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Articles

Publications

2009 'Picturing Men' a chapter in "Modes of Spectating" edited by Alison Oakley and Christine White published by Intellect in 2009

2006 ‘Making a new fine art degree’ catalogue essay commissioned by the University of Westminaster for the After Art School’ Exhibition. Republished on the Hero Website as ‘The Art of Freedom’

1999 Co-editor of catalogue for La Casa Elizalde, MIG Exhibition
published by University of Westminster

1996 Co-editor of catalogue for Watermans and James Hockey, MIG Exhibitions
published by University of Westminster

1996 Radical Postures: new media and race, Forward and Editor,
published by University of Westminster

1992 Developing Learner Autonomy in Enterprise Skills for Students, Butterworth and Heineman

1988 Information Design Journal, 198 5/2 ‘ Pictures with Words-semiotic links’

1981 Apollo Magazine ‘Palace Decoration in 18th century Spain’

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A Stroll through Uncanny Valley

A talk by Jeremy Mulvey
For ‘Megapixel: a conference on the impact of High Definition technologies on the Screen Arts and Education’.
10-11th October, 2007 FDMX and Anglia Ruskin.
To: Saint Walker   megapixel@anglia.ac.uk

 

This paper is a response to a recent talk given by Saint Walker’s entitled ‘A Quick Walk through Uncanny Valley’. The issues raised by his paper cry out for a broader and deeper examination that goes beyond the confines of computer and video games. I want to take as my starting point the phenomenon identified by the Japanese robotist, Masahiro Miro, in 1971, as ‘uncanny valley’.

 He noted that ‘while the more humanlike his robots became, the more attractive they were, if an android became too realistic and too lifelike, suddenly people were repelled and disgusted’.

Particular light can be thrown on this ‘uncanniness’ by looking at European Realism. Our pictorial tradition has been driven for 700 years by a demand for an ever more convincing illusion. This demand sets European art apart from the art of other cultures and has lead to the West producing a series of fascinating inventions one after the other: photography, colour photography, film, colour film, colour film with sound, colour film with sound and 3D, digital imaging and today’s all round visual total immersion. The picture we stand in front of has become a helmet we place on our head. It has also led us, perhaps, to too much high definition and the repellent nature of robots that are just too human.

The uncanniness Masahari Miro spoke of was defined by Freud in psychological terms as ‘unheimlich’ or ‘unhomely’ the anxiety we feel when the strange and the familiar become indistinguishable: the friend becomes a stranger and more worryingly for the box office, the hero becomes a bit of a monster.

If there is a demand for high definition, and there clearly is, what exactly are we trying to define more highly? Quotes from three painters help us muddy the philosophical water here.

Van Gogh: I believe realism has to be invented and has to be constantly
re-invented. I need to make changes to reality, which becomes lies that are truer than reality. I believe that reality in art is something profoundly artificial.

Picasso: I always take pains to lose sight of nature. I am concerned with verisimilitude, a deeper verisimilitude that is more real than reality.

Georgia O’Keefe: Nothing is less real than realism. Details are confusing. Only by selecting, omitting and emphasizing do we advance to the truer meanings of things.

I have not led you into these philosophical quick sands without reason: trust me I am academic.  It seems to me that all three painters are getting at roughly the same thing, saying that we have to make reality for ourselves out of something that’s out there beyond us. But that ‘something’ out there is not something that can be adequately represented by copying its appearance.

The problems of reality and representation are central to the work of the Fine Art Research Group at Cambridge School of Art. The artistic concerns of my colleagues, Jane Dixon and Ed Dimsdale, are central to the issues in this paper: namely, in Jane’s case what it means to say something is ‘real’ and in Ed’s case exploiting the rewards of low definition photo’ and print techniques: grain, shake and blurr. We will see this in Kentridge’ film at the end of this talk.

Lets go back to the European Tradition of representation by looking at three moments 15th century, 17th century and late twentieth century. 

The innocent search for a way of capturing the appearance of the world in 15th century oil painting is followed in the seventeenth century by the paradox of pictures that assert an illusion and deny its possibility at one and the same time.

