School of Saatchi on Tuesday nights on BBC 2 has become my new favourite programme. It’s X-Factor for modern art; you can catch up with it here on watch again.
Matthew Collings – who has presented the televised Turner Prize in the past, and done a good job of it, I think, taking a sceptical yet on the-side-of-it sort of line – is both a judge, and principal presenter of, this show. This week the ‘contestants’ were went out into the seaside world of Hastings where they were required to create installations. Collings, in commenting on the difficulties the ‘contestants’ would face in substituting ‘the emptiness that was in the space before the artists came along, said the following:
‘The nonsense that goes on in the heads of those poor students whose minds have been corrupted by decades of garbage in Art Schools is going to be manifested there out in the street for the public to see.’
I don’t know about that. I went to Norwich Art School (NSAD – Norwich School of Art and Design) in one of these past decades (94-97). If I recollect the experience correctly, though you could really do whatever you wanted – which would be the point (if there’s no freedom of expression, there’s no art school) – whatever you wanted included the opportunity to develop craft skills in the life room, the print room, the computer room and so on. Even in those years the works of Damien Hirst, Gavin Turk, Rachel Whiteread et al were on the syllabus – there were monographs, slides and videos in the library and there were on short loan, too: we were already studying our contemporaries, who, in some cases, doubled up as our heroes and inspirations. It was a free-spirited time. There were some students, perhaps, who were going to make the unhappy discovery that they weren’t artists, but as far as I was concerned there was no garbage in the experience at all. Perhaps it was different elsewhere.
It’s certainly different at Norwich Art School (NUCA – Norwich University College of the Arts) now. The anti-poetry of the new name (chosen by committee to exhibit the fact that the school is now allowed to accredit its own degrees) tells you all you need to know about how, in the past decade, such garbage as there is has come down from the top. The place has been dryly sanitised by the steady drip drip drip of a stagnant, ‘transparent’ New Labour form-filing Health and Safety ‘Human Resources’-led brand of uptight dronery. Now that all the bean counting has been done, and all the old ‘artist teachers’ have been squeezed out, the Mandelsonian task is complete. All that remains is a turgid structure of suffocation and the dread hand of beaurocracy. If I enrolled there today I don’t think I’d last six months before the weight of rules and the stifling atmosphere of authority killed me. Now that is garbage.
Emma Biggs/Matthew Collings : Primitive Methodist, 2008