Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Lives of the Artists

“Skill is fine, and genius is splendid, but the right contacts are more valuable than either.” - Arthur Conan Doyle

Last September I wrote here about a disparity in the way that theory and practice are graded in art schools and the potential inequality this raises for students. Since joining Facebook last November I’ve become all the more aware of a related anomaly that pertains to the way that courses acknowledge - or largely ignore - the engagement of students beyond the confines of the institution.

It has always been the case that some students are more engaged than others - that will never change. But whilst for a proportion of students, studying is very much a 9 to 5 affair undertaken in order to gain a qualification, for many others their chosen discipline is an integrated and consuming part of their daily life. When these students walk out of the door at the end of the day they continue to engage in communities, discussions and creative cultures that stimulate and inspire them and they in turn contribute back to these cultures: as musicians, DJs, VJs, voluntarily working in galleries or community arts projects, submitting for competitions, attending exhibitions and openings and generally participating in a wide variety of creative opportunities and contexts.

Very often these are the students that excel and continue beyond art school, undoubtedly because the ethic that such engagement engenders becomes a self perpetuating habit. Their hard work doesn’t even feel like work because they are doing what they enjoy and immersing themselves in it as much as they can.

Unfortunately though, when it comes to marking students, it’s already hard enough to fully acknowledge this kind of engagement because the criteria that degree courses use rarely have much space for kinds of engagement that are not a direct consequence of structures instituted and controlled by the institution.

It might be argued that these engaged students will necessarily be more confident and experienced and therefore better able to achieve good grades anyway. To a large degree this is true but there are others whose involvement in such extracurricular culture is more intangible, perhaps more discursive, less visual but nonetheless inventive, playful, thoughtful, and significant. Sometimes these students are brilliant catalysts: not so productive or surprising in the things they create, but rather in the situations or discussions they generate, nurture or promote. Such individuals are an indispensible part of the kinds of critical and creative cultures upon which progressive societies are founded and it is extremely fortunate that the drive to be involved, for such individuals, is intrinsic to the role because certainly the support and acknowledgement they receive from academic institutions is paltry at best.

And I’m not talking about a tiny sub-group of students here either. Over the years, I’ve observed many such individuals on numerous occasions and since I’ve joined Facebook I’ve noticed their engagement even more. If, during the past, it was possible for such individuals to join, for example, a pub discussion and throw in a few well aimed remarks and light hearted volubility across the table in order to keep the discussion flowing into ever more insightful territory, now they are armed with a vast reservoir of links, articles and media that pepper their communications and inform their social presence. Yes, much of what is posted on facebook is inane rubbish and yes it’s often haphazard, but considering the sheer volume, the engagement, the enthusiasm and the evidence of awareness, surely we can do better than to completely ignore the vital participation and contribution that such individuals make to a thriving creative culture.


Anonymous said...

It's very simple, give the compliant good marks and stitch up those that disagree with you. That's pretty much the norm in other art schools.

J. Hamlyn said...

Hi Anonymous,

I guess that's what team marking and assessment criteria are intended to counteract.

Any thoughts about how the situation could be improved?

Post a Comment