of publicity. As a result it was hugely influential on the “modernisation” of art education which takes place in England in the 60s.

The course followed on from the experience of Pasmore and Hamilton working at the Central School of Arts and Crafts under the Scottish painter William Johnstone.
Inspired by the pre-war activities of the Bauhaus, the course sought a complete revision of art teaching.

The Newcastle revisionism was based on a series of beliefs and observations which overlapped:
Children are intuitively creative; their creativity is often stultified by education.
Nature’s microscopic structures could provide key insights into design problems.
Popular culture is all around us and worthy of notice and respect.
“The production of art is a developing process which originates in the first dimension, the making of a single point.” (Pasmore)

John A. Walker: “One purpose of the basic design course was to provide all students with a common starting point; another was to destroy any preconceptions about the nature of art that students might have acquired at primary and secondary schools.”

John A. Walker: “The Department had three schools: painting, sculpture and design. Design included printed textiles and stained glass. In addition to these subjects, basic design, printmaking, life drawing, and the history of art were taught. During the first year, students were regularly taught in groups; they were set projects and given a range of exercises to perform in formal, classroom-type situations. Like current foundation years, they were exposed to a variety of materials, media and techniques. Again, like present-day foundation courses, the first year served a ‘diagnostic’ function – students could discover what media and practices interested them and suite d their abilities. As time passed, students were allowed more and more freedom until their work became entirely self-directed. Students were also encouraged to specialise in particular art forms” 

“Students were taught to analyse and explore the elements of art and design but little or no advice was given concerning their re-combination or synthesis; the issue of content was also neglected even though Hamilton’s first pop paintings were rich in subject matter. ” (John A Walker)

Thistlewood D (1981) “A Continuing Process. The New Creativity in British Art Education 1955-65”, ICA London
Pasmore and others eds (1959) The Developing Process

Sixties Hornsey
It began as a dispute over student union funds it became:

a planned programme of films and speakers expanded into a critique of all aspects of art education, the social role of art and the politics of design. It led to six weeks of intense debate, the production of more than seventy documents, a short-lived Movement for Rethinking Art and Design Education (MORADE), a three-day conference at the Roundhouse in Camden Town, an exhibition at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, prolonged confrontation with the local authority, and extensive representations to the Parliamentary Select Committee on Student Relations.
Tickner L (2008) Hornsey 1968: The Art School Revolution, Frances Lincoln Publishers Ltd, United Kingdom, pages 13-14.

Today and tomorrow.
'They say you should be wary of desire lest you are granted that which you wish for. The elevation of modular over linear teaching programmes, the educational incorporation of theory, the breakdown of modernist medium-specificity, the critique of the (mostly male) expressive author, perhaps even a questioning of the authority of the western canon, were all songs in our radical repertoire. Yet the fact that these have come to pass, and now count if not as the norm, then as significant components of a contemporary education in art and design, has counted in the end for less than the fact that the underlying structure (and of course, the wider structure-beyond-the-structure) has remained intact.'
Paul Wood, Debate about Art education, Art Monthly October 2008/ Issue 320, from 'Between God and the Saucepan: a study of English art education from the 18th Century to the present day', History of British Art (tate 2008)
Click here to go to the archive of Art Monthly Debate about Art education.

Thierry de Duve, ‘When Form Has Become Attitude – And Beyond’, in Stephen Foster and Nicholas de Ville ed., The Artist and the Academy: Issues in Fine Art Education and the Wider Cultural Context, Southampton, 1994, pp.23–40.

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