Tag Archives: Education

Turps Art School 2016-2017

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Go!

Departing from my usual commentary on arts subjects, I would like to let folks know that I have been accepted into the 2016-17 Turps Art School Correspondence Course.  This will be a challenging opportunity and I look forward to working with my mentor/tutor. At this time, I don’t know who the other artists are in the course but I am sure we are all interested in each others’ artistic journeys and sharing of perceptions, perhaps through joint activities.

As a painter of abstractions, I focus on the materiality of visual perception, by giving physical presence to ideas. This has been the drive of human creativity since the first marks on stones or we made the cave paintings, and has inspired artists to consider alternative realities. Cubism for instance is the materiality of Einstein’s relativity theory. Malevich understood this as did the Futurists. Exuberant exploration is found in the Abstract Expressionists and thoughtful work since then, not just in painting but in sculpture (despite some distractions along the way when artists lost their way and their voices).

No doubt I will post further as the course proceeds.

The Vampire Art Schools

“The Vampire Art Schools”

Originally published in Art of England, Issue 75, 2010. Reproduced with permission.

Someone said once (probably Adam Smith) that teachers should be paid after the lecture. Based on the recent National Student Survey, “academic artists” employed at some arts schools would be hard pressed to pay their rent.

Of the 154 institutions in Britain ranked on student assessment of lecturer performance (the quality of their teaching), the bottom three are arts schools:

  • 152: Glasgow School of Art

  • 153: University for the Creative Arts

  • 154: University of the Arts London.

These universities are like publicly funded vampires, sucking the taxpayers’ blood, at great expense yet failing to deliver in ways that students value.

The Glasgow School of Arts styles itself as “internationally recognised as one of Europe’s foremost university-level institutions for creative education and research” and a “creative hothouse” on its website. GSA received taxpayers funding of £7.5 million for teaching and £1.5 million for “research excellence”. Their website says: “the GSA was ranked as the second largest art and design research community in the UK, with 25% of our research considered to be world leading and a further 25% internationally recognised”. 1900 students are enrolled, and there are 400 staff.

The University for the Creative Arts is spread across the South East. This institution’s 2010/11 “recurrent grant” (a.k.a. taxpayers’ money) of about £24 million, with £1.5 million for “teaching enhancement and student success”. This institution is the merger of smaller institutions and enrols 6500 students. Their website cites teaching performance studies from 2005 as evidence of the quality of their education and lists alumni such as Emin.

The University for the Arts London’s website says: “The combination of a varied student group, cutting-edge research and highly-experienced staff creates a unique, multifaceted learning experience for students at the University.” This institution’s funding is almost £52 million, with £6.5 million for research. It got £3.5 million for “teaching enhancement”. The university enrols 20,000 students, and has 1228 teaching staff.

Blissfully, these three institutions didn’t get all that much research funding, sparing us more tiresome academic art. To be fair, though, useful art research does exist, but generally it is middling on the research rankings. And yes some of the academic staff may be very good at what they do in terms of being creative, having insight into art history, and generally conducting studies that inform our appreciation of visual culture.

An informal internet survey produced observations such as whether some of the academic staff would be likely to earn a living selling their art if they didn’t have these publicly funded jobs or that students and lecturers can have strong differences of opinion over the quality of their own art-making and may downgrade academics on that basis. This is a no-win situation with only victims on both sides.

Since the 1980s, Higher Education has reduced the choices on offer for learners, creating a large and dysfunctional university system, mixing excellent universities and some little better than a 2-year college. Learners get drawn into this big lie, thinking being a university is an imprimatur of excellence, but some of the best US institutions don’t even have university in their name: MIT and Rensselaer Polytechnic. The arts world has fallen for this lie. What these three art schools exemplify is how weak institutions free-ride on the university ethos; the effect is to attract second-tier academic talent and third-tier students. The problem is we don’t really know which is which although this survey is a clue.

We need to distinguish between art scholarship such as art history, from simply art-making and you don’t need to go to university to learn to do the latter; the whole arts curriculum is confused.

I would relegate the majority of art schools to college status, and strip them of degree granting power. Their mission would be to offer to the many learners (including the late blooming artists of which there are many) opportunities that the universities have abysmally failed to create. Students wanting art scholarship programmes would focus on that, and if they want studios, well, find space at home. As for graduate ‘art shows’, well, don’t get me started.

As Groucho Marx might have said, I wouldn’t want to attend an art school that would admit me. Perhaps we should think again how we want to nurture and develop creativity in our society. As far as I can see, the current system is broken.

On Learning to Steal

“On Learning to Steal”

Originally published in Art of England, Issue 77, 2011. Reproduced with permission.

I was watching some students in a gallery the other day, planted in front of a variety of different paintings, with sketch books. They appeared to be copying the paintings.

What exactly is the point of this, I wondered?

I went back to my cork-lined room, and sat in front of my plagiartron, typed in some search terms and found a couple of articles on plagiarism, did a cut and paste and produced, yes, this article. Not really.

But in the real world, some students and some well-known authors do a kind of cut-and-paste on their writing all the time. But what about artists? Is arts a plagiarism-free zone? Can artists just copy willy-nilly? Is anything original any more?

Who said “Good artists copy, great artists steal”? Did I? Does it matter that I might say I did, even if I didn’t? If I said I had am I lying or just being economical with the truth. If you don’t catch me out, shame on you.

Of course the point is many artists don’t get caught.

Now back to the students beavering away in the gallery. What are they doing and how is it contributing to their artistic development? When we learn creative writing for instance, we aren’t given passages of Hemingway to copy, or handed a Shakespearean manuscript to copy out the text to mimic the handwriting, as though that had something to do with the words used. Art teachers say copying has something to do with learning about design, the way the paint is applied, mark-making, colour choices, etc. But if this is true, why are the students sketching with a pencil, and with the absence of any passion — a type of forensic duplication, devoid of any creative insight. So, again, what are the students learning to do?