 

Ω Van Eyck ‘The Arnolfini Double Portrait’ 1434
The innocent breathtaking details and sensual fidelity are laid out before us. Van Eyck shows off the new technology of oil paint in dazzling detail: the dog’s hairs, the fur trimming and the mirror.

Oh yes, the mirror- a ‘tour de force’ but the seed of a visual paradox is embedded deep with in it. However, Van Eyck’s illusion is maintained right into the surface of the paint: here is a technology that can hide it own means of production. No brushmarks are visible however close we go.   

No so for Velazquez’s painting 222 years later.

Ω Velazquez: ‘The Maids of Honour’ 1656.
In Velazquez’s painting the new technology has come of age, matured, lost its innocence and in finding its own unique characteristics has become a self-aware medium. Oil paint is essentially sloshy, fluid and sensual. As we get closer Velazquez’s image dissolves into a tissue of brush marks. The appearance of the world is captured in an even more convincing way than the Van Eyck and the brushmarks mimic not only the things painted but also the fragmented, broken way we see the world- this brings it alive. It has taken two hundred years for a new medium to reach its full mimetic potential.

And then, Velazquez reminds us that it’s an illusion: the mirror again.

 

This time not only are we not reflected in the glass but there isn’t even the image of the painter as in the Van Eyck. Instead we have a third focus of attention - the king and queen watching the painter looking at them. We are the focus of attention and displaced all at once. It’s an early example of alienation. The artist breaks his own illusion: like the actor turning to the audience and saying:
 “I am an actor and this is just a play”.

 

The extremes and the limits of representation get taken up again in a major way in the work the hyperrealists in the 70s. When representation in painting and sculpture was rejected by high art, it started to play with itself :photorealism, superealism. It has a variety of names.  

 

The unsettling hyperrealism in the work of contemporary sculptors such as Duane Hanson and Ron Mueck - both transferring techniques learnt in special effects film studios to the art gallery – deliberately savours the weirdness of Mori’s uncanny-valley humanoids.
Ω Hanson
Ω Mueck

The surface of the sculptures seems to be overburdened by an excess of detail. It is weird and alienating and raises those deeper questions about what representation is and what it is exactly that is being represented.

First of all the aim of visual representation is not to fool people- nobody has ever accidentally walked into a painting. We want to participate as viewers in the act of representation – we enjoy willingly suspending our disbelief.  As Richard Gregory states human perception is a creative imaginative act: we patch the world together from tiny bits constantly reviewing and adjusting an infinite series of hypotheses.

Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, its superman!
We don’t shout ‘it’s a kind of birdy-planey thing!” We just wouldn’t have survived as a species with such a response to our environment. In the Hanson and the Mueck this pleasurable pursuit is denied us as we glut on too many visual cues. As Degas observed, people get bored by images that lack mystery and vagueness.

∆ Narrative issues are crucial here and we do not have time in this paper to explore them. Vital here, also, is the issue of empathy touched on by Saint Walker and others in his talk. It is not whether the animated characters are accurate or even believable that matters: it is simply whether we care about them or not.∆

I want to look finally at the animation of the South African artist, William Kentridge, whose messy, ‘low tech’ interplay of sound, music, drawing, installation and stop-frame animation creates a complex and compelling narrative tissue. He deliberately uses a mish-mash of disguarded and obsolete media, hand puppets shadow puppets over-worked, messy charcoal drawing

We are always aware in his work of how the illusion is constructed: it’s only barely an illusion. Kentridge is keen on the Brechtian alienation as part of his message about the painful recent history of his country. No simple answers: no convincing illusion. His technology has a powerful sense of self-doubt; we see it constantly falling short of an ideal animation. Here is an animation that very nearly works and more importantly, I think, we help it to work.

By presenting his visions in such a ‘canny’ manner he deals with social issues in a forceful and subtle way: achieved, it seems, by being unburdened by high definition of any sort.

