Microsoft word - sota/tony jones.doc
FINAL VERSION “Oiling the Hinges” Notes for a presentation at the School of the Arts, Singapore Professor Tony Jones CBE Chancellor, The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, USA Firstly, my thanks to Rebecca NG for her invitation to join the Arts Forum - and for the opportunity to talk with you this morning. Rebecca is leading an extraordinary project, with an excellent team, and I know
that SOTA will achieve everything that she, and you, and MITA and MOE want – and what your students and their parents want – for they are going out into a world where The Arts are an International Language, And Design is a global currency.
We are here in 2010, a decade - can you imagine its already been ten years ? – since the Millennial change – One door closed and another opened - someone must have “Oiled the Hinges” – for it happened pretty smoothly, very few squeaks - And that’s what I called these notes – “Oiling the Hinges” Because the door has closed on the kind of student we have known for many decades, and opened on the pupils that YOU deal with every day – and what a different kind of person they are … And yesterday Erin Reilly had some brilliant visual aids, with slides and videos and DJs and lots of great media – my
visual aids are a washing-up bowl, a stirring-stick, a jug of water, and a sponge. These items comprise a visual description of education and the arts.
I want to to use them to : make some personal remarks comment on arts education and the arts in society make some predictions (and then take you to Chicago to give you a graphic example how the power of the arts is made manifest in a vast cultural, economic, educational and entertainment project – and how it has worked - its called “Millennium
Park” – and it’s an engine that oils itself – an economic and cultural and educational and entertainment engine that has ….
Well, you’ll see what I mean in a moment …)
This is perhaps the last of my six visits to Singapore – a nation and city that constantly impresses me with its energy, it’s commitment to excellence, its ‘can-do’ do spirit, it multicultural population, and its dedication to the arts (aerial photo of Singapore) I live in city that also embodies those characteristics (aerial photo of Chicago) but I come from a very different place – a tiny village of ten houses surrounded by farms on the top of a little rocky hill, in the remote countryside of north Wales in the UK (aerial of Penygraigwen village) Where I went to school each morning riding on a farm tractor - Because education, a library, a town, were quite some distance away – and where as a country boy my universe was strictly limited by a tiny school, a tiny church, and a tiny society, and a tiny understanding of the context of my life in a world I knew nothing about – so my world-view was like this washing-up bowl, a proscribed circle, and shallow. Like you, I lived on an island, mine was roughly circular, with a high long bridge – a bridge to what I was sure was ‘Civilization’ on the other side. could only see the edges of the bowl, that was the limit of vision. If I put this washing-up bowl on my head, you get an idea of what my ‘island child’ life was like - somewhere beyond the rim of my vision was ‘something’ – but I couldn’t see it. As a wee boy I never met a professional singer, or an actor, a dancer, or a writer – they were off-island aliens – I imagined them to be Fabulous Creatures who lived in a world of Beauty and Light, not in the gloom and the wind and the rain and the cold, like we did. We had no electricity … it came when I was 10. But we had a battery powered radio – And it brought me the world through sound – The sound of real music, of operas, of concerts, poetry readings, plays, lectures These arts were a kind of magic beamed from ‘over there’ – from ‘civilization’
But they were all aural, not visual -
painting and ballet don’t come across well on the radio !
until we moved to a real town, which had something so alien, so bizarre, so
surprising, so confounding - it had a Museum.
And in it was an Art Gallery. And what I saw on those walls was a world I
had never dreamed of - I had never seen an actual painting – in paint, on
canvas, in a frame, on a wall, in a gallery - and made by a human being -
OR, as I came to believe, made by Super-humans who were called ‘Artists’.
or ‘painters ‘ –
(And you ever heard the definition of the life of a painter ? “A painter is a person who spends their time defacing pieces of woven cloth
using sticks with hairs on the end, which they dip into pots of coloured
And, even more importantly, I got something that my tiny one-room school
on the island, or even loving and supportive parents could give me :
I got Teachers.
And more than just teachers - they were role-models, mentors, and
somehow they saw that inside this incoherent wee boy who could draw
pretty well, but danced like a hippopotamus, sang like a dyspeptic frog,
played no instrument but the radio, and talked like the farm boy he was –
that inside ‘me’ was ‘an Artist’.
Teachers did that for me, and I bless them every day for doing so.
Because they turned the bowl of my island life upside-down - instead of it
being a boundary, they it made a repository.
And they filled it with ideas, and experiences, facts and fantasies, all mixed
made a deep pool called An Education
And they took a wee boy, thirsty like a SPONGE
And immersed me in it. For years.
