The art of the matter

December 11, 1998

Paul Bonaventura argues that fine art is disengaged with the real world, and the root of this lies in "the way art is taught in art schools" because they encourage "the unrestrained growth of romantic introspection" ("When artists lose the plot", THES, November ).

As proof he offers the views of one disappointed graduate writing in AN Magazine and a brief critique of some student essays.

He makes sweeping assertions about fine art teaching in the UK, none of which seems based on substantial research.

How does he know, for instance, that "up and down the country the discipline is mostly promoted as a narcissistic enterprise, divorced from the geopolitical, industrial and demographic worlds which define all other human endeavours"? Has he conducted a survey? Yet he tells us there certainly is a place for artists who "present the public with learning and scholarship... and a well-defined intellectual reach". But Bonaventura's article displays none of this. His evidence is no more than anecdotal, at best it is inductive; at worst, solipsistic.

Bonaventura's assertions fall down against even the most basic evidence. There are, for instance, over 12 "contextual" fine art awards in the UK, most of which are members of the Contextual Practice Network. These are all courses that address the relationship of art to society.

From contact with other fine art courses (as external examiner), through conferences, the reading of journals and membership of professional associations, I feel confident we are not alone in providing a fine art education that links students into the "geopolitical, industrial and demographic worlds which define all other human endeavours".

Sally Morgan Fine arts leaderUniversity of the West of England

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