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Goldsmiths, But is it Art?, BBC4

From: Martin Craig Michael
Date: 13 Apr 2010
Time: 11:38:09 -0500


So the secret's out: the high citadel of esoteric art world wisdom is empty. There's nothing going on behind the green door. The tutors are as vacuous and bitty in their remarks and as relativistically shoulder-shruggy as every shambling old piss-head sinecure in a provincial art school. 'It's all about the work. The rest is bullshit', says one, finding a characteristically hard-bitten way of justifying the fact that he has nothing to say at all. Sure they lay into some equally cookie-cut hapless painter in crisis just before his final show ('This is awful!'), but this is par for the course - same thing happened to me, in fact - a sudden eruption of aggression when, as the victim points out, it's too late to make much difference anyway. He follows their advice, puts up his old work and makes sales, but he leaves the course as he presumably arrived, feeling he has very little idea what he's doing. His crisis-moment tutorial was a study in futility, all the more Beckettian for being repeated thousands of times a year in art colleges up and down the country and probably all across America and Europe too. It goes like this: painter shows tutor unresolved work that is the product of nothing much more than dabbing away with no ideas, but hoping meaning and or purpose will somehow, fortuitously emerge. Tutor points out certain things that might sort of mean something and basically suggests going ahead with more large-scale pieces of the sort that are already grinding the student's soul to powder in order to explore these themes, which are of no interest to the student, further, and hastily departs. Is it worth pointing out that this kind of dive in and hope for the best (and there is no other way) approach is precisely not what people do in almost any other field of creative endeavour? What about a bit of fucking preliminary work? What about a bit of discussion of what one of the tutors refers to, in the single moment approaching critical acuity, as the 'competing ideologies' floating around any piece of work? What about 'Let's have a look at your sketchbook'? The grim determination to just go ahead and make the work and keep trudging through the desert of your own doubt hoping for an epiphany overrides discussions that are straining to be had and leaves students painfully tinkering: what about making that black bit yellow? No, keep the black tape, I like it. Try a few more like that. Oh gawd. How has this happened?