Is art school dead? Is our collective creativity being killed off by “the man”? Should we really put sharp objects dangerously close to someone’s scrotum? Can you melt cheese in a glue gun?
All these questions and more were explored in last night’s art School-themed Nicer Tuesdays, which offered up in equal parts a potted history of the institutions, a call to arms, a hefty dose of inspiration and a big “fuck you” to a particular art school on the south coast.
Superb of beard and measured of delivery, it was Camberwell College of Arts design programme director Darryl Clifton who took to the NT lectern first. He explained how much art schools today have differed from those of yesteryear; that in the 19th Century they were focussed on craft, forming an atelier-like environment, where today they stand very much with the establishments of universities. “The Art School is dead”, he declared; showing that where they were once associated with qualities like rebellion, their integration into mainstream university systems mean there’s a new uncertainty about how establishment/anti- establishment they can be.
One man whose experience of said establishments has been more fruitful than most is Dean Brown, a London-based designer who first went to art school in Dundee, before studying at Italy’s famously progressive Fabrica art school/design research centre. Dean led us through his very positive experiences of the art school system, and showed off his superb portfolio, which included some stunning vases for a Parisian exhibition and work for Benetton (Fabrica’s founder) retail interiors. He also showcased a valuable lesson learnt in the studies of Dundee: yes, you can melt cheese in a glue gun.
You know what you can also do? Create a series of brilliant photographs of total strangers while they sit in a photo booth, by sticking your own camera in just before the flash goes off. This hilarious and wonderfully inventive, irreverent project was just one of many presented to us by Zelda Malan, our third speaker of the night and senior lecturer on graphic design at Kingston University. In a wonderfully inspirational talk we see how graphic design takes many forms, and how utterly valuable ideas are in art eduction (more on that in Zelda’s opinion piece here). She ran through a list of what art school teaches you to be, and what you should continue to be on leaving: bloody minded, loud, irreverent, audacious and daring. Some of her students have been very very daring indeed, as some brilliantly-shot but certainly not-for-the-squeamish images of genitalia and serrated edges prove.
A less positive view of art school was espoused by our final speaker James Hilton, who co-founded AKQA and since left to found his own product, furniture and straggly consultancy, Atelier Strange. His stance on the issue was based on a less-than-enjoyable art school experience, where he was told “there’s nothing more we can teach you. Get out there and start doing something.” He did, and founded AKQA, cementing his belief that “you can’t teach creativity.” Instead, he reckons, creativity is within us from birth, and as we get older “conformity kills creativity.” James said that the real way to be creative is through knowledge, and through “acquiring lots and lots of Aspergers level hobbies…be so into these things that family becomes a distant memory.” Other provocative commands included “stay attractive” – in a creative context, never stop trying your hardest and making work your passionate about. He also recommended listening to the voice in your head, “unless it’s saying kill! kill! kill!.” As an end note, he commanded us to think about what we’re doing in the context of “what would you do if you weren’t afraid?”, delivered in perhaps a deliberately slightly scary manner.
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