Over the last couple of weeks streams of students all over the world have started their new terms in art and design courses. In an arena that always commands a bit of debate, we’ve asked educator Lawrence Zeegen to stick his neck out and tell us what he makes of the art-school world as it stands. As the title suggests, it’s a piece loaded with opinion, so don’t just sit there grumbling in despair or nodding in agreement – click through and let us know what you think…
Attempt to shoehorn together two philosophically opposing counterculture mantras and you’d normally be in a heap of trouble. And while it isn’t often that you’ll find two rival factions come together; the Hippy edict – ‘Today is the first day of the rest of your life’ and the Situationist-inspired punk decree – ‘Demand the Impossible’ jointly manifest to act as a rally call and call-to-arms for every design course fresher in the land…
Being at art school, and that includes university-run design faculties too, must act as a challenge; be life-changing, life-affirming and instill a lust for life that smashes preconceptions, and kick-starts freedom, creativity and invention. The very start of your art school education must be your very own personal ground zero.
But in a brave new world of university fees and student finance/debt is it any wonder that many of tomorrow’s mavericks and misfits are commencing three years of study knuckling down to the proposition of rowing boats rather then rocking boats. In recession-hit UK Ltd art and design students are in peril – in real danger of playing too safe, too wrapped in the cotton wool of conformity as they over-worry what the future might bring…
UK creativity has always relied on the nonconformist, eccentric, individualist, one-of-a-kind, odd-one-out rebels; those prepared to roll the dice of risk. Is it just me that remains unconvinced that in today’s climate of fear; today’s art and design students, tomorrow’s artists and designers, just aren’t pushing hard enough, aren’t bucking the system, leading an insurgent revolt or dissenting, rising up – where have all the radicals gone? The memory of the civil rights Berkeley student rebellion of 1964, the Parisian student revolt of 1968, the Soweto uprising of 1976, even the poll tax riots of 1990 are all now a distant glimmer.
Even the YBAs, the last generation of true innovators and still the most recent height of creativity spurned by this country’s art schools, are old school. The middle-aged YBAs are yet to be upstaged and overshadowed. Ok, so student radicalism can’t be summoned like a genie from a lamp; but isn’t it time for a movement to rise to the surface that scares us, dares us and shakes from our sedated sleepwalk into slumberland?
So, as term starts and your bright new future begins just remember one thing – Today is the first day of the rest of your lives so don’t just opt for the easy life – Demand the Impossible, and start to make a difference…
Lawrence Zeegen is an educator, illustrator and writer. Zeegen is Head of School of Communication Design at Kingston University, a regular contributing illustrator to the Guardian newspaper and the author of four books on contemporary illustration. www.zeegen.com
I think the discovery of the SI was a major turning point in my uni life - it didn't come along until my final year, but reading The Society of the Spectacle acted as a massive inspiration (maybe even a guidebook, or even catalyst) on how to say fuck you! and do what you like, through an attitude and creative output. It inspired my studies which dealt with this exact issue - I think that there is still rebellion and subversion, but its coming to fruition on the internet, and not in the streets as it was 40 years ago. There is nonconformity and radicals, its just lost online - no one seems to be slapping it in the face of 'the system' and making it obvious for everyone to see. Maybe the internet has taken the edge away??
Great post, I think every creative needs to see it (and the inspiration) in their first term, thank you INT!x
I'm just sitting there, nodding in agreement.
Yeah, I agree with all of that. I graduated this year and have felt that I could have got more from my course. But I think thats mainly lack of direction/challenge from my uni itself. I worked as hard as I could possibly have done; there just wasnt the support. I always felt I could have chosen better. I made the most of what was there though, definitely. Miss being a student a lot.
It's difficult with so many new design students and graduates coming out of the woodwork every year to filter out the people who will kick up against conformity and create things genuinely unique. Its the same for anything that goes from being dominated by a few to many. There are still many out there who are willing to go against the grain, you just have to look harder amongst the sea of sheep.
I agree with guppology. Sieving through the sheep takes longer now than ever and more perseverance, not nearly as many people were graduating with art/design degrees 20 years ago, as are now; there was much less competition.
I don't think the YBA's are doing anything radical themselves at the moment (Damien Hirst just did some painting's for example...how radical) and some of their work came out after the countries finances' were in a similar state to what they are now; there's nothing to say this current "world crisis" won't prove to be another similar catalyst for new work.
Also Mr.Zeegan is my new head of school as i'm in my 3rd year of graphic design at Kingston, maybe I'll have a talk with him.
Art isn't the catalyst for radical movements anymore, the rise of public sites like YouTube and Twitter has made it possible to spread the message far further than ever before, and in (pretty much) real-time. (For reference just look happened over the Guardian vs. Trafigura gagging order the other day)
I don't really know where art and design fits into the age of instant information, even this comment will be out-of-date by the time I've finished typing it.
I'd like to see the next generation of students challenging the way we (are failing) to interact with the real world anymore. Oh, and never give up.
"In a market-led society creators can too soon become dependent on the very structures that they seek to disrupt. The spectator finds himself implicated in the very processes that he hopes to criticise. Art may start out as a challenge to the status quo, but fast-developing society soon catches up and subsumes it. Even the artist who starts out as a fierce radical ends up as a darling of the Establishment."
Rachel Campbell-Johnston. The Times. August 4 2009.
‘To avoid criticism, do nothing, say nothing, and be nothing.’
Elbert Hubbard, Artsand Crafts’ Roycroft Press.
Both are reasons to make work, to make work and to try and understand the systems in which we work, to question assumptions and to challenge and try and improve the ways in which we communicate together, students graduates, tutors. www.conwayandyoung.com
As for me, going to a design school (studying 2nd year on my GD, BA course) was a decision of a great priority, as it mean the change in my prospective radically. You can rely on yourself & be successful today if you are making yourself spin 360 degrees around everyday making lots of effort towards something more or less defined, becoming aware of most of the events and things going on around the world. In these circumstances, it is of a higher importance to define the priority goals for yourself as a student, so that you know where to head yourself. That would avoid you being "good" in everything, and make you shine in a certain way. You know, we never hear about best tailor,
manager, art director, illustrator - being one person. You are only in the list, when you are sure to offer something you do better then others, maybe sometimes narrowing your activity to a certain city.
"If everything is equally important, then nothing is very important"
Michael McDonough, Top ten things then have never taught me in design school