Ω William Kentridge: Faustus in Africa 1998

Biography
Jeremy Mulvey is a practicing artist. He was the cofounder of the Male Identity Group created to generate exhibitions that explore masculinity. He has shown internationally and exhibits regularly exhibitor the New English Art Club in the Mall Galleries.

On completing his degree in Painting at Kingston School of Art he was awarded a British Council Travelling Scholarship to Spain. On his return he gained a Masters in the Theory and History of Art at Essex University and has published articles on pictures and text. He is currently Research Curator in the School of Art at Anglia Ruskin University.   www.jeremymulvey.co.uk

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Making a new fine art degree: a historical perspective
Jeremy Mulvey 14/12/05

An enduring fascination
My fascination with art schools and fine art courses goes back a long way to my days as a student, 1967-71. I cannot enter an art school without trying to nose around the fine art studios. Even though I know what I will find there - paint-splattered studios and collected items lying around - my curiosity always gets the better of me.

I have been around fine art courses most of my life in one role or another: student, tutor, manager and artist. Although I had a difficult time at as a student, art schools and fine art courses always seemed like islands of rationality set within a sea of empty formality: school, summer jobs and the career. The phrase ‘in the real world’, often used to describe life beyond college, has always seemed a particularly inappropriate one to me. On the contrary, that world out there referred to in these terms has, more often than not, felt distinctly unreal to me.

So when, in 1992 while teaching at Westminster University, the chance of helping to develop a new sort of fine art course came my way, I jumped at it.

Conjuring up a new course and political expediency
Of course, it should be remembered that at this early stage, the proposed degree was not really about fine art at all. Far from it, as validated in 1993, the course started out as a general visual studies undergraduate programme. It was called BA Hons. in Design and Media Arts. This new degree attempted to encompass all the various ‘art school’ disciplines using the flexibility of the modular system to enable the students to put together their own course.

During the first year it became clear to me as Course Leader that the scope and ambition of this original idea was unattainable. The fine art and media production strands were forging ahead but design was failing due to the lack of staff expertise in the area. Also I came to realise that I had based the course documentation in design on the false modernist idea of the existence of generic ‘design’ skills which formed the basis of all the various design disciplines: graphic, interior, fashion and product design.

I must have had the Bauhaus in mind in the autumn of 1992 when I was trying to conjure up a viable course document from the wildly inclusive degree title I had been given to work with. It has to be remembered that a degree of ‘conjuring up’ was needed in those days. I came to realize that the title itself, announcing itself as it did with the sensible word ‘Design’, was the result of political expedience.

It was the early nineties, the era of late Thatcherism. An emphasis on vocational courses was the political flavour of the times. New courses in such ‘airy fairy’ disciplines as philosophy or fine art were thought to be pointless. The validation document the team eventually came up with was applauded. However, when it came to actually teaching what we had written that was altogether a different matter.

What emerged in the first years of the degree was a coherent programme encompassing media practice and fine art. Design was allowed to wither away in the background. The course changed its name to Mixed Media Art in 1995 and in 2000 renamed itself again as Mixed Media Fine Art. The name changes plot a path towards the self-realisation of the course’s geist: that is to say, the essential course that the staff wanted to teach and that the students seemed to want to learn.

Fine Art and the ‘Open Model’
If we compare the Dip AD Fine Art courses of the late 60s with the fine art degree courses to day they are broadly speaking the same. The Mixed Media Fine Art degree fits into that this mould. For more or less 40 years fine art students have spent most of the week involved in a variety of activities -painting, sculpture, drawing etc -in studios or workshops with a visit from a tutor and a regular weekly lecture that gives them a chance to think about what the doing the rest of the week. This is what I will call, for short hand, the ‘Open Model’.

