Statement | The art academy must also be a place for people who are not good at anything else

I once studied at university for a few months. I hated it. Everything had to be done in a certain way, and if I tried to write a thesis in the form of a homemade game, my teachers would laugh at me (and rightfully so, of course).

If I had graduated from university, this opinion piece would probably also have been very nicely structured, with a nice introduction, middle section where I refute all of Ranti Tjan’s arguments and then a conclusion.

Eventually I went to art school where I learned not to worry too much about how things should be done.

Last week, I often saw Ranti Tjan’s opinion piece shared on my Facebook timeline under the title: An art academy has an academic character: give them that title too (NRC, 12/8). In it, the newly appointed director of the Royal Academy of Arts in The Hague argues for giving the art academy, as in most other European countries, university status. Briefly, these are his arguments (plus my reaction): exchange between students and teachers with other European art education institutions will be easier (yeah, okay, probably), art will gain more status (I’ll buy a tie!), an artist who becomes a professor, gets called out more easily by the media (big news: I was allowed to share this piece NRC writing without being a professor) or rather will be allowed to advise a politician (really funny, I think it’s mainly Tjan’s personal heart matter). Also, as an art academy student, it’s easier for you to take courses at university and get smarter (okay, that would be nice, but you could just as well do that at a professional university).

Of course, all these arguments sound very reasonable in themselves. At the same time, they betray that he believes that the artist must do something: the artist must be able to research, be able to express himself well and achieve status so that he can drink coffee with the politicians. A rather elitist and limiting view of what art should be, I think.

The art and the artist need nothing

Because I think that if artists agree on one thing in the world, it’s this: The art and the artist don’t have to do anything. The great thing about art is that it has no prescribed function and there are as many points of view about it as there are artists. And we need all that kind of art: we need art that is personal and unreasonable and angry. We need radical political art. Rebel art. Ugly art. We need art that is pretty and beautiful and nothing more. We need art that is made only of feeling and art that has been researched for years. And yes, elitist art that can only be interpreted through incomprehensible art jargon can exist and have a function, but let there be more than that.

We need art that represents as many perspectives as there are people, and that’s not going to happen if Ranti Tjan is in charge.

For what is touched on in his piece, but not elaborated further, is the following: If art education is given university status, only students who have completed a pre-school education can be admitted. In practice, this will mean even more well-educated, white, neurotypical students.

Of course, all academies with all their newly created ‘diversity & inclusion steering groups’ will try to make rules for exceptions, but then again, how inclusive are you if diversity is going to be the exception?

And besides: how boring does the academy get? In the academies, we also need people who are good at nothing but making art. Who cannot get a letter on paper, cannot have a normal conversation with a politician, but only function if they can make art that cannot be categorized.

Read Ranti Tjan’s opinion piece here: A university of art

People falling outside the boat

I myself run an art space, which is still called Outsiderland, where we would like to unite the ordinary art world and the artists who fall outside. We work a lot with neurodiverse artists, artists from homeless backgrounds and artists who for one reason or another have not had an art education. The threshold to go to an art academy is still very high.

The Expert Center for Inclusive Education annually publishes an analysis of the national student satisfaction survey. Relatively speaking, there are many more students with a so-called ‘support need’ who study at vocational colleges, due to eg dyslexia, ADHD or mental disorders, than at universities. In other words: if art education becomes a university, accessibility for people who stand outside will not improve.

The art academies are the gateways to the art world. Many artists I work with, who have often built the most amazing works outside the official circuit, notice this every day. Without an art education, it is more difficult to apply for money from foundations, because in their eyes you are an amateur. Without training, the chance of you being allowed to participate in a group exhibition at the Stedelijk is much smaller. Without training, you are not a ‘real’ artist.

I would say: do the opposite of what Tjan wants. Let art academies become truly inclusive, drop all diploma requirements and hire people based on individuality and talent.

Make the academy a place for everyone.

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