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November 29, 2023

Costume parties, individual freedom and a close-knit community: this is what art schools can learn from the past

The art school of the future is a hot topic, not just in the Netherlands but worldwide. There are calls for thorough-going changes from many quarters. But when considering change, it is important not only to look to the future but also to understand where we have come from, argues Joanne Dijkman, art theory lecturer at the AKI ArtEZ Academy of Art & Design and researcher within the Art Education as Critical Tactics professorship (AeCT) and ASCA, Amsterdam School of Cultural Analysis (UvA). Her PhD research is about illustrious art schools from the past. What lessons can today's and tomorrow's art education draw from their radical, experimental way of teaching?

"As an art historian, I believe there is value in looking back and considering whose shoulders we are standing on", explains Joanne. "I think it's important that students are familiar with the great examples who have gone before. That way, you can understand why your course is structured the way it is. It is also important to look at the past in order to avoid continually having to re-invent the wheel."

The big three

So which are those illustrious art schools? Three names come up again and again: Bauhaus, Black Mountain College and the Free International University (FIU) of Joseph Beuys. The three bear striking similarities, says Joanne. "They existed for a relatively short time, they were not actually that successful as institutions and yet they managed to achieve important pedagogical innovations through their drive to experiment." The courses we have today are indebted to them for their innovations. “Bauhaus placed the workshops and craftsmanship front and centre”, clarifies Joanne. That was coupled with designing for society – it was very idealistic, in other words. All three art schools did away with the traditional division of roles between lecturers and students. In opposition to the social order, they achieved co-creation."

Community and individual space

Joanne believes that three aspects of those great forerunners should definitely have a place in the art school of the future: learning by doing, community spirit and individual space. There was a real sense of solidarity, says Joanne: "Students and lecturers lived on the same campus. Black Mountain College went even further – students and staff also shared responsibilities. For example, they worked together on the land, cooked and helped design the academy building. Students were also represented in the highest co-participation body." That strong community, together with the abolition of rules, quite clearly also had a downside – it could compromise social safety.

 A sense of community contributes to your enjoyment of your studies and has an inspiring effect."

Despite that drawback, we have lost something of the community and freedom that prevailed there, Joanne believes. "A sense of community contributes to your enjoyment of your studies and has an inspiring effect. Partly due to the pandemic, that sense of community has receded even further and it is hugely missed by a generation of students: induction weeks, making collaborative work, travelling abroad. Bauhaus was also famous for its parties, which had an artistic element, such as making costumes. They would really work towards something like that together." Alongside community, the students at the three art schools had a lot of individual freedom. "They devised their own experiments and assignments. Imagination and creativity were given free rein. At Joseph Beuys, there was a very strong focus on the individual. And at Black Mountain College, you could decide for yourself whether you graduated and when. You could take your time, free from pressure. Now the standard is four or five years, there is no time to delay. Fortunately, in some places that kind of customisation has started to creep back in. You can now plot your own route through your course with the subjects you choose. I think that is really beneficial."

"The ideal art school is located in nature"

Most art schools we have today are in cities, but there was an alternative approach. “Joseph Beuys’ FIU was forced to operate without a building of its own, which I find interesting. The DAI Art Praxis master's course at ArtEZ is continuing without a fixed home, as a roaming academy. I think that's a great concept, with research weeks at different locations. In this way, the art school becomes a network." But if it were up to Joanne, the ideal art school would, much more than is currently the case, be in nature, she says: “Black Mountain College was a beautiful place, set in a mountainous area by a lake; I should add that it was on the land of indigenous people. The art school was in a sheltered spot, far away from New York and the art scene. In a sense that has an echo in the fact that Enschede and Arnhem are further away from Amsterdam. It offers you the opportunity to develop, to withdraw into your own world before throwing yourself into the art scene." If she had to choose, Black Mountain College is where she would have liked to study herself. "Because of the location, the freedom, the drive to experiment. That appeals to me the most."

Future Art School

Studium Generale, the Education in Art bachelor's courses in Zwolle and the Art Education as Critical Tactics professorship are organising a conference about the future of the art school on the 30th of November and the 1st of December. The speakers during these events will mostly be students, lecturers and researchers from ArtEZ who responded to an open call. Future Art School at the Spoorzone in Zwolle. And of course, you are more than welcome to join! You can find more information about the Future Art School on the agenda of Studium Generale.

Also, listen to the podcast series Teaching Art from Radio ArtEZ. In this first episode of the podcast series, Joanne talks about her fascination with - and research into - Black Mountain College. Would you like to read and learn more about how ArtEZ is working on the art academy of the future? This story is part of a triptych of stories. For example, also consider reading this interview with Marijke Goeting, where you can learn everything about the influence of new technology on the art academy. Or delve deep into the illustrious art academies of the past with this story about Joanne Dijkman's research. ArtEZ Studium Generale has also organized a conference titled Future Arts School, and compiled an online listening and reading dossier around the conference and this theme. You can find the link to the dossier here