The Vampire Art Schools: a commentary

Main entrance of Ringling School of Art

An art school: I wonder what goes on in there?

I wrote an opinion piece on failing art schools in the UK in Issue 75, November 2010, of Art of England magazine.

Are students in art schools actually getting an education worth paying for. Considering the stresses in higher education funding, and the appalling career opportunities for many art school graduates (upwards of 90% never work at their core art competencies after graduation), that some art schools appear to be failing, not just their students, but also in the quality of the work they do, is a clear waste of money.

One of my suggestions is that some university art schools be downgraded to non-degree colleges, with a sharper vocational focus. The other is to widen their appeal to support the learning needs of older folk, to attract later-blooming artists, of which there are many. The problem for the universities is that at some level art-making is essentially vocational; university art studies really are less on the practice of art-making as on the scholastic study of art (an often confused and obscure activity with its own obfuscating terminology, but that is another matter). If artists are to enjoy the benefits of academic positions, they should be contributing to the advancement of knowledge at some level.

No doubt these failing institutions will argue that they offer value, by way of research, but research-led institutions are fine but not if the students are trying to build practical careers in which case you have a serious mis-match. Research in art in my view is important, but is not advanced by students spending the bulk of their time in studios. We need people who understand and can research art as it contributes to civilisation, and how art is made as a function of brains at play. As I wrote in this opinion piece, if students want to paint, they can keep a studio at home. This would eliminate, perhaps to much acclaim, the graduate art shows of frequently pointless academic art.

While not a heathen with respect to universities, I have a doctorate and have been a senior lecturer, there are some things better done for the learner in more accessible and less puffed-up learning centres. The current educational system doesn’t incentivise them.

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