Our latest exhibition at Arena is A Degree of Uncertainty which features twelve recent graduates from Liverpool John Moores, Liverpool Hope, Manchester Met and UCLAN (Preston). Here is the introductory text for the exhibition which is open until the beginning of September and well worth a visit.
If the public at large does have an image of art schools, it lies somewhere between envious fantasies of student promiscuity and fear of having the wool pulled over its eyes by privileged narcissists escaping from the real world. (1)
The current state of higher education in the arts has been the subject of vehement discourse recently. The subject seems to have struck a nerve across the arts, provoking intense debate. The seeming catalyst of this recent focus, Royal College tutor and artist Graham Crowley’s open letter to Art Monthly attacking the current state of higher art education, has spurned hundreds of responses ranging from undergraduates penning their rage at the lack of tutors in their inadequate facilities to module leaders defending the institutions in which they work.
Overall these debates have painted a melancholic landscape that is current arts education in England.
Alongside rising tuition fees and the limited prospect of employment as graduate numbers outstrip graduate jobs, the position of the recent arts graduate is as precarious as ever. It is true that the modular content on these courses are often woefully out of touch with reality and do not equip artists with the vital skills they need to succeed outside of the safety of the studio. That being said, arts education is still intrinsic to the development of artists early in their careers offering the chance, possibly for the first time of meeting peers and having to the chance to experiment and form their ideas and interests as artists.
A Degree of Uncertainty aims to celebrate the fundamental outcome of art education – the ideas of the blossoming artist. The artists in the exhibition have been selected by Arena from viewing their respective degree show exhibitions held this summer. For the majority of them, it is the departure point of their careers after degree level education.
The School of Art has always been an anomaly in relation to its counterparts across campus. Perhaps this is why it has generated so much passionate debate; art is just not like any other course or field. Studying art and developing your practice is an autonomous journey that must be undertaken with dedication, grit, open mindness and patience. The uncertainty that awaits after education must be embraced and challenged, if this exhibition offers a platform for the exhibiting artists to do this then they must push on.
Jack Welsh, August 2009
(1) Paul Wood, Art Monthly’s special issue on art education, October 2008/ Issue 320, p10-11.