And in time a brilliant teacher in my college years said that I was NOT the
rather stupid boy I considered myself,
But instead a boy who had soaked up everything I had been taught, but the
time had come for the SPONGE to be squeezed –
But what came out was completely unpredictable, surprising, unexpected …
You can’t guess what has happened to knowledge and experience once it gets soaked into and mixed up in the sponge, And you can’t predict what’ll come out – It’s too uncontained and indescribable - literally too “Fluid” -and THAT is why that little history and these simple instruments – the bowl, the water, the stick to stir, and the sponge, describe education and the arts today – (and watch for the sponge - he appears again a little later … !) What did those teachers do ? They looked upon me and all the kids in my class as being gifted – whether that was truly deserved or not – and they told our parents - told them that we had a gift – but told us that it didn’t come gift-wrapped – The wrapping, they said, is called ‘practice’, And its what you have to work at to justify the gift. And you have to be committed – perhaps even obsessed – to keep that passion in your dance, that power in your music, that energy in your art. Every year in Chicago I welcome the incoming Freshman, Transfer and International students, and their parents And I tell the students this : “If you have a choice between being an artist and being something else, you should be something else – because if you really ARE and artist, you don’t have a choice. You got up this morning to sing, to paint, to play, to tell the story of your dream, to make a dance - it’s why you got up, it’s why you live”. To parents I say – “support them now as you never have before, because the real challenges are about to come” admire their gift, respect their obsession and their hard work –
You know, Americans love to measure things – they are just daft for statistics –
They did a national survey of higher education about what students were most obsessed by their studies ? and what students spent the most time out of class dedicated to their primary interest ? - and students of the performing and visual arts came SECOND in that survey - and this is of every college-level subject offered – so guess who came FIRST ? (It’s Divinity Students, studying to be priests …)
My parents were, well, shocked … how does he have this artistic talent ? where has it come from ? No-one in our family has this ability, so why does he ? My father was a Royal Marine in WWII, fought in Europe and then against the Japanese with the ANZAC troops – but my Dad couldn’t draw – and I can’t sing or dance … how has this happened ? – they were, well, ‘puzzled’ by me – Do you hear that from Singaporean parents ? But I was lucky and loved – they stood behind me, even when I wanted to go to such an infamous den of Bohemian iniquity as - “art school” – which would be filled of ‘creative types’ – (I once heard the great actor and director Sir Peter Ustinov recalling his childhood and telling the story of the Headmaster of his school in England sending a letter to his parents – which read: “Dear Mr and Mrs Ustinov, Your son Peter shows signs of being creative – but don’t worry, we’ll soon put a stop to that”.)
Well I joined the ‘creatives’ and I became a sort-of priest, serving in the cathedrals of Art we call museums and art-schools. My teachers taught me that Us Kids, we weren’t copies, we were originals - You took the bowls off our heads, turned them over, and filled them with Great Ideas. And those teachers gave us the confidence to believe that we were not just originals, but that we could be originators, innovators- That new worlds of dance, of music, of design, or art Could come from our heads and hearts and hands And that we should always know that as artists or artistes, we perform and play and make magic, and that we can and should share that magic – In a concert hall, on a dance stage, in a gallery if you were a painter … These ‘painters’ made worlds that depicted the real and the imagined - and they unleashed in me – at the age of 12 – a deep and abiding love for the arts - we went to concerts, my family (except for me) were powerful trained singers, we acted in plays, and we went to that art gallery –
All long before my natural talent as an artist led me to a college of the arts, So I am here today to bear a personal witness to what the arts can mean to anyone - anyone – from the most unpromising background, from any ethnic group, from any station of society, from big cities to tiny villages. And ever since that realization, in my earliest teen years, my life has been in service to those arts, the education of artists, the provision of places for them to create their magic (for that is what they do) I know what all that did for me, and it is the reason that I am such an impassioned advocate for the arts as a critical force that significantly contributes to the Quality of Life of humankind at every level at society – And I know this : we cannot live without food, sleep, love, faith and the arts - they are the nourishment that drives our days. How and why do the Arts do that ? How do we identify a young person who sees the world in that orthogonal manner so different from most people ? How do we fertilize that talent ? How do we encourage both individuals and society at large to see that the arts are not elitist expressions, but accessible and desirable, not exclusive but part of the pattern of living – And where arts accessibility has gone from the 2-D of a line on paper to the 4-D of dance and opera, to the 5-D of cyberspace. Today, I am a traveler from another place, I am a British Celt who lives in America, and who has travelled to many colleges of the visual arts, and I am going to tell you what I have seen, what I have heard, and to try to list what I know everyone is talking about - from Helsinki to London, from Singapore to Chicago, from Shanghai to Sydney – all of us are confronted with a world that has change so dramatically we are all hurrying to understand the meaning of that change, how we respond now, and how we plan to manage a continual process of rapid change as SOTA prepares its pupils for entry to colleges, conservatories and academies. I am here to distill what I have heard, and to report. So here’s the news :
It’s been calculated - reliably - that this century is going to be like living through the last 60,000 years of human progress - but compressed into the next 90 years. We are doubling our technological capacity every 12 months - this means we are doubling, expanding, deepening our knowledge base - how does arts education keep pace with that ? And in its midst of that change human beings still search for beauty and quality and values and permanency – especially in times of such tumult. So, What Do We Know ?