The radical post-war shifts in curriculum that established this flexible,enduring and popular model had already taken shape by the time I got to art school. The new course I joined in 1968 was entitled Diploma in Art and Design (Fine Art). It came about as a result of the Report of the National Advisory Committee on Art Education. This report created a new type of fine art curriculum cleared of set visual exercises. It rejected a style of learning based on the acquisition of skills of increasing complexity undertaken by the student in a pre-ordained sequence. This way of training artists had been used since the establishment of European academies in the sixteenth century. This could be called the ‘Closed Model’ and is characteristic of the National Diploma in Design (NDD) that the new model replaced. In its place, Sir William Coldstream and the advisory committee put a curriculum that allowed the student to concentrate on a fine art practice of their choice throughout the week studying at their own pace and only interrupted by the weekly art history lecture. Thus the 1960 Report ushered fine art teaching into modernity well before most other disciplines (1).

While the broad structure of the open model has remained the same from 1966 to 2006, there have been many adjustments. These are usually described in terms of shifts in areas of aesthetic concerns, philosophy, politics and changes in practice and media. These shifts are adequately dealt with elsewhere (2) (3). However, I want to focus on other issues: in particular the search for a way of teaching the new curriculum. I want to examine the changes that took place in the way people treated each other over this period - particularly the way tutors learnt to treat students.

Many of the shifts in behaviour were not exclusive to the world of fine art. They reflect profound changes in the broad social context in which art schools have existed. The way people behaved towards each other in 1966 would seem odd if observed from today’s viewpoint - like watching an old film.

For example, class was not taboo in the 60s and was up for discussion. The upheavals of ’68 in Europe and more locally at Hornsey Art School were all about class. We talked about being middle or working class. This was true of all higher education in Britain at the time. But there was a distinctive ethos about art schools that had not penetrated other areas of academia. It seemed more working class than middle class: a lauding of physical work, a care for tools and equipment and a respect for those who possessed manual skills.

But if class was on the agenda, other topics were not. In the four years that I was at college there were three black students in the Fine Art Department. Race was not yet up for discussion despite the civil rights movement across the Atlantic. At any rate, useful ways of thinking and talking race were not to hand in those days. We had to wait for post-colonial theory and a future generation of artists, such as Maud Salter, Sonia Boyce, Keith Piper and Shaheen Merali to alter that forever.

As for men and women, things were different in those days. The fact that the fine art staff team where I studied were all men seemed natural to me then although my fellow students were mostly women. I was not aware of it at the time but looking back the evidence of immanent change was there. By the time I graduated in 1971, the anger and frustration of women students about the way they were marginalised and patronised at college was reaching breaking point.

The vicious homophobia of the 60s ensured that only a few brave artists like David Hockney and Derek Jarman dared to make their sexuality visible. “Hey you’ve got to hide your love away”, John Lennon’s song for Brian Epstein from Rubber Soul gives a taste of the times. I suspect the situation for lesbian and gay staff and students has become less oppressive today.

A major shift in the people’s behaviour since the 1960s is the change in the way students expect to be treated by tutors. It is this area that the Mixed Media Fine Art degree has tried to address some of the problems inherent in the fine art teaching tradition and in doing so has tried to take full advantage of the potential offered by the ‘open model’. But first we need to look at the strengths and weaknesses of this model as it was taught in the 60s.

The ‘Open Model’ and unstructured time
What did I learn as a fine art student? A number of important things come to mind that I consider the strengths of the model. Firstly, I picked up certain complex aesthetic values in tutorials, art history lectures, crits and chats with other students. Then I learnt how to use painting and drawing materials and set up a studio. Moreover, for the first time since going to school, I learnt to respect myself: a sort of egocentricity seemed to be required of me. I learnt that my reaction to things was unique, significant and worth making a record of in one form or other. And finally, just as important, I learnt how to get through time – vast acres of unstructured time.

This expanse of time was the gift of the open model to my generation of art students. This freedom seemed to be so different from the world of school or work. We had to sign in by 9 o’clock in the morning but nobody was quite sure how to handle the empty week or what the model was exactly. Were we operating a school timetable, a factory shift system or office hours? It was not clear. Looking back, we were an experiment in a ‘new time’(4) This new, unfettered time allowed for a curiosity to flourish in me, barely remembered from my pre-school days.(5)

The empty open curriculum felt strange. There was some notion that you had to be ‘in’ painting or drawing between 9am and 5pm but you could wander ‘off site’, at will, to the library or the canteen or the shops. To have time and a substantial grant as well was, frankly, an excellent set-up.

