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The Art School Of The Future

“Day 1: a teenager excitedly enters the large, white D-Room. It is pristine white, round, featureless, with bright strip lighting. Nothing is made here. The only function of the D-room is show-and-tell (D doesn’t stand for anything in particular, but it sounds like it could). The Newbie (the official name for incoming students) must present a work of art he’s made over the summer, based on a brief given to him with his Letter of Acceptance. The thirty selected students were given a randomly generated name and asked to make an artwork titled with that name. There are no tutors present. Instead, there is the entire Final Year class_—_thirty men and women, aged between 22 and 23, standing with feet wide apart and crossed arms, in a closed circle.
They turn around when they see the first Newbie and welcome him into the center, with his work_—_a postcard-sized block of wood with white, textured gesso on three sides. His initial confidence melts into terror with each step into the center of the circle. The block falls out of his hand twice, as he is prompted to speak by one of the Finals. He composes himself, and with a dry mouth fumbles an explanation. He keeps repeating “…and… I’m not sure why I did that, but anyway haha…”. The Finals loudly tut, exhale, and clear their throats. Some begin to whisper amongst themselves. The Newbie’s eyes dart. The agony is over in five minutes, as the Newbie talks himself to a full stop. The circle opens up and he hurriedly exits. His 29 peers follow, throughout the morning. In the afternoon, a Final gathers the Newbies in the G-Room. They are sat in a circle. They must write down their initial impressions of their neighbor with a maximum of five sentences. They are given one minute to do so, and are switched with a new neighbor. At the end of thirty minutes, everyone has a collection of everybody’s first impressions.
Day 24: the Newbies have been set a rigorous schedule of life drawing classes and assignments. Today, they are asked to draw a large pile of chairs and tables, stacked in the middle of the G-Room. They must use black biros, and are positioned behind easels arranged in a circle around the furniture pile. Three Finals, who give them gentle advice on perspective and judging the distances between the mass of chair vertices and seats, supervise the group. Throughout the exercise, the Finals loudly emphasize the importance of a faithful reproduction of the subject in front of them. The room is silent, apart from advisory whispers. Hours go by. Eyes go numb. The chair legs pulsate as the negative space jumps in and out of prominence, like a magic eye with no hidden image. Finally, the bell tolls at 3pm and the exhausted group jumps up in unison to escape for fresh air. While at lunch, everyone’s drawings are swapped around. Some are removed and replaced with previous years’ drawings from the same exercise. At 4pm, the Newbies are hurried back in. The chairs are gone. They’re told to quickly take their drawings, write their full name on the lower left corner and hand it to the Final students. Before the confusion is given a chance to materialize, the Final students briskly pin all the A3 drawings on the far wall. And as the last drawing is fastened, they announce the surprise arrival of an art world VIP! “And… we are delighted to welcome_—_director of the Serpentine gallery_—_Hans Ulrich Obrist!” Hans walks through the door with an entourage of scribes, assistants and film crew. The air is slammed by raucous ovation. As the applause calms to excited and nervous giggles, Hans and his crew closely inspect each drawing, with their backs to the Newbies, who are encircled like wildebeests by ‘their’ own drawings. Hans briefs his discrete thoughts of each biro drawing with the three Finals, who confer in murmurs. Twenty minutes later, they reach the final drawing. The whispered dialogue climaxes in tones of conclusion. Hans scans the line of 30 drawings like Clint Eastwood. He raises his arm_—_“That one.” He marches over to the drawing in question. “This. Who did this one?” He peers at the name. “DAISY KEEN. WHERE IS DAISY KEEN?” Daisy gingerly puts her hands up. “THIS. IS. THE-BEST. ONE. This is the best one of the year. No_—_this_—_(he adoringly un-attaches the sheet)_—_this is the best one I have ever seen. This is really remarkable.” Daisy looks stunned. “Stand up!” Daisy is ushered to the front of the room, and the entourage begins to clap. Everyone joins in. Hans shouts “DAY-ZEE-KEEN! DAY-ZEE-KEEN! DAY-ZEE-KEEN! DAY-ZEE-KEEN!” The entourage joins. The applause melts into disjointed shouts that begin to align in unison. The whole room shouts and points DAY-ZEE-KEEN, DAY-ZEE-KEEN, DAY-ZEE-KEEN, DAY-ZEE-KEEN! With every syllable the room retracts their arms and throws the girl their fists. The accelerating sequence morphs into a spinning, dreamlike blur, until, before anyone fully gains consciousness, they are cut off by a fire drill.