1) Every college of the visual arts I have visited in the last two years,
every President I have talked to, is involved in intense internal debates over the nature of and identity of the college of art & design, the places to which your SOTA graduates will go. And the curriculum – what we teach, how we teach it. What do we retain as a core of practice common to all, and what are we forced to abandon given our new world ? Some are urgently reviewing what best practice of the past should be retained, what lessons are we taught – what is successes and what failure- and what are the measures of both ?
2) Some have gone so far as to say that for the contemporary student in
the arts, the present curriculum is not just in-appropriate, it is irrelevant for the 21st century and a radical re-think is critical – Wipe the slate clean and start again. The opportunity for SOTA to play a critical leading role in that re-think is incredible – Rebecca, how lucky you are - and faculty – what an extraordinary challenge.
3) We know that to provide this opportunity for re-appraisal, several
things have happened at the same time, so, many forces are at work - the economic downturn for example is providing every school and college with a time to tread water and consider what to do.
4) Certainly the economic situation has been a crisis – but the Chinese
character for crisis (Way-jeh) is also the character for ‘Opportunity” – a gift of time to make sour lemons into sweeter lemonade …
5) Also, we react to the fact that in the past five years our colleges have
become populated by a new kind of student – The children of the digital and information revolution. Today in 2010, that revolution is over – it has already revolved. The revolutionary impact of technology is no longer a surprise, it is an expectation. Think of these students as the population of “an imaginary country”, our
generation are immigrants, and they are the digital natives. They have the natural ability to collect images and forms and ideas from multiple sources – from books, magazines, television, concerts, performances, the movies and of course the Net – in a way we have never seen before.
they were ‘Born Digital’ – and we are going to have to change the way we structure our curricular thinking in order to execute our educational mission and make it relevant to that New Breed. No matter where I’ve been in 2008, I have heard a series of observations and concerns from college leaders that are basically the same concerns:
the kind of teenager coming to a place like SOTA is going to present a ‘portfolio of talents’ that isn’t going to be like portfolios of the past (remember those big flat black cardboard things stuffed with drawings) - the ‘portfolio’ will be more a C.V. that demonstrates artistic acuity across many boundaries
, with cores of special interest and competencies in specific areas that fascinate them - Their portfolios will be less about hand-eye mechanical skills, replaced by that conceptualization that glues still and animated media, music and performance – all applications for admission will be via hi-def 3-D direct-download … Call them T-square Kids. They have a broad horizontal of general interests, with deep vertical shafts of obsession – with some it’s Japanese manga
comics, or film noir
, or robots, or art deco
fashion design – whatever it is, doesn’t matter. But they are obsessed. Whether that’s enough to make the difference between them being good or great, only time and the depth of the obsession will tell.
And they are a new breed of student – you can call them The Immersives. Digital media is not a puddle to splash in, its an ocean of experiences that they swim in – every hour of the day. They are a new kind of client or customer for the services and products we offer. And their parents are different too. Remember the old cliché that we struggled to programme the remote-control for the TV - well, the students who have just enrolled are completely at home in a 5-D universe of technology - and that has happened in the past 3 years - 3yrs ago at Chicago we still did teaching-by-training
to about 40% of our incoming class - no longer - they are Born Digital, they are Digital Natives – We lag, they are fully up to speed. They have already established the dominant visual style of the 21st century - and it’s collage. Erin Reilly in her presentation to SOTA called it ‘re-mixing’, others call it ‘appropriation’ They have a brilliant ability to grab images and sounds and forms for multiple sources, and glue them together in these new and unexpected ways - But there is a problem with that ability to collage pieces of imagery together - the image is captured, but the meaning had escaped.
The problem is context. They have none. Think about the pupils that have entered SOTA, and consider that. We know that their applications are clever, stylish, polished, they are articulate and imaginative, know how to grab ideas and trends out of the air, but over and over again I hear that experienced teachers find that the cultural collage background of these students makes them derivative, unable to work with peers, and have a poor comprehension of the continuum of art and design, or the intimate converges between disciplines.
As one famous teacher told me - “ They are Generation X, Lost in Space, and we will fail them if we don’t help them draw the map of their future lives – and that also means where we’ve been”.
So, at colleges and schools of the arts – whether its SOTA or Chicago -we have a new kind of student who needs a new kind of teaching – teaching the meaning behind the surface imagery that have so easily captured.
Teaching new and innovative combinations of sound history and theory, with expressive technical skills.
Many people think that the whole discipline of the history of the arts is
completely inadequate, and needs to be replaced with a multi-layered multi-
cultural multi-disciplinary new programme that replaces the old way, and is
fully integrated into the studio experience -
a depth of teaching that ranges over multiple cultural histories, many
philosophies, many ethnologies, anthropology, the sciences, engineering,
sociology, literature, cinema and the technologies.
