The Madness of Art Education

The Madness of Art Education

Arts June 14, 2012 / By Mark Sheerin
The Madness of Art Education

A frenzy of activities sweeps UK art schools this month as students put up their final year shows. The annual ritual is a triumph of hope guided by experience and a must see at your local college.

As she welcomes you to her performative installation, one forgets that fresh-faced Martha Mosse is only just a graduate. She invigilates her Performance and Visual Arts degree piece as if it had been shown here for years. Yet it has only just gone up; in six days' time, it will come back down.

Her promotional postcard thanks a local scaffolding firm along with technicians and tutors. But an extra round of thanks goes to her four performers who make the experience of this work, Perfection and its Friends, as startling as anything you will experience in a gallery.

Mosse is all steely self-assurance, confiscating drinks and issuing claustrophobia warnings. So the mood is serious even if the piece gives rise to nervous laughter. Visitors must climb in through a vulva shaped slit. Once inside they must negotiate bodies trapped in spandex. It is not too extreme to describe her degree show as a triumph, but where will that leave her?

Stories do the rounds about collectors turning up at degree shows and, outside of London; the show I'm at in Brighton is surely one of the best in the UK. But it is this hard-to-buy piece by Mosse, which for me best represents the spirit of art education: a hell of a lot of work merely for the sake of it.

There are 25 courses represented in the maze-like Grand Parade university building, with five more nearby at Pavilion Parade. It is as overwhelming as a Biennial, and for the students who put their work up, no less pressurized. Along with their parents and course mates, they will all be aware that walking career opportunities also come through those doors.

This expectation, which all talented final year students must have, gives the marathon show a sense of irresistible hope. There is also competition and this is the most competitive group show any of these emerging artists will ever find themselves in, even if the visitor is for the most part blissfully unaware of any rivalries.

But we also sense the sober hand of experience at work here, which belongs to the tutors who supervise projects, allocate pitches and make introductions. They have, of course, seen it all before and the well-worn institutional corridors remind us that degree shows come and go. Each has their stories of failure or success.

And yet, there is no getting away from the utopian impression of several hundred talented young people all pulling together. No wonder degree shows are so popular with the wider art world. And where else might a handful of volunteers agree to conceal themselves in spandex for hours at a time? This is not just dedication to fellow student Mosse, it is a dedication to the course and, what's more, great dedication to art.

Featured Image: Alec Rusha, Alec Rusha Trading, part of the Fine Art Sculpture BA Show at Brighton

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