Source: A. Plumb
The University of the Arts London has defended itself against a student’s allegation that she failed her undergraduate ceramics degree because praising the art she produced – a series of ceramic turds – would have impeded the institution’s ability to recruit students.
The Central Saint Martins student, who works under the name Ann Plumb, claims that her final piece – which includes “a series of potties…each holding a ceramic ‘deposit’ to symbolise the broken container of free artistic expression that I feel is the modern art college” – was failed because it was not “clean, saleable art” of the type that would encourage parents to send their children to the university.
The work also features “a series of ‘poop plaques’ to memorialise the passing of uncensored artistic creativity in our [art] schools”, and was not shown to tutors before assessment “for fear that the concept would not be accepted”.
“UK art colleges have been recognised historically and internationally as being valued for their unfettered artistic environment, but now have a new remit of attracting high-fee-paying students,” Ms Plumb said. Therefore, the work created by the departing students has to be “palatable to the influx of potential new students and their parents”, including those from overseas who pay higher fees than domestic students, “to ensure cash flow”.
“It is ironic that art institutions may now be silencing the free creative expression of their current students in order to appeal to applicants from diverse cultures who may be fighting for that same unfettered expression in their own countries,” she added. “Art has always had a role to play in irritating the establishment; what will happen when the edges are smoothed off to fit the new sanitised business model?”
Although the university does not comment on the assessment of individual students, a UAL spokeswoman told Times Higher Education that “experimentation, taking risks and creative innovation” were at the heart of education at the institution.
She pointed out that among the works submitted by this year’s cohort of graduates were a card game which suggested that bribery, blackmail and “dirty tricks” were all part of a US presidential election campaign, and an installation depicting debris and rubble in Gaza, designed to investigate the relationship between art and politics.
“The evidence of our end of year shows is that the vast majority of our students are asking difficult questions rather than providing ‘clean, saleable’ solutions,” she said.
“The global mix of students at UAL reflects the restless and creative world we live in, and contributes to a culturally rich learning experience.”