Wide Open School

Artist Bob and Roberta Smith Artist Bob and Roberta Smith - Photo Gill Vaux
Posted: Wed Jun 6 2012

A new Hayward summer school is being run by artists not educators. Is art education shifting from YBA to DIY?

In an open letter to Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove, the artist Bob and Roberta Smith (aka Patrick Brill) writes: 'Michael, a look at your tie-and-shirt combination in images of you online informs me you are not a visually-minded person.' He goes on to say that art training is the backbone of British fashion, design and commerce and that it must not be taken off the national curriculum. Known for his humorous, participatory and often political work, Smith will discuss his ideas on public education and public space as part of 'Wide Open School', an alternative art summer school running at the Hayward Gallery.

Over four weeks the Hayward is offering a heady cocktail of artist-run lectures and lessons: from collective dream analysis with the artist-anthropologist Susan Hiller to banner-making workshops with Jeremy Deller and two decidedly destructive sessions with Michael Landy, in which participants will discuss personal objects before destroying them (most of these are already sold out). The rationale behind 'Wide Open School' is to meet the artists, who as 'expert amateurs', to use Hayward director Ralph Rugoff's term, can help us 'educate ourselves away from the traditional [teaching] institutions'.

No doubt the classes will be an enjoyable experience but while London in Olympic year has also been been showcasing some of its YBA generation art stars in major exhibitions (Damien Hirst at Tate Modern, Gillian Wearing at Whitechapel) the art education system that produced these artists is not without its problems. In addition to the increasing difficulties of trying to shoehorn a 'creative' education into a structure based on quantifiable economic outcomes, the tripling of university fees has fuelled the increase in cheaper and more grass roots alternatives, run by artists and independent art organisations, rather than institutions.

One example is 'A Lecture from Behind the Screen', a new, six-week summer school for artists/filmmakers at no.w.here, an artist-run space in Bethnal Green that shares skills and space with other art organisations. Another example is 'Turps Art School', a 12-month intensive programme of lectures, talks and seminars for painters, set up by the editors of Turps Banana art magazine. Whether the big art colleges like the University of the Arts and Goldsmiths can adapt to these rapidly changing discourses that are occurring in technology, politics and science is up for debate.

One the kernel from which this recent self-organised education sprang was the emergence of 'teach-ins' during the student protests of 2010, which grew into more organised educational platforms, including the 'Long Weekends' of actions and activities at the Slade School of Art and Camberwell College of Art. These offered a new mode of learning that was based on sharing experience rather than the dissemination of knowledge.

Another example is the Occupy Movement who settled at the feet of St Paul's Cathedral last autumn and swiftly erected Tent City University. In times of great global change perhaps it's this bottom-up, self-organised education that is best able to transmit the fresh knowledge and ideas that are produced at an increasingly fast pace.