My friend Robert Storr, Dean at Yale University, recently said:
“For centuries art academies and music conservatories had a basic ‘core’ of
what was immortally relevant – they were historical works of art and music,
books and essays of critical thinking, important enough that every teacher
and student was familiar with them - they not only provided a common basis
for communication, but also a basis for the evaluation of contemporary
production. That old ‘core’ is now absent, and we are all trying to work our
what the new one should be – or if indeed there can be one at all”
So we know that one of the most radical renovations we must make is to the
High School experience – integrating arts understanding and practice at the
earliest possible age – and SOTA here has a major role to play as an
The contemporary reality is that the Arts are an international language
And Design is a global currency - now join to that the significance of cross-
cultural studies and a trans-disciplinary education …. And the rigid
definitions of what is a ‘subject’ go away - the linearity of disciplinary
study has been displaced -
because the differences between ‘art’ and ‘design’ is now so blurred that
they are indistinguishable from one another -
maybe we need a new hybridizing word like ArtNDez , like RockNRoll (and that’s a whole other story – virtually the whole rock music industry, from the musicians to the music-video makers, the costume-designers, the stage designers and theatrical-effect managers come out of art schools – it’s a worldwide phenomenon – so now add to that set-designers, lighting specialists, make-up artists, backup singers, acrobats, dancers – and SOTA will have graduated the entire on-stage and back-stage populations of the Integrated Resorts for the next 100 years … Students will move from a fine art discipline to a media discipline seamlessly - in preparation for the Real World - “life after arts school” – “ In a world that is constantly changing, there is no one subject or set of subjects that will serve students for the foreseeable future – let alone the rest of their lives. The most important skill to acquire now is learning how to learn”
(John Naisbitt in “China’s Megatrends”, 2009) So given that reality, we dedicate ourselves to the education of people who are Citizens first, and everything else second. The current student in the visual and performing arts is projected to change specific disciplines multiple times during their professional lifetimes -
So trans-disciplinary education has increasing life-long value - over-specialization is education for redundancy.
We know also there are to few teenagers who we would expect to come to our college - and There are Too Few Babies.
The enrollment problem is real – and in the US it will begin to affect us in 2012, when there will be a sharp decline in the number of 17 and 18 year olds – a decline that will continue for over 10 years.
But in the meantime in the UK alone, last year, more students graduated with a degree that had ‘art’ or ‘design’ in it’s title than the entire population of Florence at the height of the Italian Renaissance …. !!! (Increasingly, many of them will never physically enter college. Greater sophistication in distance-learning in the arts is a new challenge for us – and
demand is increasing. What might in the past have been an insurmountable problem - the distance between educational centres and those desiring to access them – has eroded –“obstacles of Geography have been defeated by technology”). Schools that are successful will be characterized by the clarity of their mission, their clear statement of purpose, and that they stand for something of value to our society – SOTA’s clarity of mission is thus critical to its success. Successful schools will synthesize traditional forms of making with contemporary inventions – and do so with equal weight and respect given to each. They will have a clear ‘ethos’ and vivid identities. They will stand for well-described values. They will have a centre of gravity. They will have recognized they cannot do everything and will focus on doing a more limited range of things brilliantly - and become known as centres of excellence – And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the pan-Asian leadership role that awaits you here at SOTA. It is quite clear that students have little respect for the leaders of societies that caused the economic disasters we have seen, for the business culture that made a bubble market and then destroyed it, and left them with a future more uncertain that it has ever been for artists and designers. As Oscar Wilde said “ The past is where we made mistakes, the present is where we correct them, and the future belongs to artists”.
So in the future, they’ll make their own world. We can command respect only by making our colleges the natural home for the dreamer, the creative idealist with an agenda for action - a place where dedication to designing with dignity and respect for people and the planet is what we do every day – Whether we design objects and services for aging populations, service provisions, designs that are based in sustainability and positive social innovation - from things of great seriousness to wild humour, the designer contributes at every level of society through that process known as Human Interaction Design – though I think it should be called HumanE Interaction Design.
It’s easy to overlook that a designer is a human being who creates things for
fellow human beings to use.
The humanity in design education is that we are doing things for our society,
not to it.
10) We know that teaching studio practice in the visual, design and craft arts
is going to become: more and more driven by media
- increased crossover points between
disciplines - more unlikely unions of methodologies and technologies. more hybridized
- here will be less sharp-edged definition of ‘disciplines’,
more about what happens at intersections.
broader in scope - embracing more academic knowledge than ever before
- we can define the mission and the core, but the edges must remain
sticky, to glue onto whatever new ideas happen to be passing by
Individual disciplines are being replaced by themes and streams of study –
The straight-line ‘major’ is being replaced by multiple minors
the curriculum will encourage artists and designers to become moral
. They explore, comment upon, invent and provoke work that
is rooted in an ethical belief that we have responsibility to sustainable
futures, environmental conscience and social improvement -
“Design is meaningless unless the designer takes a moral position - if he or
she doesn’t then they are merely stylists
And going beyond that - we see ourselves as agents of positive change, do
we see ourselves as active agents in the peace process?
