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This opinion piece addresses issues of reduced art provision at tertiary and community levels in the time of global pandemic and increasing population. It touches on aspects of isolation in contemporary student cohorts where socialisation techniques previously championed in tertiary education are replaced by online individual level reflection and delivery by untrained teaching staff.
Make Art not Admin. By Jeremy Blank
For many people, learning art is a dream. It represents an opportunity to
express or challenge their lives at profound levels. They become producers
rather than consumers. For some it is a way of release or coming to terms
with their lives, desires or visions. It is a lifelong challenge. Not everyone
who attends art school will become an artist. Few make their living from
artistic output alone. Comparing art education to other areas is useful. Very
few students engaging in sport become professionals; that does not stop
countries from heavily subsidising or encouraging their youth to engage in
physical activity. Sport equates to conformity, abiding by rules but
challenging them forcefully. Pushing you to the limit within the constraints of
a code. In art we realise the pushing of boundaries in other ways. This can
be through transcendence of personal indoctrination or the celebration of
the dominant culture. It can also be an acknowledgement of technical
We perceive art as breaking rules or against conformity. Yet much
contemporary art emphasises hyperrealism! It is art’s capacity to ask
questions and raise doubt that makes it seem untrustworthy. The art of the
twentieth century confirmed such doubts. Through misinterpretation anything
could be art1. Even the canned shit of Italian conceptualist Piero Manzoni
was collectible.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, many art schools were dismantled or
closed. Those that survived were incorporated within universities as discrete
study areas. They continue to be repositioned as and how senior managerial
staff perceive art or design to accord with preferred personal or corporate
business models.
Beck and Cornford’s 2014 book ‘The Art School And The Culture Shed’
photographically documented the demise and destruction of established UK
Art Schools. Art schools were once a symbol of community and pride for
many towns and cities across the UK. The number of art schools in the UK
has reduced from one hundred and eighty to just twenty-eight. Photographs
of old closed buildings were juxtaposed with contemporary replacements;
many of which have failed.
In Western Australia a similar destruction of community arts provision
happened throughout the 1990s. TAFE (Technical and Further Education)
sold eleven art departments, most of its arts provision in Western Australia,
as private development sites. They spanned the entire Perth metropolitan
area, a distance comparable to the entirety of Los Angeles, over 100
kilometres in distance and fifty kilometres in depth. Then Perth’s population
was under one million. Twenty years on the population has almost doubled
but the provision of community arts has shrunk further still. There is no
willingness to invest in community arts other than at localised and marginal
levels. This is not the case for sports clubs. TAFE WA, as it was then
branded, condensed delivery to a single purpose-built architectural shed
complex in Northbridge Perth to accommodate Western Australia’s high level
vocational art delivery for a new millennium. In closing down the majority of
community arts provision the Western Australian government effectively
closed community access for the arts by limiting all delivery to federal level
training packages and formal studies.
In Australia, established and respected art departments have been closed on
a whim. Such actions emphasise the disregard and lack of understanding for
art within community or academic contexts. For many senior level art
educators who recall what an art school education was, the arguments
against art schools being incorporated within university models continue to
echo down the years. This is not nostalgia. Experienced teaching staff who
understand the commitment required from an individual to achieve high level
results are witnessing reduced provision, removal of specialist resources and
increasingly simplistic curricula. It is a dumbing down of tertiary level
education, increasingly constrained by accountability, excessive assessment
and staff monitoring.
We live in a culture where failing a student is not an option. Even the word fail
is removed from much educational language. Ironically, it remains a popular
word for many young people in social networks. Failure is a positive aspect of
art education. Ideas not fully expanded upon or techniques applied which had
not been adequately tested; lack of work or commitment. These were
discussed publicly, in small group critiques.
Staff would use student work within a peer group as comparative examples.