Day 52: it’s the morning of the presentation of the Newbies’ first essay assignment, and the last day of the first term. The essay brief is simply called ‘Art: Discuss’ and can be on any art-related subject. The students have been told they will be graded on Content, Cohesion and Contextualization. The essay must be handed in to a designated Final Year student no later than 6pm the previous night, and will be presented the following morning, from 9am, without breaks. Each student must do a slide presentation of his or her thesis to the entire school. Failure to complete the presentation will result in instant dismissal from the school, but there is also no time limit on the length of each presentation. 10 seconds before each Newbie steps up to the stage to present, they are informed that the School audience will be throwing tennis balls at their face throughout. 29 complete their chaotic presentations, through fits of uncontrollable laughter and rage. Whilst each student presents, a troupe of Ball Boys scurry across the stage to collect stray balls, as there is a 60-ball maximum. Only one student walks out.
Day 118: as the weather gets warmer, the Art School schedule occurs increasingly outdoors, in parks and woodlands. During the Outdoors sessions, mobile phones are prohibited. The various sessions are split into three categories of exercises: Focus, Purpose, each alternating between Improvisation exercises. Focus exercises include things like group meditation, inscribing repeating geometric patterns on sheets of aluminum foil with a blunt pencil (and disqualification for ripping the foil), staring contests, group singing and intonation, and coordinated breathing and humming exercises. Purpose exercises are the only component of the first year that each student does in isolation, with no immediate feedback. Each student is given an envelope with a unique series of questions that they open, read and attempt to answer within a set time limit, in isolation. These are referred to as Quantum Questions sessions. These questions are designed to force the readers to project themselves into the future by re-viewing the present. Improvisation exercises take the form of chaotic, collaborative, fast-paced art-making, where each student is assigned a continuously changing role within a relay team. Rules are established but can be broken; there is no completion; the final group-creation is never finished and has no boundaries.
During the last 29 days of the spring term, each student is given his/her own ‘Funeral’. They will take turns to lay in an open coffin, blindfolded, while three of their nominated friends will read eulogies and dedications to their art career and their past achievements. The coffin is then covered, and the ‘dead’ student is taken to a completely dark, anechoic (zero reverberation) chamber, where the coffin is opened, the coffin-carriers walk out, leaving the student alone in pitch-black silence for 15 minutes.
Day 222: the final day of the first year. If a student leaves before the end of the first year, they receive no refund for the cost of the year, which was paid upfront. But if they want to resign from the school, they can do so on the last day of the first year. Whoever resigns on the last day will receive a full refund for the year, and as well as the equivalent of 5000 USD. They must submit their resignation on paper in the morning. They receive the 5000 USD instantly in their own bank account, and a large Certificate of Resignation. They are then escorted off the premises by University security staff. The remaining students are taken by limo to a dinner at an expensive but fun restaurant, where they meet the five tutors who will teach them for the next 3 years.”
* * *
In ‘The Art School of The Future’, 30 students are admitted to a 4-year course (120 students in total). The concept: the first year_—_referred to as ‘Newbie Year’_—_is basically a complete mess. What I mean by this, is that it’s designed to put teenagers through a series of traumatic experiences, in a controlled and safe environment. These take the form of a constant schedule of open-ended games and scenarios that force active participation. The goal is to ‘undo’ whatever social and cultural conditioning each student may have, deconstruct their identities, and give them the tools to develop a deep and ever-present self esteem_—_in other words, the channel of creative expression is being cleared of self-imposed limitations and societally-imposed filters. There are also scenarios that create social pressure, both negative and positive, designed to simulate environments of both celebrity and desertion.
