before I begin

Life is too short to live behind lies

Friday, 1 October 2010

temporary contemporary

it seems to me that the term 'contemporary' art is increasingly used by so called 'curators' who really have no understanding of art history.
I must begin by confirming a personal interest ( gripe) here in that as a painter I am very aware that in many areas this medium is somehow seen as not being worthy of the term 'contemporary'. However , i believe that i understand why this may be the case.

It is a sad fact that some institutions of learning ( particularly in fine art) have lost the teaching staff who are;
a/ working artists themselves
b/ have high levels of technical skill

The result is that students do not have access to a full range of creative methods and techniques. The emphasis is shifted to concept rather than construction. Many of these students themselves fall into teaching and the cycle is continued.

Meanwhile ( as i have metioned in earlier posts) in order to secure funding from the arts council or similar bodies, public galleries need to justify an education programme. In some cases this is done by forming links with local universities. As a result, the gallery's programme of events becomes associated with the 'colour' of that particular university. If the learning institution is of the type described above, what we have is a recipe for a kind of monopoly on  what the public are told is 'contemporary art'.

This is of course not a new phenomenon. The links between galleries and art schools goes back a very
long way and it is in theory a very healthy relationship. However the evolution of our 'tick box' culture has created a generation of teachers and  curators who are concerned with the completion of the criteria on the assesment and funding forms. The filling in of all those little boxes without which there will be no money! We may have come to believe that without funding there will be no art!!  So there are fewer people in the arts who will lift their  heads, step back and simply ask 'Is this good art?..Is this worthy...Is it effective..and ( dare I say it?) .Is this  VISUALLY interesting???...Why? ..because they are essentially administrators and not educationalists or critics.

The result is often that the term 'contemporary art' is not neccessarily associated with that which is dealing with todays issues in today is associated with certain media and methods preferred by particular institutions. We sometimes end up seeing exhibitions of what I call 'novelty art' rather than 'new art'.

How do we address this? I am not really sure to be honest but what I do believe is that before recovery can take place, one must admit there is a problem. Wouldn't this be a truly creative and couragous challenge for us all!


  1. Call my literal, but I thought 'contemporary' (when applied to the creation of art) simply means made in the time we are in (in that it is contemporary to our existence - or in a historical sense, 'Renoir and Monet were contemporaries'). But then, I used to swallow a dictionary every night.

    "The result is that students do not have access to a full range of creative methods and techniques." - In the past I have seen so many teachers pushing their particular interest, and without fail, the good ones are the ones who didn't do that. Not only is it bad for the students who take their pushing, and go in a direction possibly unnatural to them, but it is also bad for the students who don't; they are then left out in the cold and are discouraged for a long period of time.

    "We may have come to believe that without funding there will be no art!!" - This always distresses me. Native Americans didn't have funding to create their art, neither did Aborigines (and in fact, when funding was brought in to their Australia, it caused widespread abuse of them by the white man) - money does not create art, let alone 'good' art - imaginative minds mixed with developed skill and style does.

    "How do we address this?" - I'm going to go out on a limb here, and suggest more hands on working with students - I think it's the contact with other, more developed creative minds, that opens a student's mind to other possibilities. Access to lots of facilities might be great, but without a good teacher they're practically useless, because all the student will do is the little they know. "Many of these students themselves fall into teaching and the cycle is continued. " - so, will Castlereagh try and run a top up to degree then? ;-) (for reference, I think the entire class would be overjoyed if it is possible.)

    For a last thought, my Granddad always used to say, particularly of my first art teacher in school, "those who can, do - those who can't - teach" - possibly an overused statement, and unfair against those people who go into teaching with the desire to do just that - but it is true of a number of teachers, sadly, and particularly in art. A person goes through foundation, degree, and comes out the other side, maybe tries to work "as an artist" and discovers that they can't make any/enough money from it, so they look around for a job they can use their degree in. Teaching is fairly high on the list. But that doesn't make it right, or fair on the students that then go through their hands. Unfortunately, third level teaching is the place where a lot of these people try to get to - whether the money, or the idea that they won't have to put up with as many 'time wasters' is the lure, I don't know.

    Bit depressing to consider, when I've wanted to teach for over ten years. (not always art, I'll grant, I started out wanting to teach drama)

    Thought provoking as usual!

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