Students were invited to present, discuss and engage with their peers in
constructive conversation. Such approaches are now considered public
humiliation. They were open teaching situations where discussion, dialogue
and critical awareness were developed within peer groups. Sometimes
confronting but confined to the work. To ensure variety of opinion and avoid
personal bias open critiques were conducted by several staff. Teaching staff,
who were also practicing artists, brought a range of opinion and critical
awareness to student reviews. They provided students with immediate
feedback for reflection and were generally honest. When a positive review of
work was received it felt good. When a less than positive crit was
experienced it made the individual question their results, look at the work of
others and self-reflect on whether they had applied themselves.
Self-reflection now occurs prior to a formal submission and is included in
online submissions. Students critique themselves. Assessors confirm or
justify why they may disagree with a student who feels they have done well.
The role of assessment becomes a monitoring situation rather than honest
feedback regarding a potentially professional development. It limits student
awareness of criticism where they are unprepared for negative comments
beyond educational environments. This is most evident in professional
contexts. Contemporary graduates expect arts professionals to continue
teaching them when they are seeking to be perceived as professional. They
have little understanding how to present their work, resumes or address
application forms as requested. If they are refused or informed they are
unsuccessful they complain.
Online assessments isolate the individual at a time when isolation and the
cult of self predominate. Students are encouraged to market themselves and
their work online in social contexts. This encourages the culture of ‘likes’;
peer group approval becomes the definition of quality. Reviews in online
portals are reduced to emojis or simplistic likes. Any critical discussion is
absent and negative comments are often personal. Pleasing the audience
becomes the underlying aim of marketing one’s work. In the past students
were encouraged not to please teaching staff but to explore their own drives,
ideas and interests. Failing was an important aspect of learning. Students
learnt resilience and how to deal with rejection or poor engagement. They
learnt whether they desired populism as much as how to engage in public
discourse. Beyond the art school many students join group studios to
maintain opportunities for shared discussion and feedback.
Traditionally art schools provided socialisation, opportunities for extended
more personal study and an expanded range of possibilities. They also
included aesthetic and cultural studies, art history, theoretical or creative
writing. Through their incorporation within universities they have become
corporate cattle farms. Degrees validate student entitlement and students
imagine they can access high levels of employment upon graduation. This
extends to being immediately recognised as professional through their
financial and time commitments to study, which is increasingly generalised
rather than specific to art.
The promise of expanded opportunities for art students to engage with other
disciplines is wholly reliant on teaching staff with expertise and interests
beyond singular specialisation. On the whole, most teaching staff promote
their own vision rather than promoting an educational experience.
Contemporary teaching through unit guidelines encourages virtual projects,
team building and corporate modelling. There is little emphasis on skills
acquisition, which is expected to be gained beyond programmed contact
sessions or study units. Universities produce corporate robots. Their
language is increasingly couched in pseudo jargon, where meaning is absent
and justification emphasised.
The Australian government has decreed that humanities subjects such as art
and philosophy are unimportant in terms of job readiness for students to
study at university. They are irrelevant. Now universities focus on job
readiness as the criteria to assess educational efficiency. This sad indicator
of tertiary education relegates education to training; leading to dissatisfaction
if a student does not achieve a job in the area they have been trained to
enter. Previously students were encouraged to be flexible, adaptable, self
reliant and confident. Their undergraduate studies in highly regarded courses
were professionalised from their first year. The corporatisation of universities
has removed academics from teaching and devalued teaching. Teaching
units are condensed, embracing several specialisms within a single unit as
tasters over a thirteen-week teaching period. At university levels, tutorial
support is often provided by current honours students or recent graduates
employed on a casual basis.
In 2020 UK academic staff from across universities went on strike over pay
and working conditions. A similar situation was exposed in Australia through
the COVID19 pandemic. University staff were ineligible for government
support. In a fifteen-week semester in Australia there are two or three non-
contact weeks where casual staff are not paid. Their pay includes preparation
and marking, which is increasingly online. Many rely on one or two teaching
sessions per week for their incomes. It is doubtful Australian universities
would be concerned if casual staff withdrew their labour.
