When I get round to writing my book The Protocols Of The New Art College, the first rule will be that you don’t talk to people who are working. You wouldn’t talk to someone while they were writing, dancing or composing music, why would anyone talk to anyone who is painting or drawing? Talk is sabotage. Any artists in any discipline who thinks they can do something else while they are doing whatever they think they are doing, is on a hiding to nothing. In communal spaces where people work it is important that an atmosphere of relaxed concentration is achieved. Responsibility for maintaining this must be shared rather than falling solely upon teachers. It can feel slightly oppressive if teachers are reminding people to be quiet.
The second rule will be that if you are the person who has made some artworks*, you are excluded from the role of being the person who knows which are the good ones and which are the not-so-good ones. These decisions are not really up to you, nor can you choose your audience. Your job is principally to make the things and other people will decide if they have some value. In other words be open to the possibility that you are a better artist than critic and give priority to the artist.
The third rule will be this; if you do ‘one-offs’, they will not be considered fit for exhibition or scrutiny by the college. Your solitary object either represents an idea that hasn’t held your attention enough for you to feel motivated to make more, or you think you cannot develop or improve upon it because you have already created an immaculate or perfect embodiment, such that the impulse to make it is entirely satisfied. The first of these means we would be wasting our time and attention, the second means we would be indulging your delusions. For these reasons work should be presented in sets of a minimum of three versions, the differences and similarities of which will make explicit which qualities are salient.
The fourth rule will be that it is forbidden when speaking about ones own work to indulge in a kind of enumeration of its meanings. The meaning of artworks remains up for grabs, and will have no bearing on its merit. An artwork can sometimes be excellent and about nothing at all (or something trivial) or, more likely , it can be totally dismal and refer explicitly to real-life matters of life and death or global significance. Artists have no special authority or expertise on the issues of the world and attempts at profundity are often lame.
Rule number five will be that students must absolutely never, upon penalty of a small fine, denigrate their own work or handle it carelessly in public or make any actions which run counter to the aim of helping the world to invest emotionally in it’s existence. If you need to destroy work as part of your creative process, you do this with great discretion out of view and after deliberation and when a suitable time has lapsed.
Rule number six is that teachers will respect students as artists from the day they arrive. For this reason they will never directly dispense aesthetic advice, but focus instead on accurately verbalising their responses to what they can see and on coaching the artist to remain creative.
How many rules do you need, I probably could go on indefinitely?
In my ideal college of art there would be no qualifications awarded and no fees paid. (I’m fantasising obviously). There would also be no requirement to leave at the end of three years. The main currency would be art work, which would be properly archived. There would be an expectation to show work internally in both group and solo exhibitions. These will be frequent. There will also be exhibitions open to the public which happen when staff feel that the reputation of the college can only be enhanced by a particular students exposure rather than at the arbitrary end of a term of study. These exhibitions will be superbly well displayed and organised. We will all be encouraged to take pride in them and they will represent a realistic aspiration for all those who attend the college. Given everything I have said about this college, I am not sure if ‘staff’ is an accurate term, maybe these are the people who have been there longest.
*For the purpose of these notes the term artwork refers to an object or a picture made by an artist that doesn’t change. If I visit a painting I last saw thirty years ago, it has stayed the same. I have changed, the whole world has changed, but this painting is the same. This is one of the important attributes of art. Also an artwork is not a document of a process or cluster of objects that must be arranged as an installation, nor is it photography, film, video or text. I make this point not to dismiss these endeavours or in any attempt to exclude them from serious contribution to culture, but to delineate the concerns of my imaginary college. So take your melting ice sculptures and decomposing piles of leaves to another imaginary college. I’m sorry but you can’t come to mine.