Future proofing the arts
ON MAY 24th last, the Higher Education Authority (HEA) announced it intended to appoint an international panel to review the provision of third-level creative arts education in Dublin.
The HEA pointed out that there are 10 institutions in the Dublin area involving the creative arts and media, and a further 10 nationwide. The existing strategic plan for higher education outlines a need for a more internationally competitive, coherent, co-ordinated and efficient approach in the sector. Tom Boland, the HEA chief executive, pointed towards stronger collaboration with the aim of building an international profile and developing creative industries.
We’ll have to wait for the panel’s review to see how that will play out, but there is already much talk of synergy, if not amalgamation, among the Dublin institutions.
The review will have to address questions of institutional autonomy, governance and validation. As it is, for various reasons NCAD has signalled its preference for an alliance with UCD, placing it at one remove from the majority of the creative arts institutions in the Dublin region, who fall within the Institutes of Technology rather than the university domain. Meanwhile, the several extant validation bodies are in the process of being amalgamated into one: the Qualifications and Quality Assurance Authority of Ireland, under Dr Padraig Walsh.
With arts education institutions outside Dublin facing their own organisational uncertainties in the light of the strategic higher education plan, as well as challenges created by our current economic woes, it seems opportune to look at the graduate and postgraduate degree shows in some of the institutions in question – those relating to fine art — and see what they say about the current state of arts education and, indeed, emerging fine art practice in contemporary Ireland.
One immediate point is that the very term creative arts may be at variance with administrative rigour and academic regimentation. If you are an administrator struggling to organise a smoothly-functioning system, the really creative individual may annoy the hell out of you. This is not something new – it’s a longstanding fact of arts and for that matter other kinds of education, and institutions have, to varying degrees, learned to factor it in. It would be a shame if we failed to do that here. It’s essential, for example, that talent is nurtured, not tamed.
In recent years, it’s been obvious that the photographic departments of both Dún Laoghaire Institute of Art and Design and Technology (DLIADT) and DIT have been performing well above par, not just because they are really good departments – which they are, incidentally – but because they reflect the inclinations and abilities of the students and they are in tune with the times.
It was salutary to visit the two shows this year, at Kill Avenue and in Temple Bar. Each was like a complete degree show in itself.
Cameras in their multiple contemporary guises have become the natural visual language of a generation of arts students, infinitely versatile and adaptable.
In acknowledgement of this, Limerick School of ART and Design is launching a lens-based media course (much of the best graduate work each year there is lens-based), and NCAD has its own flourishing digital media department.
It’s not that all lens-based media students aspire to create what everyone might describe as a well-made photograph. It’s not a question of “photography” at all. Rather, as the photographer Don McCullin once put it rather bluntly, “I use a camera like a use a toothbrush. It does a job.”