Great expectations?

imageBig artists often badmouth their arts institutions… but rarely have I heard criticism for the college praising them too much.

But this is exactly what was reported today. Artists, including Royal College of Art success story Gavin Turk and Chelsea School of Art graduate Fiona MacDonald, are criticising art colleges for a ‘celebrity culture’  that they say makes students think they can make it, regardless of the credit crunch.

Does the Royal College of Art suffer from a celebrity culture?

The criticism, which relates to the London colleges like Goldsmiths and the Royal College of Art, is possibly the most ridiculous criticism I have heard.

Do they think that students never heard the expressions ’starving artist’ or ’suffering for one’s art’? It’s hardly a new concept that becoming a successful artist is difficult, so surely these intelligent college graduates should realise that the streets are not necessarily paved with gold, credit crunch or no.

But what irks me most about this is that the alternative is far more damaging to students than what is, heaven forbid, encouragement could ever be.

Almost 20 years ago, back in 1991, it is said that tutors at Royal College of Art told classes: ‘If you think you’re the next big thing, forget it. You’re nothing.’ And, sadly, my own and many of my peers’ experiences of art college (NB, not the RCA) were like this.

Starting out as an art student, you are struggling to find an artistic voice, honing your craft and stepping out on shaky legs. And yet we felt we were often misdirected and discouraged, compounding the initial problem.

Too often, in an effort to drive up grades, tutors steer students away from their original method (eg painting) and down another route entirely (eg installation), which the student is neither passionate about nor feels authentic producing. Many of us left arts education with high grades but shattered confidence and vowed never to pick up a paint brush again.

Of course, I’m by no means implying that this is a uniform problem or that it is the universal experience of art students. It is merely intended to show the damage that can be caused by the reverse of this so called ‘celebrity culture’.

Perhaps ‘celebrity culture’ would be a step too far but, as long as it instils confidence in the students, particularly around their own work, then it will never hold them back.

It will encourage them to reach their potential, whether this is as an artist… or whether, in these credit crunch times, they have to fall back on a related career.

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