Or has that long-held position been taken from artists and designers as they
have become more materialistic - my friends in the sciences say that the
language of education for a more peaceful world is their language, not that
of the artist ! more about appropriation and the culture of copy
– it’s about accessing
bits of distant information and gluing them to other bits - the collage –
but it’s not about visual material alone - it’s the immediate ability to craft
sound, video, still-images, 2-d 3-d 4-d and
5-d expressions into a single new ‘thing’. This revised curriculum will be based in a complete integration of multi-
that moves from the Eurocentric or Ameri-centric to World-
I am permanently disappointed by the lack of dialogue between arts
educators in Europe and the US and colleagues in colleges in South
America, Africa or the Arab world - especially the latter, where there are
old arts academies with methodologies and theories of making that are based
on theologies and mathematics and dance and music traditions that are
completely different – and equally vital.
Art and design colleges have to return to something we have lost – or
mislaid – our duty of care to teach teachers
And especially in the design and craft and media areas - there are plenty of
artists going back into the high schools, but far too few design graduates
time when school-level preparation for a life in the world of design is
increasingly popular. This is a big Problem.
And we urgently need art and design historians and cultural historians
capable of crossing multiple disciplinary boundaries - if we don’t address
the teacher and the cultural historian issues we are not part of the solution,
we are in fact encouraging the problem.
And as SOTAs students go back into the classrooms and share their skills
and knowledge with the next generation - they will need regenerative
support – teachers get tired, need to be re-inspired. Some of you know of
the after-care service we created at Chicago called TICAD - now think of
SOTA playing that role, but not exclusively for Singapore, for all of SE Asia
- YOU become the absolute resource for mid-career regenerative
programmes for teachers - quite a role to play ! 11)
And we know this : Craft is dying.
We are losing our respect the skill and craft of making.
It’s deeply depressing to hear people today look at the arts of the past and
hear them say “We don’t know how to do that any more”.
Those are the words that Barack Obama (of Chicago !) used in his speech
accepting the Presidency - “we don’t know how to make things anymore”.
The problem is, that’s becoming true. We absolutely need to preserve our ability to hand on skills and craft-interest in these subjects - If our colleges are not the places where we keep the skill and craft traditions alive - well, who will ? and I will depress you by telling you that in the UK and in Europe and in North America – ALL the following disciplines are seeing steady and erosion of enrollment: Ceramics Book and paper arts, papermaking Letterpress and fine printing Jewellery Silversmithing Stained glass Hot glass (poured, constructed, blown-glass) Weaving and embroidery and sewing and all textile arts Furniture and craft in woodworking I checked the enrollment patterns and graduation rates in the UK and the US - And all those subject areas recorded growth of less that 5%, while subjects like Multimedia, Fashion, Visual Communication, Digital Communication Design grew by over 50 %. I am seriously disturbed by the scale of this erosion. But we have a responsibility to address the concern while that technology is useful and vital and irreplaceable – we know that it is often demeaning and damaging to the human spirit – “We must teach the balance of the wonders of technologies with the spiritual demands of our human race”. Of all places in education, it is in colleges of art and design that we can explore how the ghosts in the machines become spirits that guide us
, not haunt us and punish us. 12) My colleagues at the US art colleges report that there is a well-defined student backlash against the overpowering role of technology .
I heard this very forcefully recently from some students at my own college,
talking about how they want ‘full-body immersion’ in the making of art -
they want hands full of squelchy clay, of tools, of fabric, of wood and metal
– or as one young woman said “I didn’t come here to make art with my
fingertips or be ruled by a mouse – my head is connect to my heart and
both are connected to my hands –
It is in my spirit to make things …”
(So its for that reason we still have a bronze foundry and big workshops as
part of our programme in Chicago, and why we still teach weaving and fibre
arts, and why, when we completely rebuilt our Photography facility last year
we deliberately went to a 70 -30 digital / wet-proccesses balance, so we can
keep 19th and 20 century photographic practices alive, alongside our work as
a beta testing site for new technologies in lens-based media).
13) But there are colleges developing a curriculum that abandons all craft
skill - all creativity lives in the 5-D cyberspace of the computer screen.
These colleges are the logical extension of the progress of art academies
since their founding in the pre-industrial age - through the age of machines
- through the electronic age - to the digital age -
In the past visualization
led to realization
, these schools work in virtualization
They have gone from the physical art school to the immaterial college
Everything is done on-screen, it’s all computer or media-driven, all
conceptualization, no manufacturing.
14) This new curriculum that we are discussing is also about what I call
‘internal migration’. In part it allows students to migrate their ideas that
may begin in painting and end up in video, or poetry, or a website - but we
are already seeing alert and sophisticate students migrating from disciplines
that they see have a very troubled future –
I hear reports of students in the UK, US and Europe switching out of
Architecture into other creative fields - they see that the economic downturn
means no new buildings, very if any jobs in architects offices –
But no new buildings will mean adaptive re-use of existing buildings, and
the application of newer and higher standards of green design, high tech
so we see students switching to Interior Architecture and Environment
Design, product and fashion design, web-based design -
migrating their clever creative ideas to more fertile soil. A flexible trans-disciplinary curriculum serves these students well. This new curriculum also recognizes a readily-documented movement in the Force. It’s about Fusion. The defined need to actually structure a pedagogical process that is not solely about the success of the individual, but about how individuals, working together, can pose questions and solve puzzles in highly creative ways.