Why have schools not prepared students to be ready for the workforce? It is
now expected that students engage with higher education to ensure they are
job ready. Student teachers wishing to teach art at secondary levels are
required to have higher level art training. This contradicts the removal of
subsidies for the study of art. If art is perceived as unimportant, it is no
surprise there is no regard for the quality of art specialists wishing to teach
art. Many believe they will make a difference, however impoverished their
educational experiences are. Young students moving from school to
university teacher training are wholly unprepared to enter the teaching
profession. The reduction in exposure to professional level specialism at
undergraduate levels combined with a lack of external life skills emphasise
the infantilisation of students. Experiences of real world environments are
increasingly delayed.
As an arts educator I was regularly asked to provide references for entry to
teacher training courses; when it was clear they had no passion to teach. I
doubted their reasons for seeking such a position. My response was honest,
mindful of my unease if they were in a classroom teaching a son or daughter
of mine. I imagine this is harsh to an outsider. I recount this from experience.
Having tried to teach students with limited skills, no drive or passion and
learn that they imagine they can teach a subject they are disengaged from is
challenging. Wondering how they will instil belief from students who doubt
their motives and whether they will gain the strength and skills for their
survival. School students have acute awareness of weakness and uncertainty
and increasingly expect to be entertained as much as educated. Confidence
and passion are crucial elements for positive teaching interaction. Schools
expect teaching staff to participate in additional extra-curricular activities.
They are very keen if a staff member has faith and is sporty. If a teacher is
expected to prepare classes, run their classes well, complete assessments
thoroughly and do additional extra-curricular activities beyond their stipulated
contracts, how could they maintain a creative practice or even a personal life
in many cases? The answer is to employ part-timers on reduced contracts
where a .5 (half full time load) is assigned, which equates to a full time load
given additional expectations. That way teaching institutions maximise their
staff investments while reducing salary commitments.
At university levels most teaching is casualised. This allows teaching staff the
flexibility to develop their research, studies or their professional profiles. That
is how it’s sold to those who work extremely hard in fragile and often
unsupported environments. It is an example of contemporary piecework or
as is commonly called ‘the gig economy’. Australian universities have been
ineligible to claim Jobkeeper for their staff as part of COVID19 support. Many
casualised academic teaching staff were required to shift workloads online
with no additional pay or face losing their positions. Examples where
printmaking students were only able to work from home reducing degree level
studies to that of DIY practice, while student’s fees remain at all time highs
emphasise the disconnect between practice and academic research.
At the beginning of the twentieth century Art school training was often
perceived as a finishing school for young ladies and not so academic young
men. After the Second World War retraining options allowed returning
soldiers the opportunity to elect to study art. Tertiary education expanded for
the working classes to access in the 1960s, art schools presented
opportunities beyond the middle classes heralding a more inclusive approach
towards art and culture while retaining awareness of the past. The
appointment of Margaret Thatcher’s 1979 Conservative Government saw
such access increasingly diminish In the UK. Access to free and supported
higher education converted to a loan based system. Art Schools, which had
been independent, were forced to merge within universities or close. London
Art Schools combined to form a University of the Arts to retain their
independence and avoid being overwhelmed by existing university models of
emphasis. The above account directly relates to a UK experience. It is
mirrored in other countries to varying degrees. Since the early 2000s
marketing regarding higher education has progressively shifted towards
training for jobs. Universities actively promote this line of justification for their
existence. Inspirational open-ended studies have been replaced with tick box
accountabilities and the removal of words like criticism or failure from the
educational experience.
Anyone challenging current business led models of profitability, removal of
staff tenure and de-emphasis on teaching is seen as backward looking or
nostalgic. Senior management at tertiary levels are a generation of
academics or mid-level arts practitioners who benefitted from earlier systems.
They have held their tenure to get to the top of the academic tree and remain
there until they retire. They will not speak out about the cuts to teaching or
the reliance on recent graduates with little or no professional experience to
run most of their teaching programs. They fear to challenge and maintain
standards as academic leaders of creative cultural institutions. Perhaps it has
always been so. There are fewer experienced practitioners teaching in
university-based art departments.
