Rant 79: Art School Dropouts

Rant 79: Art School Dropouts Nicola Dale, The World As I See It, 2007

Nicola Dale reflects on her own education and remarks made by prominent artists. She examines the value of a University art education but what are the alternatives?


John Stezaker, the highly influential artist, recently said to Nancy Durant in The Times: “Art education has died… I think people should boycott art schools and start self-help groups.” 

As higher education costs escalate and college studio spaces diminish, Stezaker’s idea (tongue-in-cheek or not) seems tempting. University places exist for “customers” rather than “students” and this shift defrauds all concerned. From fresher, to lecturer, to vice-chancellor, the responsibilities of teaching and learning are surrendered to the bottom line.

So what might constitute a feasible alternative to art school? How would a “self-help group” function? Ideas, skills and knowledge should undoubtedly be shared, but they must first be acquired…

Looking back, what I now value most about my own art education is what I least appreciated at the time: learning creativity, engaging in constructive criticism and attempting collaboration. I suspect that if my peers and I had abandoned our course it would have been an own-goal. As young and inexperienced artists, how could we have learned what we needed to learn without guidance?

A more sensible alternative might therefore be the artist-run school, set up outside the University system. In recent years, Ryan Gander and others, fed up with “learning off some art tutor who hasn’t had a show for 15 years”  have expressed a wish to do just this.

The prospect is exciting – not least because a less rigid structure might better reflect the artworld’s constant shifts. However, it is easy to imagine such a school falling victim to the same problems of hierarchy, bureaucracy and ongoing sustainability (where would the resources come from?) that strangle the system they set out to replace.

Finally, in what light should we view grumbling about the current system when it comes from successful ex-students of the country’s top art courses? Aren’t they effectively asking others to abandon the very art education that has got them where they are today? 

Contributed by Nicola Dale
Nicola is a visual artist based at Rogue Studios in Manchester. She gained her Masters in Visual Culture from Manchester Metropolitan University in 2005 and has recently become an Associate Member of the Royal British Society of Sculptors.

Nicola Dale on Axisweb 

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