It was as if you were trusted with something precious for the first time. If your work was considered to be going well then nobody seemed to mind much how you spent your time. If it was thought that things were going badly then you could be critised for being “‘in’ too much” or “not ‘in’ enough”; but there was a refreshing ambivalence about the whole thing. I think, we were the first cohorts to experience such an abundance of time. We were often told by our tutors that we were benefiting from something new.

The ‘complementary studies’ staff team, made up of art history, literature and music graduates fuelled this intoxicating atmosphere. They energetically propagated the work of avant-garde artists and institutions that they felt created this new freedom and openness. A cross-section of items available to fine art students from one year (1967-68) at one college not only gives you and idea of the content but also an idea of the resources available to higher education in those days. There were lectures on Dada, The Bauhaus, and Black Mountain College as well as student and staff performances of Dada cabarets, of plays from the Theatre of the Absurd by Arabal and Ioneco, of the Scratch Orchestra and of pieces by the School of Cage.

The conceptual poise of a performance piece like Bruce Nauman’s ‘Failure to levitate in my studio’ (1966) epitomises this moment of existential possibility (6).

Beyond the ‘macho crit’, ‘huddling’ and ‘labelling’: the search for a new pedagogy
Unfortunately, however, there were a number of key problems with the post-Coldstream fine art courses. The new empty curriculum and emphasis on the student’s subjective responses left the staff with the problem of how to teach such a course.

My analysis is based on my own experience and others might have had a very different story. My criticisms are not targeted at a particular college or particular people. The problems I identify were, I feel, structural and shared by many fine art courses. The past had to happen. From what others have told me, it is clear that some tutors found effective ways of teaching the new open curriculum and of encouraging students to flourish, students mostly unfamiliar and unprepared for such a style of education. But I think these tutors were few and far between certainly in the early days.

For the most part, it seems, the staff, bereft of a coherent teaching strategy for the new curriculum, fell back on a number of tactics. Firstly there was the ‘macho crit’. The students would be allowed to do what they wanted for a few weeks. Then towards the end of each term there would be a big gathering of staff and students. The student’s work would be examined in front of the others and clear examples of success and failure pointed out to the year group. It seemed that the educational idea underpinning this was that a hard-hitting attack would encourage the students. Angry observations and insults were exchanged. It could be frightening.

According to Roy Trollop, who was a student in the 50s at St Martins Art School and who later became Head of the Fine Art Department at Central St Martin’s School of Art, the first ‘macho crit’ was imported from the United States in the 1963. An American abstract expressionist came St Martin’s Art School to show his art and stayed around to discuss the student’s work. He launched into a scathing attack on the work as a whole and any individual who contradicted him. Everybody was bewildered as traditional pre-war crits had been a relatively gentlemanly exchange of opinions. Doubtless, the American artist barrated them all for their lack of authenticity and commitment. The era of the dilettante had come to an end. The ‘macho crit’ had arrived.

Clearly a number of tutors saw in the performance that took place that evening in St Martin’s - transferred as it was from the artist’s lofts and bars off Washington Square, New York – something very potent. It offered them a useful way of containing the daunting freedom that students and staff encountered as a result of the new curriculum. The ‘macho crit’ had been brewing in the United States for some time and might well have originated in continental Europe at the Bauhaus. Robert Rauchenberg recalls crits by Josef Albers at Black Mountain College in the 1950s as devastating events. Although they provided him with searing insights into his work, Rauschenberg felt he just could not go on with them and absented himself after the first few sessions (7). I suppose the ‘macho crit’ was meant, at best, to be a bracing experience. At worst, it could feel as though you had got caught up in a modernist boot camp.

