Maverick spirit of art schools is being crushed

March 31, 2016

Anna Coatman’s feature “What next for art schools?” (17 March) on the “lost” golden age of UK art schools omitted an important and still relevant fact: there was “something in the air” about those establishments that produced a wealth of talented individuals and groups working in and across many art forms.

Some years ago at a European conference on the future of arts education, I was asked by Germany’s minister of higher education (we were next to each other in the coffee queue) what it was about UK arts education that enabled us to be world leaders in so many creative fields, when Germany – with a few notable exceptions – had no such consistent success? I replied that we had a long tradition of non-conformity and a high tolerance of eccentricity, neither of which, I added rather impertinently, were common traits in his own country.

While today’s art schools are no doubt fully aligned with their institutional mission statements, compliant with regulations and fulfilling employability and other targets, there is a nagging suspicion that the space for creativity, non-conformity and eccentricity has been closed down.

With arts education under sustained attack by the government, it is perhaps no surprise that “guerrilla” tactics are being employed.

Paul Kleiman
Visiting professor, Middlesex University and Rose Bruford College

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