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Talk on value of art school by J.Joffe at Temporary School of Thought

From:     Luckyjimm
Category: Art
Date:     17 January 2009
Time:     08:10 AM


This is from my blog, but may be of wider interest:

How necessary is art school to the artist? I arranged for my friend Jasper Joffe to debate the subject at the Temporary School of 
Thought. Forty people crowded into the cinema, a grand room at the ground floor rear of the main house with tiered seating 
we've made from pallet boxes and cushions. 

He began by stating that he couldn't think of a single contemporary artist of any worth who hadn't been to art school. "No, Jeff 
Koons went" ... "No, he's no good" and other objections swiftly dealt with. Then he set out some of its potential benefits. 
Through learning art history and receiving feedback from tutors and your peers in a formalised setting you develop a critical 
framework with which to evaluate your own art. You benefit from being part of a community of young artists sharing studio 
space, and develop a sense of yourself as a practicing artist. The value of the whole was not undermined by faults with the 
direction of individual departments, or the delays apparently now caused by the need to comply with health and safety 

A graduate of Ruskin College, Oxford, the Royal College and the British School at Rome, Jasper's performance itself embodied 
the advantages of a classical art education. Those currently studying art felt threatened by his inference that ones status as an 
artist is not something attained on the first day of enrollment, but is won through dogged perseverance in the years after 
graduation. And when he said that artists who hadn't been to art school or had dropped out are often chippy about it, the flailing 
audience set out to prove him right. 

The discussion was heated because it seemed Jasper was directly challenging what we're doing here. So have we created a 
good environment in which artists can work? I don't see people waking up and starting to paint. Maybe there is too much 
community here and not enough solitude and quiet contemplative space. Instead our time is taken up with everyday living - 
talking with each other, cooking, improving the property, and above all organising events. And then every few months we need 
to find somewhere new to live. 

The generally expressed view of the audience was relativist, rejecting the value judgments that enable us to differentiate good 
art from bad art. He encouraged them to see the distinction between arts and crafts, since people were claiming as art their 
doubtlessly skilled woodwork and metal work which led to the creation of things of practical use to the group such as buggies, 
containers and furniture, but which have no transcendent value. 

What this space gives is a sense of community and an environment in which art can be discussed, similar to that experienced at 
art school but which can be lost by the isolated artist in his lonely rented studio. But artists need a critical framework with which 
to evaluate the art they produce, and how does that exist if people reject institutional education? Does the art created over the 
last couple of months have any value; and, rejecting the judgments of both art school and the marketplace, how would we 
know? Are the people here really championing outsider or primitivist art? Do they never want to make a living out of it, and will 
they eat from bins forever?

Jasper made clear that he was supportive of what we're doing here, but we needed to think about all these issues. I think the 
answer is that these spaces are not fundamentally about art. Few members of our group are seeking careers in fine art. The 
idea is more a social experiment in alternative living and creating an open space free from financial or institutional pressures. 
We will see what comes out of it, and how sustainable this model is.

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