Another tactic was ‘huddling’. There was a significant level of alchohol dependency amongst most of the tutors I came across. Discussions about aesthetics would transfer from the studio to the college bar or a near by pub. Often the topics were complex to begin with but got cruder and more heated as the evening wore on. I suspect these occasions could be very useful opportunities for gaining insights if you got invited to them. But a degree of huddling took place: only students the staff felt comfortable with were taken along. More importantly, these ‘fatherly chats’ or ‘family rows’ meant that the tutors were undercutting the potential openness of the new fine art course by trying to mould students in their own image.

The onslaught of identity politics of the 70s and 80s dented this form of cloning a little. Alchoholism in art schools diminished for some reason in the late 80s and as it did the occasions for huddling became fewer.

The notion that teaching staff’s job was to identify the students as ‘exceptionally talented’, ‘talented’ or ‘not talented’ was still prevalent in the 60s. A greater clarity about the universality and flexibility of human creativity emerged with post-war psychology and sociology. This greater understanding began to take hold in higher education in the 80s and increasingly marginalised the practice of ‘labelling’ students. The ‘open model’ of the fine art curriculum inherited this practice from centuries of art teaching. Moreover, the idea of teaching as process of selection and grading of people rather than performance was contrary to the democratic spirit and thrust of the post-war education agenda. Students began to arrive at college from comprehensive schools rather than pre-graded via grammar schools and secondary moderns.

However, he enduring problem of how to teach the remarkable ‘open model’ was still with us when we came to set up the new course in 1993. Generations of staff had got better at tutoring and assessments had become less bullying and whimsical. But there was still no clear pedagogy to rely on which made any fine art course vulnerable to the whims of personality and aesthetic fashion.

I was keen to find a way of preparing the students for the freedom inherent in fine art courses and I was determined that students should not experience the level of castigation and coercion that had characterised my days as a student.

Experiential Learning and Re-evaluation Counselling
The problem came down to ensuring that the freedom of the open model was maintained. In particular it was important that the spaces it created were protected from being colonised and filled up with activities alien to its spirit. I turned to two main sources of theory and practice to resolve these issues. ‘Experiential Learning’ which offered strategies for developing the autonomy of the student (8) and ‘Re-evaluation Counselling’ which offered effective ways of freeing up students intelligence by undoing unhelpful, compliant patterns of learning picked up in secondary school. (9)

For any pedagogical strategy to work it has to be shared by the majority of the teaching team and I was not alone in my interest in experiential learning. I had invited Carol and David Boud from East London University to run a series of ‘Developing Learner Autonomy’ courses at Westminster in the late 80s. The majority of the staff team were already familiar with key issues of experiential learning such as Kolb’s ‘learning cycle’. From 1987-1993 Sandy Sykes, Pip Thompson and I experimented with our teaching by adapting experiential learning techniques to art and media programmes. In due course, Thompson and I brought the insights we gained form these experiments to the development of the new the mixed media fine art degree in 1993.

We introduced planning and reviewing strategies to help the students learn how to make effective use of the openness, incoherence and uncertainty that characterise fine art study and are essential to the creative process. We borrowed a number of mechanisms from media education, most notably the writing of statements of intent and critical evaluation forms. These enabled the student to share the tasks of directing and monitoring their learning with the tutor. These mechanisms prevented the student from becoming too dependent on staff guidance. They also did way with the ‘macho crit’ and its ‘stop-go’, convulsive style of learning.

But I felt more drastic measures were needed to address the problem of the step change expected of the student when they go from secondary school or work to art college. There was nothing new here. Traditionally the gap between school and art college had been bridged by foundation courses but fewer and fewer students were coming to us via this route. ‘Limbering up’ sessions for beginners had been part of modernist art education from many decades. Johannes Itten ran yoga classes for first year students at the Bauhaus in Germany in the early 1920s. We needed a sort of ‘intellectual rehab’ for new arrivals to our new course.

My effort was to set up a module entitled, Student-centered Learning, modular code DMA 100, compulsory for all students at the beginning of the first year. In this they were introduced to experiential learning strategies and given the opportunity of planning their modular programme. More crucially the students were given a chance to undo some of the less helpful learning habits of secondary education. These ways of thinking stood in the way of taking advantage of the freedom and scope of the curriculum.