I suggest they are learning to steal.

Some will never progress beyond mere derivative work, while others will become truly proficient. The painters whose work I want to see are the ones who are not in the gallery with their sketch books, but elsewhere using their brains. Copying is essentially a pointless activity (like rote repetition of multiplication tables) and I wonder why the students put up with it — perhaps they don’t think either.

In our cynical sort-of-post-modern world, it does draw attention to what the students are doing, with other gallery goers looking over their shoulder; they become almost as interesting as the paintings, a type of performance art, perhaps an unintended commentary on the failings of art education.

But copying has been handed down over the centuries from atelier to salon to studio to today.

Some well-known artists have been accused of appropriating the inspiration of others to produce works they have claimed as their own. Critics have said this type of artist looks outward rather than inward, forgetting to acknowledge their sources. Artists accused of plagiarism may describe copying as an act of tribute, rather than overt theft, but that seems self-serving.

I think we look to artists to be the authors of their own work, to actually make the pieces they sign. The notion of atelier with employed painters completing pieces to be signed by the ‘master’, turns artists into the worst type of signaturist. I think real artists know this is a con. Why would an atelier artist recently show new work proclaiming that he had done them with his own hand?

In the end, it is the authenticity of the work through the intimate link between idea and result that defines genuine authorship and creativity, not merely the act of fabrication.

We certainly expect people to acknowledge their sources, and where there is suspicion of plagiarism, to have an explanation. Consider the similarities between Henri Matisse’s “L’Escargot” (1953) and Alma Thomas’ “Watusi (Hard Edge)” (1963) of Obama White House fame, where there is an explanation.

Contrast this with the allegations of plagiarism involving Sam Leach’s “Proposal for Landscaped Cosmos” which won the Australian Wynne Prize and which is seen as having what are referred to as “heavy references” to Adam Pynacker’s “Boatman Moored on the Shore of an Italian Lake”, produced some 350 years ago. The artist admits having failed to “reference” the Dutch work when he submitted to the competition. Academics said that had Leach submitted his work for academic assessment, he would have been accused of plagiarism. (source: Michaela Boland, “Spot the Difference: artists Sam Leach denies plagiarising Dutch master”, The Australian, 14 April 2010. http://www.news.com.au/national/spot-the-difference-artist-sam-leach-denies-plagiarising-dutch-master/story-e6frfkvr-1225853423386; accessed 5 October 2010)

Perhaps works of art should have footnotes.

As for the students, I still don’t know why they are being taught to steal.

Artistic Plagiarism: a commentary

Learning to steal?

Learning to steal?

I wrote an opinion piece in the Art of England (issue 77,  January 2011) on the issue of artistic plagiarism called “On Learning to Steal”. I start by musing on the usefulness of students learning art by copying works in art galleries. You know the story, littered around the floor are art students busily copying, sketching some work or other. As I note in the article, they seem more like a piece of performance art to a failing art education system, than serious learning. I make the point that this only encourages further theft: “bad artists copy, good artists steal”. They are learning how to steal.

But more worrying, of course, is artistic plagiarism, and I draw attention to a recent high-profile example in Australia. I come down hard and negatively toward artists who maintain an atelier where their job is signing finished works of art (I call them signaturists). I observe that these artists themselves sense this is a con, otherwise, why would one well-known artist preface recent work by saying the work was done personally.

Plagiarism in all its forms is not to be trifled with. In the visual arts, copying is rife, not helped by the ease of cut-and-paste off the internet.

Nevertheless, we must be vigilant of artists who fail, as one artist put it, to adequately reference their sources.

Should art have footnotes?

Want to know more?

An overview of artistic plagiarism by Denis Dutton

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The Magpie revisited

The Russian “United Art Rating” is an artist rating service of the Artist Trade Union of Russia and which uses the following scale for rating artists

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Artist at work

(nationally and internationally) [source here]

  • 1 – an artist of world fame, tested with time (for more than a century).
  • 1A – a world famous artist.
  • 1B – a high-class professional artist with remarkable organizational skills, who is popular and in demand.
  • 2A – a high-class professional artist with a bright creative individuality.
  • 2B – a high-class professional artist, recognized and in demand with the art-market and public.
  • 3A – a professional artist with a recognizable individual style.
  • 3B – a professional artist, recognized and asked for in the art market and by the public.
  • 4A – an established professional artist with creative potential.
  • 4B – an established professional artist, who is in demand in the art market.
  • 5A – a formed professional artist with creative potential.
  • 5B – a formed professional artist.
  • 6A – a forming professional artist with creative potential.
  • 6B – a forming professional artist.
  • 7 – an amateur artist with perspective evaluation of specialists.
  • 8 – an amateur artist.
  • 9 – an artist-beginner.
  • 10 – an artist-scholar.

I like the fact this scale enables me to distinguish between artists qua artists and artists that focus on the market. The categories also distinguish creative aspects (A) and one category higher than the same artist with a market focus or popularity (B). This helps distinguish between the pull of the market from the push of the artist.

What they don’t give away is how they assess creativity, innovation, but perhaps that is best left to them, but I would dearly love to look inside this assessment ‘black box’.  I think the Artists Union would approve of my notion of magpies, and may even agree that there are vampire artists.

Now, how can we apply this to art education to ensure that the ‘vampire’ art schools are distinguished from truly inspirational educational environments. Then I’ll be even happier!

For those so inclined, it is known that there are historical chains of connection between Nobel laureates and innovative research work. Would it be possible to chain link the artists together (apart from the traditional approach to grouping artists in schools as such) to identify particularly productive chains of innovation and association.

 

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