The terminal qualification of PhD has replaced the MFA or MA. Teaching
emphasis has moved from skills based to theoretical or research based
practice. This shift has changed the way higher-levels of artistic training are
undertaken. I emphasise undertaken rather than practiced. Even though
universities have often begrudgingly accepted practice led research as it is
understood within the arts, where practice informs outcomes, there is still a
core emphasis on the originating question needing to be addressed. In the
case of achieving a doctorate that relies upon the candidate having proven
they have answered a question previously unanswered or contributed
significantly to new knowledge. The MA or MFA emphasised refinement and
development of skills and concepts beyond initial studies. It also included an
exegesis where the student formally justified their studies. The MA or MFA
has been replaced by an honours year following a degree; which is often a
preparatory program for PhD candidacy. Students learn how to form a
research question, develop an awareness of ethics, research methodologies
and literature reviews. It is as far as imagined from the refinement of a skills
focused art practice as anyone can imagine. They are often advised that they
begin to specialise at honours level. Many higher level students do not
encounter teaching staff with the credentials or expertise to supervise their
studies and are reliant on basic advice from senior staff with little actual
research experience themselves as supervisors.
Art Schools, which had existed since the early 1900s, adapting to social
changes and evolving community focused access, were often forced to
abandon community access through constraints linked to funding. Only
accredited full-time study courses were funded. Previously subsidised
additional educational access was removed, making community level evening
classes more expensive and less attractive. The removal of community
access within art schools saw local government provision in community arts
through community centres; art galleries and some schools take up the space
vacated by the loss of evening classes within local art schools. This rift
between definitions of community engagement, professionalisation and
accountability frameworks imposed upon art school education in particular is
an important point of departure. The separation of community activities and
linkage to a local community rebadged Art Schools within university contexts,
away from craft and skills to more academic models of emphasis.
Some Art Schools kept their independence, continuing to provide community
access for evening classes and short courses. As Art Schools moved
towards more business focused delivery those schools or departments with
high profile presence in key areas of study capitalised on their reputations.
Those colleges with international reputations were able to attract students
from around the world, maintaining high entry levels for prospective students.
Where student places are capped at certain numbers entry for high profile
courses is highly competitive. Ratios between international full-fee paying
students and local (semi) subsidised students are increasingly uneven.
There are problematic issues for the teaching of the arts at fundamental and
high levels across Australia and elsewhere. The rationalisation of art
provision in education has not worked after a generation of continuous
change. Where we were informed that an unregulated and often privileged
system operated with little regulation we now experience an over regulated
system run by petty bureaucrats with no experience in their management
areas. At community levels provision is reduced to minimal levels. Only
priority funding areas of access and equity can justifiably be provided for.
There is need for thorough and considered change with informed specialist
input linked to community and professional emphasis across teaching,
community and professional levels of arts engagement.
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This study examined the moral rationales of 109 male and female coaches, athletes and non- athletes. Subjects read a series of sport scenarios in which a conflict arose between an athlete and a member of the athletic establishment. Five categories of moral rationales emerged from the data, two of which, the ethic of care and of self-interest, predominated. Females employed the ethic of care significantly more often than males, while males used the self-interest rationale significantly more often than females. Results are discussed in terms of the asymmetrical power relationship which characterizes athletics and the different moral orientations men and women bring to sport.
Cornford The Art School and the Culture Shed. Kingston, United Kingdom Centre for Useless Splendour
  • J Beck
Beck, J., and Mathew Cornford The Art School and the Culture Shed. Kingston, United Kingdom Centre for Useless Splendour, 2014.
Why Uk Art Schools Are on Strike
  • E M De Wachter
De Wachter, E.M., "Why Uk Art Schools Are on Strike." Frieze, https://
In Issues in Art and Education; Aspects of the Fine Art Curriculum
  • Susan Hiller
Hiller, Susan. "Issues in Art and Education; Aspects of the Fine Art Curriculum." In Issues in Art and Education; Aspects of the Fine Art Curriculum, edited by Paul Hetherington, 87. London: Wimbledon School of Art in association with the Tate Gallery, 1996.
Australian Universities in Crisis
  • Annabelle Quince
Quince, Annabelle. "Australian Universities in Crisis." In Rear Vision: Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 2020.