Thursday, 7 April 2011

Digging up Skeletons

“Isn't the best way not to stunt the student's personal growth to leave it alone, as surely as we do not take too strong an interest in our children's sexual lives? Requiring students to bare themselves to us emotionally or politically as part of their course of study is arguably a step into areas we are (at best) no more qualified to deal with than the average person.”

In art education it’s still all too common for teachers to believe that it’s ok – laudable even - to encourage students to dig emotional skeletons from their cupboards. It’s somewhat endemic (for obvious reasons) but rarely leads to work with anything much to offer anyone but the maker. I’m not saying that art students should avoid personal subject matter, far from it – indeed it’s practically impossible when one is passionately engaged in something for it not to be personal. It’s just that if a personal theme needs to be brought out, it’s the student who should choose to do this themself and not the teacher who should solicit it.

I’m not trained in counselling, nor are the majority of art teachers. We’re not even trained in art therapy for that matter so I think it’s particularly inadvisable to encourage too much psychological delving. And whilst I think it would probably be helpful for staff to have a certain amount of training in counselling, I also think students that have a desire to delve into traumatic subject matter need to be advised that there is no guarantee that this will resolve their issues nor make for strong work. Undoubtedly there are a handful of artists who do manage to triumph over their demons and produce significant work despite the challenges, but these are rare exceptions. Often the only thing that makes a traumatised artist ‘good’ is the prurient fascination of their audience – teachers included.


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