all images are copyright the artists

interim 2009 introduction by juan cruz

shifting aspirations

In the immediate aftermath of Barack Obama’s election many intellectual American commentators pondered the question of what they might now do with their scepticism. For years they had grown used to maintaining a position at odds with the political system and now that they found their values more closely represented in the figure of the new president they wondered where to place their cynicism and disdain. Would these attitudes, they wondered, come to be recognised as having been the affliction of a certain weird generation who had allowed themselves to become alienated from mainstream politics?
It’s well documented that the visual arts now play a much more central cultural and economic role than they ever did.Many contextual studies’ syllabuses explore this phenomenon and rightly point towards the critical issues at stake in what is broadly considered to be the growing instrumentalisation of art.They discuss the manner in which Arts Council policy under the Blair government strove to demand of art an explicit social function, an almost altruistic demeanor. They also look at the way in which artists and collectives have become involved in producing works that engender direct social effect and consider the extent to which these practices manage to straddle the fine line between being part of the solution and part of the problem.

At a recent symposium at the Ikon Gallery in Birmingham, organised by Art Monthly as an extension to a polemic article that had been published in the previous months around the future of art education, much discussion revolved around the kinds of structures that it might be possible for artschools to adopt in order to continue operating in some kind of recognisable form. Many in the panel claimed that one of the greatest obstacles to the perpetuation of artschools as we knew them was the mindset of the students themselves, who now demanded a greater degree of security about the academic value of their degrees and about the professional destinations that might attend them beyond graduation. The panel put this down to prior educational experiences that had encouraged students to become more demanding of their teachers and keener to receive feedback about their progress. Today’s students, the complaint continued, are no longer prepared to consider their experience in artschool as an end in itself but instead require their courses to provide them with a sound and accountable base for their future professional development. The panel lamented the fact that it was so difficult to teach students who had clearly lost touch with the aspirations towards freedom that had guided their own careers and who instead strove to obtain jobs and mortgages.

Clearly no-one would disagree that it’s important to listen to students whose motivations to be artists might be very different from those that guided the lecturers who teach them. What is more difficult for many artschools is to come to terms with the consequences of that consideration, as they may well challenge some very deeply held values
and assumptions. Perhaps that’s why the mindset of students is so often lamented by their teachers, because it challenges their own well developed sense of otherness. But rather than despair at what is often characterised as the growing bureaucratisation of the young,
perhaps we might do well to consider the challenge that they are posing to our own
assumptions about what might constitute such values as freedom and resistance.

Juan Cruz
Artist & Head of Department - Arts
Liverpool John Moores University