Friday, 10 June 2011

do we value art + design?

hand printed tea towel

Challenging times we live in. Those of us who value art and design, that is.

I recently read this story about a glass studio at Monash University (in Melbourne) having to close. I hear it's an expensive course to run. And that may well be true. But hear me out as I have a few thoughts to share. If universities keep closing specialist courses like this one where will our next generation of artists, makers and designers go to learn about their chosen fields? Sure, there are ways to learn an art or design process outside of the walls of universities. I'm not suggesting that it's the only way someone can learn to paint, weave, design computer games, or blow glass, for example. What I struggle with though, is the idea that universities are on a roll with the idea that art and design courses are too specialist in nature and too expensive to run. Small, niche fine art courses are closing in many universities. The unspoken seems to be that they're not valued for what they can offer. If art and design programs are not valued in universities, what does that say about what we view as important in education? And what does it say about our society more generally? Do we value art and design? Do we want our world to be without art and design? Can we even imagine how that would look or feel or be like?

I've been thinking about these questions for weeks (you can blame the PhD) and was even more intrigued when I saw that the UK is about to open it's first ever super-private, US-style ivy league university - the New College of the Humanities. Yep, that's right, for a very big price tag (about $AUD 27 000 per year) you will be able to study with some of the finest philosophers and thinkers at this new university. Astonishingly, this has happened because public funding to the arts and humanities has deteriorated so badly in recent times that the folk behind this venture felt the need to rescue these disciplines from the deathbed of education. There are huge equity implications for such an education venture and the media has been full of articles questioning the direction this new university has chosen to go in (see the UK Guardian for more stories).

So this is where my mind is going - will university fine art and design courses be forced to go in this direction too? That is, set themselves up in private (read very expensive) universities because publicly funded universities keep cutting costs and courses in these areas? Is that even possible? It will be a sad day indeed if art and design courses are siphoned off into mega-expensive private universities only for the rich to enjoy.

What do you think? Let's hope it doesn't come to that.


  1. I totally agree. Universities have become a business these days - it's not about learning it's about the bottom line... and while we're on that analogy, it's also about 'lowest common denominator' courses too. I can only hope that this is all cyclical - we're approaching our 'Middle ages' and afterwards there'll be another stunning rebirth ;) Kx

  2. From one Kylie to another, I like your idea of the cyclical process. Perhaps you are right and a rebirth is just around the corner.

  3. OMG wouldn't it be terrible to be an art-less and design-less would and only the rich being able to participate... ugh! I couldn't even imagine!! Surely there would be an art and design uprising from not so well off.. art and design is in the soul!

    Great post :)

  4. Looks like this is happening the world over. Here in Bangalore, most Art Colleges have closed their Fine Art Depts and now focus on Interior and Graphic Design in order to survive. It is very sad but the moment purse strings have to be tightened, the first causality is always Art.

  5. Priya - that's really interesting about Fine Art in Bangalore. When you start to ask why art?, why not science, or engineering or business? (not that I'd want any of those areas closed either) you start to get the message that art is not valued at all. Sad!

    Lamina - agreed. Can't imagine a world without art/design either!

  6. Hi kylie
    Check out ruth bridgstock's Phd in the qut e print. Very illuminating
    In this current climate, the protean career of artists and designers, doesn't
    sit well in the university. And we know it's all about employability. Had a very interesting discussion last night with a friend who is an artist and is considering different options as she turns 40 soon and does not have a sustainable career.Very common situation.

  7. Hey Megan, so nice to have you drop by! Yes very common situation indeed! Will check out that PhD you mentioned.

  8. Hi Kylie - very interesting post and comments.. Sadly in my view, art, craft and design is less and less valued - lots of lip service but the mightly dollar always win as will cheap imitations. It's not helped in my day job field of interior design where fellow designers are under cutting each others fees and then deliver some questionable design quality and service.. Unless we are able support artistic endeavours our society will become a place of copy cat design and little innovation. Fine arts funding is vital... very sad indeed. Vicki

  9. S&M - That's really interesting about interior design. I keep thinking design related areas may be less vulnerable than fine art because of their more apparent employment outcomes. But obviously there are issues going on there too.

  10. I really feel it's a tragedy - these specialist courses and indeed all art and design courses are vital in creating a vibrant and alive community as a whole. It is so sad to see the merits of such courses being reduced to a purely financial equation.

  11. I couldn't agree more! Where will it all end?