Creative Art Practice at Sheffield Hallam University
Rebecca Eastwood, Installation Shot, 2013
For our Summer of Craft, Dr Becky Shaw writes about the course at Sheffield Hallam University, where students are encouraged to explore ideas and materials that span a range of disciplines.
Creative Art Practice (CAP) at Sheffield Institute of Arts explores traditional visual art making methods in an expanded field between art, design and craft. Established to complement our respected Fine Art course, Creative Art Practice responds to a contemporary visual climate where there is a renewed sensory engagement with form and a new interest in the origins of materials and making methods.
While established as a sister course to Fine Art, the relationship between the two courses is not without friction, perhaps a living example of how Glenn Adamson describes the relationship between fine art and craft- where the two practices become the frames that define what the other is not. In the last few years though, Creative Art Practice staff felt that the catch-all of ‘between art and craft’ (in contrast to a straightforward ‘craft’) did not give a strong enough identity or position.
There are a few other ‘Creative Art Practice’ courses in the UK (with variations of title) and we sought to identify the specific nature of our position. While uncomfortable with the notion of supplying a product for a market, we also recognised that within an art education field, there is room for much more specialisation.
While we sought to address this issue through teaching we also started three processes designed to build course identity. Our Fine Art course has a lecture series called Transmission, that explores how artists made work, but also how they speak about it. Three Hallam staff, Penny McCarthy, Andrew Sneddon and I instigated Gravity- a lecture series initially just for CAP students.
Gravity Lectures, 2012 - 13
Gravity takes themes considered unfashionable and unsophisticated (e.g. ‘Beauty’, ‘Colour’ and ‘Atmosphere’) and re-examines them with contemporary visual artists and makers.
Each artist is tasked to begin their lecture with an object that means something to them- so the students can, right from the outset, explore the work in relation to the material world. Interestingly as Gravity has evolved more Fine Art students have discovered its worth and are thirsty for this form-centred approach. Creative Art Practice students have also begun to access Transmission- but the two series keep a distinct identity that students can orientate themselves in and against.
In previous years Creative Art Practice students have exhibited their final show mixed with Fine Art students, using the conventions of gallery display- white walls and neutral floor. However now it seemed timely to find a display language that might articulate the many contexts that CAP students might work within.
The students were given an introduction to much wider languages of display including design expos, community markets, the Grand Exhibition, trade fairs etc, then tasked with forming their own design language.
It was decided to use unpainted OSB board, to prioritise a sense of process, material and ‘the workshop’ (as well as recognizing its use in contemporary fine art). The students chose to have triangles at the end of any walls, creating a glimpse through the space like a row of valleys. They also decided to use an unexpected floor colour to mark the threshold of a different space. Instead of conceptual paper plans the students built a six foot model of the space that they could get in and move walls, independent of staff.
At the same time, Jerome Harrington, a PhD student at Hallam, was employed to explore where students’ work might fit in the fields of art, craft and design. The process used Rosalind Krauss’s notion of an ‘expanded field’ of art practice to form diagrams.
In workshops, the students were tasked to come up with their own ‘axes’- making, thinking, material, concept. They then had to plot themselves in this field. Through this process students could identify a specialist field, and further specialized communities within. We thought that if we could establish this within the course then students might maintain these communities and energy afterwards. The diagrams were used as the format for the student’s professional web presence, designed by Sarah Smizz.
As these three projects gained momentum, energy levels rose and a stronger course identity emerged - especially amongst those students who took the greatest responsibility for the decisions being made. However, we understand now that a much greater degree of experiment is possible and necessary, to formulate languages of display and representation for practices spanning disciplines. Rather than adopting the practices and languages of known contexts, courses like CAP are in the position to make new territories.
Contributed by Becky Shaw
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