I used techniques adapted from Harvey Jackins’ Re-evalution Counselling practice, in particular, the co-counselling session. The session, in which two or more people take it in turns listening to each other without interruption, is a powerful tool for facilitating thinking and taking charge of one’s world. These voluntary sessions were useful building blocks for people taking a fresh look at the way they had learnt. The clarity this process brought enabled them to see the course more clearly for what it was and not what they imagined it to be or what it may have reminded them of. This process was followed by a written review of their ‘history as a learner’.

Whilst paying lip-service to liberal eclecticism and offering the students a range of theories, I took a clear stand in my course lectures in favour of writers such as Jackins, Ehrenzweig (10) and Winnacott (11). These thinkers see human curiosity and creativity as an essential part of human intelligence and crucial to rational thought and mental health. I have always rejected popular nonsense about (a) artists being mad and (b) the creative process being in some way connected to insanity.

Some students took to the reviewing and counselling aspect of the module like ducks to water and have told me since it was a real help. Others found it threatening and invasive. I was helped by the Student Counselling staff at the Harrow campus, who were supportive of what I was doing. They assisted me in setting boundaries for the learning review. These were needed so that there were realistic expectations about what could be sorted out by the limited time we had for the process. The cut off point between our problems as young learners and our general childhood and teenage struggles is never a clear one.

I gave up teaching the module in 1998 after running ten versions of it for full-time and evening class students. I think it was a good idea but it was exhausting to run and there were a number of problems I was unable to resolve. I never found a way of integrating an essentially non-judgemental process, i.e. reviewing your history as a learner, with the module assessment scheme. Unlike the experiential learning aspect of the course, the rest of the staff team, though broadly supportive of what I was doing team did not share the theory and practice of the reviewing process and co-counselling. Any good tutorial has to have an element of non-judgemental listening built into it and should be the antithesis of the ‘macho crit’. Moreover, that process should be ongoing through out the student’s time on the degree programme and not a crash course at the beginning.

My idea was a good one but it was a little before its time. Anyway, it should be remembered that Johannes Itten’s yoga sessions were scrapped from the Bauhaus curriculum after the mid-twenties and yet yoga is now available for everyone on most campuses in Britain today. I look forward to a time when a way has been figured out of making counselling techniques available to all of us to help us in our day-to-day dealings with each other and the environment in general. I am sure the time will come.

Fine art, universities and the professional art world
I have always been in favour of the integration of art schools into universities that took place in the 80s and 90s. I felt they needed to become departments in university faculties rather than isolated and intellectually inward-looking academies. I think art schools have benefited from being part of a wider academic community with its broader base of support as well as the critical rigour it provides. The incorporation into the research programme as part of this faculty connection benefited the course enormously. The staff teabecame involved in exhibition programmes at home and abroad. The students benefited from the expertise and example of a number of associate researchers and teaching researchers attached to the course: Alison Craigshead, Keith Wilson, Shaheen Merali, Sarah Pucill and Shez Dawood.

I saw the introduction of the fine art courses into a university-wide modular system as a welcome development of this integration. I was only partly right in this. The modular system allowed art students to take advantage of the wider range of contextual studies across the campus. But breaking up the seamless ‘open model’ into little twelve-week learning chunks called ‘modules’ threatened its very existence.

There was danger was that it would be filled with educational clutter in the form of small projects which have nothing to do with the adventure of developing a personal body of work over three years. The course was saved in the mid 90s by the wit and experience of Peter Roach and Ben Joiner who cracked the modular code, kept the curriculum open and saved the course from descending into a fragmented, project-based waste of time.

Both Roach and Joiner went on to become Course Leaders. Another key contribution they made to the survival of the course was to see that the course was adequately resourced with studio space, equipment and materials. It is no use having vast acres of time with nowhere to do anything and nothing to do it with. Existential enquiry is expensive.

