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Artists must participate in the world so they can change it

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Schools of art and design could be considered as a model for society. They are filled with people who are full of fear and curiosity about their abilities and vocations, who often hide behind a confident front. You might think I am talking about the students, but this applies equally to all members of the community.

This self-doubt is the essence of vitality. The nagging doubts make them look to one another for clues as to what to do, and what not to do. Successful students must recognise that when they enter the institution they are not artists and that it is very likely that when they leave this could still be so. The fact that there is no assumption of success is important to the ambience of the place.

This is what makes schools of art unique.

When the Conservatives came into power, it did not go unnoticed that they established a programme of rationalisation of education and schools of art. 'Part-time' teachers were phased out in favour of full-time 'teachers' who, by definition, were not artists. This made life difficult for artists, who balanced their finances by teaching two or three days a week, supplementing their time making art.

This was followed by closures and amalgamations to cut costs and standardize the nature of the educational product. Earlier than this, the academic idea of changing diplomas into degrees was, as it turned out, to reduce the status of artists' and designers' qualifications to that of a degree in hairdressing. The artist has to observe the world, and therefore must be a part of it.

Academic ivory towers are not the type of environment that suits an artistic enquiry.

The nature of the 'school' should be incidental. If you could do it, a captured piece of urban geography would make a great institution. A place where life passes through and observes those whose stock in trade is observing. There should be many more of these centres of 'healthy doubt' than there are. They promote change, particularly change in our own self-perception, which promotes behavioural adaptation, which in turn results in change. Roy Ascot, professor of communication at Vienna, sums it up beautifully in his statement that ART=CHANGE=ART. We live in an age where everything has to be measured. In England we are obsessed with measuring success in some quasi-scientific way. Art has got caught up with management-speak and attempts to assess value for money.

I have applauded the idea of the gap year for the young. That period between school and something else is a splendid opportunity to escape the moderating influence of their teachers and parents, to test themselves in new situations. The course in the art and design school could be called a gap course, and come after a gap year. This incidental course, with no particular expectations, would result in wealth, both material and spiritual. I envisage that the result would promote activity of an unspecified nature, free of the conventions of normal 'society', but simultaneously reinforcing truth. This type of place would produce a body of people who could engage in a much more inventive career, that challenged the stranglehold of the multinationals. The promotion of individuality through such a system would encourage new activities and avoid the dangers of too little choice in our political options.

Through such institutions would emerge some people who would be the most vibrant artists and designers we have seen. They would all, however, go to the grave doubting their abilities and judgment. All things can be reconsidered.

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