The whole first year is orchestrated and facilitated by the 30 Final year students; the Newbies never actually meet any tutors face-to-face until the last day of their first year. The role of the Final year is to be teachers/facilitators. They’re completely self-organising, and self-teaching. They have organisational meetings with the tutors of the school, but other than that, the Final year students develop their own schedules, projects and teaching rota. How do they have the discipline to do this? The School is so intense, and the schedule is so full, the students build an incredible momentum over 4 years_—_by the time the final year comes, it would seem strange to relax and do nothing.
The Second year is 30% practical, and 70% ‘factual’. The 30 students are gradually allowed more time to develop their art projects independently. The ‘factual’ aspect takes the form of traditional lectures. No theory. Just facts. There is no arm-chair philosophising, and no metaphysics. These weekly lectures, though traditional in format, are purely factual. They’re on varied and contentious subjects, given by visiting speakers. Example lecture titles: PREDICTIVE LINGUISTICS AND HUMAN PRECOGNITION / HOW TO ISSUE PROMISSORY NOTES / ANCIENT HUMAN COLONIES ON THE MOON & MARS / HOW TO LIVE WITHOUT ELECTRICITY / THE OCCULT AND MASS MEDIA / ALIEN REVERSE-ENGINEERED TECHNOLOGY & APPLE PRODUCTS / THE 8TH CHAKRA / LAWFUL ELIMINATION OF STUDENT DEBT / DINOSAUR-HUMAN RELATIONSHIPS IN ATLANTIS… none of the lectures are given by practicing artists. None. They are given by completely independent researchers without affiliation to any institution. Why is this? If a practicing artist gives a lecture, the best students can expect is how to become exactly like them, which reinforces the existing structure: there is no growth, no learning. If students are invigorated by discussion that takes place well-outside the art world, the art world is in turn invigorated. These lectures are given without asking anything from the students, except their attendance.
The Third year is 100% practical. The students are given a loose structure for the year, during which they’re completely free to develop their art. The Third year climaxes with a continuous run of solo shows; each students gets their own solo show in an actual art gallery, in a location off-campus. A large portion of the year involves treating the students as if their were already artists with careers, with all the attention placed on them. The idea is that should a student choose an art career after the school, they are completely comfortable with the ‘solo show’ experience, with no success barriers. The idea of having the ‘big show’ in the third year also produces an anti-climactic feeling_—_the final ‘test’ is in the fourth year, where the students must self-teach and run the school.
There are 10 tutors for the whole school_—_5 for the second year, 5 for the third year. There are never one-to-one meetings with tutors. All discussion with tutors occurs in rotating groups. Instead of one-to-ones, there are ‘Fireside Chats’_—_these are where a student and tutor talk on stage in a freeform conversation, with the other students in the group as audience members. This allows accountability, for both the student and tutor. Tutors have very little paperwork, except a weekly journal. They must write what they learnt from each student that week. Their journals are published and given to the students at the end each term. Nothing in the school is hidden_—_all forms and paperwork is made public, forcing authenticity in everyone.
Finally, because of the low number of tutor time required, the art school is affordable, with different fee-schedules available. There is even a window where students may receive a full refund if they drop out_—_that is the penultimate day of the first year. There is only one bursary advertised by the school_—_The Bursary of Resignation. This is a stipend of 5000 USD, paid to any student who decides to leave in the first year. The Bursary comes with an over-seized foam-board certificate. This acts as test of commitment, and streamlines the following years to ensure a low tutor-student ratio.

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Copyright 2019 Tom Badley.
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