As Adam Smith would have certainly asked: Do art schools have anything to offer a neo-liberal society?

Brad Buckley
2014 Conference

What confronts today’s tertiary art institutions, their staff and, not least, art students, is a complexand shifting geopolitical situation in which art and education are undergoing unpredictable transformations. Simply put, what role does an undergraduate or graduate degree (particularly the dramatic expansion of the PhD) play in the education of artists? Everywhere one looks there are substantial ‘push-and-pull’ factors—inventiveness versus tradition, experimentation versus resistance. Each particular tertiary institution will respond differently, depending on its context—culture, geography, history, politics and economics—in terms of its willingness to explore the educative, critical and professional value of enhancing the creative, research and occupational horizons of our art students.

In their social and psychic lives, artists who teach, and their students, are not only engaged in the (new) art-historical, generic, and pedagogic intricacies of their evolving art forms; they are also concerned with intellectual emancipation and inventiveness. This goes against the free-market ideology that is seeping into our universities, art schools, museums, and other cultural institutions. Artists who teach often see themselves as ‘foreriders’ of aesthetic and cultural critique; they prize reflexive knowledge and open-ended, research-oriented pedagogy that is located within the students’ own existential horizons. This ‘one-to-one’, mutually enhancing teacher-student relationship in the studios of the art school questions the utilitarian and vocational instrumentalism of the post-Fordist university and its imbrication in this century’s New World order.

How will an education in the visual arts benefit the present and future generations of students? What opportunities does it create for those who wish to be artists in our increasingly globalised and turbulent world?

These are some of the pressing questions, which will be addressed in this paper.

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About the author

Brad Buckley is an artist, urbanist and Professor of Contemporary Art and Culture at Sydney College of the Arts, the University of Sydney. He was educated at St Martin’s School of Art, London, and the Rhode Island School of Design. He is the editor, with John Conomos, of Republics of Ideas: Republicanism, Culture, Visual Arts (Pluto Press, 2001), Rethinking the Contemporary Art School: The Artist, the PhD and the Academy (NSCADU Press, 2009) and Erasure: The Spectre of Cultural Memory (Libri Publishing, 2015) and with Andy Dong and Conomos, Ecologies of Invention (SUP, 2013). Buckley has also developed and chaired (with Conomos) a number of conference sessions at the College Art Association, including ‘The Erasure of Contemporary Memory’ (New York, 2011) and ‘The Delinquent Curator: Has the curator failed contemporary art?’(Chicago, 2014). He has been a visiting professor at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design University, the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, Parsons the New School for Design and the University of Tsukuba. He also developed and convened with senior faculty a conference on higher degrees and research in the art and design school context at The New School in October 2010.

His work, which has been shown internationally for over twenty-five years, operates at the intersection of installation, theatre and performance, and investigates questions of cultural control, democracy, freedom and social responsibility. Buckley’s work has been included in the 3rd International Biennial (Ljubljana, [former] Yugoslavia), the 4th Construction in Process (the Artists’ Museum, Lodz, Poland) and the 9th Biennale of Sydney, and in exhibitions at Franklin Furnace (New York), the Kunstlerhaus Bethanien (Berlin), the PS 1 Institute for Contemporary Art (New York), the Dalhousie Art Gallery (Halifax), the Tsukuba Art Gallery (Japan) and Plato’s Cave (New York).