Another innovative aspect of the new fine art course was the work placement, an idea I borrowed from the graphic design degree I taught on art Westminster in the 80s. One of the features of fine art courses that developed after the Coldstream report was its separation from the professional, commercial art world of galleries and public spaces. Access to this world was to be delayed until the Masters level of Fine Art study. This is both a strength and a weakness. The work placement gave the second-year students a chance to experience a chosen professional setting without the course becoming overly vocational. Many students benefited from this. I was frequently amazed at the artists they managed to shadow and the places they found to work in . A series of staff have ensured that this element of the course has been a success. They fully grasped the spirit of the placement exercise and generously shared their expertise and professional contacts with the students. They are Keith Wilson, Shaheen Merali, Peggy Atherton and Shez Dawood.

Malcolm le Grice and a bigger vision
The new fine art courses of the 60s came into being in a era of great hope and prosperity that buoyed me up as a teenager: a time in which anything seemed possible. But the era of the 90s in which the MMFA began was a very different. It was a time of despair and a time in which staff and students had been worn down by decades of cutbacks in welfare, education and health provision.

A key figure in the birth of the Mixed Media Fine Art degree was Malcolm le Grice. From what those taught by him have told me, he was an excellent tutor. Quite clearly he was one of the few teachers who understood the potential of the ‘open model’ and could help others to make full use of it. Malcolm was Head of the Art Department at the University of Westminster when the team where developing the new degree in 1992.

Entering Malcolm’s office at Harrow was like entering a bright capsule of hope. I learnt a lot from him about outmanoeuvring institutional opposition. On occasions I left his office with reservations about how the course would be resourced. But he always made me feel confident that the course the team was developing was important and that we would achieve our vision. Talking to him I felt that our efforts that not a temporary struggle but were part of realising a bigger, longer term vision – a vision that stretched back to the 1960s.

Finally, I think we made significant inroads into overcoming some of the shortcomings and ensuring we saved the best of the ‘open model’ that was bequeathed to us by Coldstream’s generation. I have a great sense of pride in playing a part in creating a new fine art course in the hostile environment of late Thatcherism. And with others in the team, I am proud that the course has produced a full ten years of graduates and is still flourishing.

Jeremy Mulvey
Research Convenor, Cambridge School of Art,
Anglia Ruskin University.
January, 2006

 

Footnotes
1 Report on the National Advisory Committee on Education: Her Majesties Stationary Office, 1960
2 Stuart MacDonald : The History and Philosophy of Art Education:
James Clarke and Co, 1992
3 Jon Thompson: Coldstream to QAA: Critical Quarterly 47, pp215-255,
ed. Colin McCabe, 2005
4 Professor Patrick Scannel: Big Brother, Heidegger and Time: a research paper for Communication and Media Research Institute (CAMRI), University of Westminster, 1996.
Professor Scannel’s paper offers the reader insights into the way we experience time and what happens to us when the temporal structures we take for granted are withdrawn.
5 Professor Rebecca Stott: On curiosity : an inaugural lecture given to the Faculty of Art, Law and Social Sciences, Anglia Ruskin University, 18th January, 2006
Professor Stott’s paper explores the crucial role of curiosity in the development of European thought and its portrail in literature as social transgression.
6 Bruce Nauman: theatres of experience Exhibition Catalogue, Deutsche Guggenheim, Berlin 2003
7 Starting at Zero: Black Mountain College 1933-57 Exhibition Catalogue Arnolfini/Kettles Yard, 2006
8 Kolb, D.: Experiential Learning: EagleCliffs new York, 1985
also Boud, D.: Reflection - turning Learning into Experience:
9 Harvey Jackins: The Human Situation: Rational Island Publishers,
Seattle, 1973
also Harvey Jackins: ‘The art of listening’ in : The Reclaiming of Power pp173-190: Rational Island Publishers, Seattle 1983
10 Anton Ehrenzweig: The Hidden Order of Art: University of California Press, 1971
11 Donald Winnicott: Playing and Reality: Tavistock Publications, 1971