This anxiety has its practical manifestations too. I believe that it is, perhaps even more than the rebellious pose, responsible for the common disdain for painting. I have seen and heard of sinks — used for the washing of brushes and disposal of spirits — being systematically removed from art school studios, to discourage painters or drive them elsewhere. But most extraordinary was a new rule I heard had been recently implemented: no room was allowed to contain more than a certain small number of easels — as if the very sight of this painters' tool brought painful memories.
And then there are the brochures. One school outlandishly describes the activity it offers as "intensive studio and research laboratory practice". And this isn't an anomaly, because another school claims that it "...approaches the study and practice of art in an enquiring, investigative, experimental and research-minded way". Remember there are no hadron colliders here; probably just enlarged slogans, photographic clippings, toys, and maybe some planks piled against a wall. The appropriation of scientific language reveals more than pretentiousness, or childish fantasy, or arrogance, or desperation to be taken seriously. It is also an inadvertent admission that art is held in no esteem at all, and excuses must be made for it. Giotto, Raphael, Titian, Rubens, Rembrandt — they didn't need excuses, because their art spoke for them. And in their days, no one could have worried that art was stupid.
Curiously, though they play at intellectualism, the art schools proudly deplore all discipline. This is not just because craft, as we have seen, seems pitifully humble; the schools also subscribe to some romantic clichés which will no doubt be familiar (all of these clichés can be traced back to Marinetti, and in so many other following manifestos; but they must actually have been in currency long before because Reynolds had already thought to satirise them in his Ironical Discourse of 1791, in which he presciently imagined how art might come to be taught were the sillier Romantics to win out). They take it for granted that art is a matter of self-expression, that self-expression relies on instinct, and that instinct is not only the opposite of practice but is actively harmed by it. To them, virtuosity is vacuity. Both teachers and students must guard their ignorance, because it is the root of their special powers of expression. And they are quite sure of their specialness. My class was given an introductory talk, a welcome to the school, which invited us to think of ourselves as hypersensitive critics of society with the ability to flit across its borders. We weren't to be suckers, like all the rest trudging off to work, because we would be led by our extra artistic feelings to reveal how things really are. It was asserted that dyslexia, or even just normal academic underachievement, were good indicators of this hypersensitivity.
According to this line of thought, which assumes that an artist is born and not made, and that passing the interview for admission to art school is the mark of a born artist, there can be nothing particular to be taught. The schools' job is rather to guide the students on a course of self-discovery; it is essentially therapeutic. One school admits: "Our aim is to help you develop the necessary self-motivation and confidence in your work..." Another: "The individual nature of student's [sic] studies is at the heart of the course, with students negotiating with tutors how they wish to develop and manage their own learning." This might sound fair enough, but what do the students take from it? In all schools, this therapeutic programme is formally carried out in tutorials and "crits", whereby the students confess, to one teacher or a group of their teachers and peers, their inspirations and goals and the progress of their thoughts. Those I saw who enjoyed attention loved this ritual, and were forthcoming about their dreams, their disappointments, even perversions, many of these no doubt fantasised. All of this emphasis on the personal led inevitably to the stereotypical. Every Indian art student I came across ended up making piles of rice or spices, every Japanese drew huge-eyed cartoons, and every student who had genuinely suffered recently would splatter red paint for blood, or scream.
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