– it is becoming increasingly difficult to do anything alone - and this
applies as much to engineering or the sciences or architecture as it does art and design.
– You have to be taught the practice of partnership
Part of the debate is the clear need to educate the Whole Person, and that results in a new focus on the role of the Liberal Arts. There is more than anecdotal evidence that visual arts students who can draw on Multiple Universes of Knowledge are better and more appropriately equipped to survive and flourish in the world of work known as “Life After Art College”. As we see a world more crammed with incident, more difficult to understand or manage, more uncertain, and more complex, we are here to change that by holistically educating more artists, more designers, more craftspersons, more creative technologists …. 15) The market BUT, in spite of the horrible economic news we have witnessed – the evidence is that after every previous economic recession in living memory, the demand for creativity and innovation has resulted in a rising tide, not an ebbing tide, for talented experimental thinkers. The arts are no longer peripheral to our daily lives, and today they are central, ubiquitous, integrated, demanded and provided. The massive growth of the creative industries social, cultural and economic impact is vast, but also measurable. And it’s useful to remind ourselves of the scale –
Today in the US, over 3 million individuals are working in the arts
industries, and the economic value of their work is measured in the multiple
billions of dollars – the same, incidentally can be said of the UK and Europe.
The US now has 50% more people working as performing artists and 30%
more working as writers since 1980.
In terms of the professions there are more artists, designers and
craftspersons, writers and performers in the American workforce than
lawyers, judges, physicians, surgeons, dentists, farmers, ranchers, foresters
and commercial fishermen – combined
The old view - that creative types are a mixture of Visionaries, Rebels,
Outsiders are faded - those stereotypes of the puzzling dreamer, footloose
bohemians, charming deadbeats or frivolous eccentrics are deeply wrong -
artists and designers are workers, productive innovators- and what they do is
in demand at every level throughout the world.
The ‘intellectual property sector’ in the US has a value based on creative
thinking and innovation – rather
than manufacturing commodities – and is
now one of the most powerful engines in the American economy – it
generated a value of over $450 billion in the year 2007 - (which is more
than the aerospace or automotive or agricultural industries !).
The art and design professions are more multi-cultural and diverse than any
others – and design is one of the very few professions where 50% of
practitioners are women.
In surveys conducted in the US about why and how the arts impact daily life,
the attendance figures tell a powerful story – TWICE as many people in
Chicago attended a ballet, art exhibition, concert or opera than attended all
professional and amateur sports events combined … and we are a sport-mad
city. We know the players names - as you know the names of great artists,
But 25 years ago, if you asked the Man in The Street to name famous artists,
composers, performers – what would the reply have been ? – a few stellar
painters, perhaps, a couple of fashion designers, probably not any playwrite
except Shakespeare, musicians from the classical past, a novelist or two, and almost certainly no designers or technologists. Try that today. With the visual, performing arts, media arts, technological and building arts at the forefront our social stage the climate is very different, with children and their parents reeling off the names of artists by style and medium, designers by label and product, architects by signature buildings, vehicle and furniture designers, and works in every dimension for 2-D to 5-D - why ? Because the arts are less elitist but instead accessible, enriching, amusing, entertaining, driving original and creative thought, out-of-the-box, not constrained by rigid thinking, endlessly absorbing – and absolutely available In other words, the arts are a key and critical component in advancing the Quality of Life. In the UK in 2007, the Arts Council of England survey showed that 5 million people had bought
a work of art in the previous 5 years, and that 6 million more people aspired
to own a work - and I don’t mean an historic object, 3-quarters of all those people wanted to own NEW work by a new artist. 79% of people surveyed in the UK believe that art and culture projects should receive public funding - and that’s almost the same degree of support for education and the National Health Service. I’m particularly struck by that because 60 years go, when the government created the first UK Arts Council, the right of access to all the arts by every citizen was the same as healthcare and the right to a good education. Some of you may have read Richard Florida’s influential book about the rise of the creative class – In it he defined what he called ‘creative communities’, where the ‘3 T’s’ create an environment that led to economic development based on creativity and innovation (Technology, Talent and Tolerance). He estimates that in the US today 30% of the workforce, or 38 million people – comprise this ‘Creative Class’ – they are artists, scholars, entertainers, performers, teachers, scientists, engineers, architects, writers,
designers – in a single word they are Innovators, the providers of the
creative capital that powers the knowledge economy.
Colleges and universities are forever asked to justify their existence –
someone somewhere is always asking us to do that. It’s OK. We have a
great story to tell. We are infrastructural contributors to the improvement of
the Quality of Life by Education.
Anybody got anything better then that, apart from a cure for AIDS and
What we contribute is what we are – colleges and universities are Banks.
Full of good ideas. We invest in Venture Talent in our ‘Ideas Banks’, and
everyone gets to withdraw …
Investment in arts education is infinitesimally tiny compared to the return,
The “Small is beautiful” argument applies . Impact out of all proportion to
size. Also instances where sometimes virtually anonymous individuals have
had enormous cultural and economic impact, and made a vast difference to
the way a nation presents itself.
