Thursday, 21 February 2013

A Rant

Art College 2.0: How to cope with being an art student

Think graffitis on washroom walls. Think electric blue beanies and oversized velvet cardigans paired with washed out dungarees. Think late night coffees (and perhaps drugs), and acrylic paint or tobacco and empty canvases. Oh, and think creepers as well. Think overdraft, recession, Dalston & Peckham's hip kids instagramming their unmade beds, and some nonsense facebook status à la Damien Hirst's dead shark. Also, think 9000£. An art degree has never seemed less appealing these days, especially when the fees tripled last year. Who would want to go to an Art college anyway? Who would want to go to university to study film instead of getting a real degree? A lot of people, actually, including me. This year's Ucas figures show some signs of recovery from last year's 15% drop in creative design and art courses applications. The number of students hoping to apply for art and design next year is up by 2.4%, and I happily applaud this figure.

Could this small rise in art-related applications signify that the arts are not as dead as we want them to be? Could it mean that people are finally taking us seriously? Perhaps. I come from a background where going to an art college is usually frowned upon. An art degree is not a serious degree, not a real one. Science and business are. You can imagine my surprise when I came to London and discovered that the creative industry was so vibrant and omnipresent in our lives. With multiple art colleges spread across London, art students are everywhere. You can usually spot them at a small and independent cinema because Tarantino is just so much better on a small screen (right?), or strolling around markets on a lazy afternoon because markets are so alternative and underground. Am I right? I am not trying to say that art students are pretentious, rather that there are certain stereotypes that they (and I) love to live up to. Just try us. Bring us to the cinema and you can be certain that your movie will be ruined by 'The color gradient in this scene is shit' and 'This is fucking bullshit because... but from a visual point of view it makes sense because...'. Not to say that non-art students cannot be critical when it comes to films, but they simply wait until the end to discuss it; whereas we get thrown out of cinemas and bars because we've been debating the futility of an english pie with a very angry boy for too long (true story). Or bring us anywhere else and you'll find yourself plotting ways to (artistically, of course) end our lives. Don't worry, we get threats everyday, especially when we hang around museums and warehouses for too long.


All sarcasm put aside, my main problem with art degrees is the connotation and stereotypes that surround it. Why is there such a pejorative connotation attached to the word 'art college'? Why does it always have to be contrasted with science and say, mathematics? Why all this nonsense about creative vs. logic, right hemisphere vs. left hemisphere? The answer is that there is a gap in education that no one is willing to fill. We are taught, from an early age, that you either go into art and humanities or you go into science and business. That your brain is either wired that way, or the other. This is particularly present amongst countries such as Switzerland or France. If you are not good at maths but can draw a hand with six fingers (=creative genius), it must mean that your brain is wired in a creative way, it functions in a more artistic way as opposed to a logical one. What you have, then, is a conflict between nurture and nature. Are you not creative enough because you are a doctor at core or because no one has ever taught you to use your imagination? Are you bad at maths because you are, at the very core, an artist; or are you bad at maths simply because no one pushed you to work harder? Granted, we do not all have the same learning capacities. Some learn faster, some are slow, and some are less logical than others. This does not mean, however, that once a preference is shown to either the arts or the sciences, we should push someone in that direction. Intelligence is fluid, and reveals itself in different ways. And one thing that does stimulate intelligence is learning skills in a wide range of topics, from the arts to the sciences.

If you are familiar with the swiss or the french educational system, you will know that after a certain number of years in the curriculum, you are forced to choose between a Bac L (diploma that focuses on literature and humanities), Bac S (diploma that focuses on science) or Bac ES (diploma that focuses on economic sciences & humanities). The positive aspect of these different diplomas is that it helps the student focus on what he likes and is good at. The negative aspect is that it reduces his ability to succeed. The dichotomy between science and art is such that it is now seen as 'nerdy' to study science while it is considered 'pretentious & lazy' to study art. Can't we ever have people who are creative geniuses yet still capable of logical thought processes? These two aspects of the same coin are always dissociated, when instead they simply imply an intelligent person who is able to see past this division in the education world. By constantly polarizing the arts and the science, the education system is not only strengthening the stereotypes we have around these two fields, but also discouraging people from doing one or the other. People should be able to reach their potential. As someone who failed all her math exams throughout high school, I am convinced that I could have passed all of them had I not been fed this idea that 'it's just not the way my brain works. I'm more creative. I am doomed anyways, no need to study for that exam'. Looking back, there is a lot more that I could have achieved, and it is a shame that the education system nowadays is still perpetuating the arts/science dichotomy. I mean, it's not that hard to be good at both, is it?


  1. Every time I have the nature vs nurture debate with myself, I tend to get even more confused! Are we all naturally limited in some way or do we all carry a special Da Vinci gene? Many have been trying to answer this question before us, is the answer ever going to be found? For the time being, I'm keen on the idea that people's capabilities have to be constantly challenged in their youth in order for them to continue challenging themselves later in life and thus keep pushing their own boundaries.

  2. Art degrees will get you high. I'm advocate of positive graffities

  3. nicely illustrated, fabulously argued. to make your argument more newsworthy, it is possibly worth linking to the rows that various governments and social commentators continue to have about education (just google michael gove and see what turns up). apologies for no cap letters, my arts degree refuses to let me use them (aka my laptop is broken). Nicola

  4. Really good one (well, we sure had more than one rather loud debate about this haha). I really don't get this segregation between arts and sciences. For Christ's sake, think Humanism, the fondation of the Soborne and Leonardo Da Vinci. Bringing science and arts together takes the human intellect to the paroxysm of its efficiency! I guess it is just much better to put us all in boxes so that society will be easier to run. And it's better to make creatives look delusional because they question everything including what the "big people" don't want the "small people" to question. Hahaha I sound so conspirational. But what can I say, I am an art student.

  5. Hah, I couldn't agree more with you! I did computer science, combined with a bit of mechanical engineering and electronics and while I didn't dislike it per se I always hated it being put into categories. (and still do)