The Wide Open School is just that, an inclusive and experimental programme for public learning. The Hayward Gallery is hosting it as part of the Southbank Centre’s Festival of the World, and they have gathered an estimable faculty of some of the UK’s most contemporary artists – Martin Creed, Tracy Emin, Jeremy Deller, Gillian Wearing, Michael Landy, Bob and Roberta Smith for example – as well as another 94 artists hailing from more than 40 countries.
It is in someway an answer to the question: What would school be like if artists invented education? TWhat could people whose daily lifeblood is the channeling of original thought or unique form or matchless beauty teach us? “That is territory as expansive as the imaginations of artists” the programmers tell us, and so the topics proposed include such disparately delightful subjects as banner-making, boxing as painting, wild-man drawing, the whys of walking, cloud architecture and what we can learn from mountains.
Artists are the “omnivores of culture,” Ralph Rugoff the director of the Hayward Gallery reminds us, and they are used to “teaching themselves what they don’t know how to do” – be it a practical skill or a scientific theory. They are in a special position with a social influence, “experts at contradiction, and knowing how to move forward in understanding a problem without first having to neatly resolve it.” Prime stuff for an alternative education where the outcome is not always more important than the process.
It’s an exciting model, but it is an experiment and a temporary one at that. The lessons that sack off a sermon-like structure in favour of forums or collective discussions or workshops could go on to prove something about arts education in light of the cuts and shaky future of some of our finest institutes, but like everything else that could be taught, positivity is best learnt through example, something these artists have for art in immeasurable loads.