It’s not fair for me to make such statements without example – so the quick
and obvious one.
Inevitably, its The RCA - Royal College of Art, London. Graduates and
faculty include internationally-recognized artists like:
Lucienne and Robin Day
the film directors who made Blade Runner, Alien, Richard III, The Secret Garden, Thelma & Louise, True Lies, Memphis Belle, The Full Monty, Gladiator, Band of Brothers, Doc Hollywood, White Squall and dozens of others, the designers who created the Range Rover and all the Land Rovers, the Ford Ka, all the Jaguars, Rolls Royces’ and Bentley’s of the last 20 years endless fashion designers like Philip Tracey, Zandra Rhodes and Mary Quant the Post Office letterbox dozens of Post Office stamps the blue-and-white reflective signs used on every motorway in the UK Princess Diana’s wedding dress The Beatles album covers the ubiquituous polypropelene stacking chair (10 million produced so far) three major rock’n roll bands the worlds first fully-reclining aircraft seat (for BA) the hospital bed used in every medical facility in the country design of the paper and metal currency of the realm and that very smart chap Dyson who makes those vacuum cleaners. In other words, if you live in Britain today you are affected by a product of the Royal College every day of your life.
All this from a college with a maximum enrollment of 800 students – what a fabulous return on the modest investment made by the government to run it. What has it done ? - merely
improved the quality of life for millions and millions of people. But that impact is not restricted to the RCA - because access to education for innovation has increased, more brains and more bright ideas come from everywhere to all colleges - the UK became known as a nation of innovation by providing opportunity for talented students whether they are in inner-city Birmingham, or the islands of northern Scotland. British Prime Minister Tony Blair was quoted as saying: “Our aim must be to create a nation where the creative talents of all the people are used to build an enterprise economy for the 21st Century, where we compete with brains not brawn. In doing so we cannot rely on an elite, no matter how highly-educated or well-paid.
Instead we need the creativity, enterprise and scholarship of ALL our
people. Thus, creativity in its essence is not ‘added-on’ to education or
skills training, it’s intrinsic to them”
Here’s the New Reality - and it applies to the UK and Europe equally –
Creativity is critical added value to the Quality of Life, has significant
economic power, drives the entertainment industry -
Design and craft is an essential element of all consumer products and
Writers, broadcasters, actors, animators, musicians and producers create the
programming that drives the new electronic media --- and at a time when
the next generation of satellite-access television will provide us with at least
1000 channels -
Guess who is going to provide the content, and create what it looks and
sounds like ? Your students are going to do that.
16) Yet what we do remains undervalued.
Colleges and universities are forever asked to justify their existence –
someone somewhere is always asking us to do that. It’s OK. We have a
great story to tell. We are infrastructural contributors to the improvement of
the Quality of Life by Education. …
Investment in arts education is infinitesimally tiny compared to the return
– we are educating socially-relevant highly creative and productive citizens
whose work will spread over their whole lifetimes, and will change as they
grow while contributing constantly to the changing societies in which they
Can a single student from an art college make a difference – change the
Try telling your students this story :
“Once upon a time a young man in England enrolled in an art college, took
classes in design, did good work, got a job – and changed the world.
Wouldn’t your students like to do that ?
His name is Jonathan Ive –
and he created the iMac, the iPod and the iPhone –
Just a smart kid with a design school education -
and just think of the communications revolution he and his team created, and
the billions and billions of dollars worth of economic impact he has had.
Just one art student …
Was he educated to do that ? - NO - he was educated in a place where the
free range of ideas and creative play created a mind-set where he could
explore advanced concepts of beauty, usefulness and technological magic –
In other words, a university of the arts where dancers work with animators,
painters partner with architects, musicians play with robots …
But even as this is being discussed a major issue is always mentioned - in
this globalization, where is my national identity ?
How is my voice in my language in my local accent going to be heard - how
will I be recognized ?
I’m an internationalist, but I happen to believe strongly in the value of
ethnicity as a specific flavour.
While the arts are international in scope and application, regional or national
characteristics define culture and style. So when you create your
curriculum, you should ask “What’s ‘us’ about it” ? “What’s different or
unique that says it’s about Us, about this place, about Our way of doing
Any society that does not fully understand it’s past and present falls into that
cultural amnesia that weakens its vital sense of identity.
This is hard to define, but you know what I mean – if I say to most people
“Scandinavian design,” or “Italian style”, or “French flair” you know what
that flavour is, even you don’t think of a specifics work of art or design, but
it plugs into an international cultural network.
In the warp and weft of an internationalized art world, what is the thread of Singaporean
DNA that identifies your arts as being Of This Place ?
Your nation is wonderfully positioned as a multi-cultural nexus to re-define
how in that internationalized context – a ‘Singapore Style’ becomes as
distinctive as Italian or French style.
Design is a global currency and Art is an international language - but I like to hear it spoken with a regional accent …. Now, I’d like to be considered as a Friend of Singapore, so among friends don’t take offense if I say when I am told “Oh we can’t really play on the world arts stage, we are too small” – it isn’t true and you have to stop saying that – Especially to the students who come here. In the globally-connected world, the scale of a nation has nothing to do with the ability of its children to change that world. Let me ask you this - what is the current population of Singapore ? And what is the Government’s projection ? OK – well, consider this : 20 years ago one tiny nation made arts-experience at the High School an absolute requirement for every pupil, talented or not. It made them work for individual progress, diligent study, and made them work in ensembles, teams, orchestras, studios and workshops – making them more rounded, more disciplined, more collaborative and trans-dsiciplinary in their thinking – and Lo and Behold, they discovered an untapped seam of brilliant talent that has become the cultural ambassadors for their nation – and now in the professional performance world is populated by a massively disproportionate number of artists, musicians … from a country with a population of below 5 million Or the nation that has provided a disproportionate number of professional singers … even more than Italy – but a country with a population below 3 million Or the nation whose people gave us three of the world’s greatest architects, gave us penicillin, radar, insulin, the flushing toilet, the bicycle, television, the telephone, the motion-picture, electro-magnetics – and one of the most successful authors in the entire history of literature – over 375 million books since 2000 !!! by ONE author - and has a national population currently at an all-time high of just under 5 million – and that author still lives there. (Finland, Wales, Scotland, and the novelist is JK Rowling)
- the very same commitment to education that is a major characteristic
of a certain small island in Southeast Asia with a population of under 5 million –
And of course, there is no one single master solution – the joy of what we do
is that we value diversity and differences, we apply our own local, regional
and national needs to how we review our curriculum and our mission. 18) End note
So, in conclusion : what Do we know: it’s this:
That our colleges of art and design will always be a haven for the gifted, the
brilliant young creative talent who will have long an productive lives. I
think is in our soul that we are always places where we shelter the student
who is odd, who doesn’t fit, who chose another way, was bullied
That they will be taught by masters of disciplines old and new, whose
experience and intimacy with the creative process will guide students who
are lost in oceans of images and ideas and tsunamis of disconnected
They will be in a welcoming and nurturing environment where the
development of original thinking and radical innovation is a day-to-day
occurance. Where research is not constrained by economics or obsessive
demands for demonstrations of market share or return on investment.
Where exploration is like that described by the scientist Albert Einstein, who
said “Research is what I’m doing when I don’t know what I’m doing”.
Where we stress personal development, respect the student who works in a
whirlwind of collage, but always set aside time for the student who will
spend a lifetime as a painter, plays the solo violin, in a gamelan
ensemble, or quietly weaving at a loom, or shaping wood and metal, or
advancing the traditions of calligraphy, or is part of the corps de ballet.
We are not here to improve the bottom-line result of a multinational
corporation - though we may well do that.
We know that our students become significant citizens will make powerful contributions to improving the Quality of Life of fellow-humans BUT here’s the most diffcult thing to explain, to prove, to quantify - even though I know this to be true: Remember THE SPONGE ?
- squeeze it out again, and again, and again - You cannot predict what will come out and where it will flow -
The Singaporean students that you have who pass through SOTA will be accepted for admission to excellent conservatories, dance academies, colleges of art and design Theres no question of this - you will mentor them and prepare them, they’ll go to such places and be successful, and they’ll graduate and go into the world and be successful – BUT, for many many of them, their success will be a BY-PRODUCT of their attending a professional college, not a DIRECT RESULT of attending … And that because the long-term record shows that they will change professions, move jobs, work for other people, become entrepreneurs, do something useful, or even change the world – And the base-line of their ability to do that is established HERE. In teaching that while their gift – and the gift-wrapping – stays with them in a permanent quest for perfection and precision (yes, they do have to play the notes in the order the composer intended) – The rest is about calling on those multiple universes of knowledge and experience that they discovered at SOTA - But in that world out there that values trans-disciplinary thinking, YOU are empowering them to think across cultures, across expressions, across boundaries, across that high and long bridge into what will be New Civilizations – You are NOT teaching them to think outside the box You are teaching them to think that there is No Box. You can be proud of that - that we play such a critical role at such a formative moment even though few will see it. We are the icebergs of education – only a small part of what we do is visible.
Yet the art we make, the designs we creates, the media we deal with, the practical magic of our work, touches the lives of almost every human in every society every day. Look around you – everything was designed, nothing wasn’t. And after you have mentored and taught them well here at SOTA, you send them to places like mine - “Places where things can be done that cannot be done anywhere else – and which don’t yet have a name”.
And I have this deep-seated and absolute conviction about your students here at SOTA as they leave you – that an education in art, design, media, and the performing arts “is not a ticket to a cold and lonely studio - It is a Passport to the economies of the future”.
I’ll conclude with this – as a thanks to Rebecca - My son Emrys was once asked to write a school essay entitled : “A Portrait of My Father” This is the whole essay: “My father flies to places where people have to listen to him Then comes home Where we don’t” Thanks for listening !
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