The Irish Times view on the creative sector: art for art’s sake

An art college does not produce artists, but nurtures the talents of those showing promise

Painted model Lorenz Hirsch – an element of painting student Niamh-Erin Cusack’s installation at the NCAD graduate exhibition 2019. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

The National College of Art and Design has come through many transitions and relocation since its origins as a drawing school in 1746. Since then it has evolved into the more complex and diverse provider of education it is today. Its current director has now set out a vision for the future of this old institution. Professor Sarah Glennie makes many good points about the "importance of creativity in a dynamically changed world", as well as the workplace challenges facing students in coming years. She is right about the undervaluing of the role of the imagination and creativity, the inclination of parents and teachers to push young people towards more academic and lucrative pathways.

A reappraisal of an institution's mission is no bad thing and her reasoning on the future of the creative sector is cogent and considered, as well as being in tune with Government policies as outlined in its Creative Ireland programme.

While the college now incorporates four schools: Design, Education, Visual Culture and Fine Art, the first three might be said to have overtaken the once-dominant role of fine art. They are also more closely linked to the kind of employment trends Prof Glennie foresees. However, the “bold and curious thinking” behind the college’s new five-year strategy must avoid any diminution of the place of fine art, and that is a risk if there is a fixation on graduates having skills to “meet the needs of the economy”. Such needs, driven by capital, and the individualistic nature of the artistic imagination won’t always be compatible.

The director speaks of the necessity of having “independent thinkers” to come up with solutions to “climate change, digital transformation and automation”. Nevertheless the first responsibility of artists is to do what previous generations have done: get on with making great art. An art college does not produce artists, but is there to nurture the nascent talents of those who show promise, to assist them to “lift art beyond mere primitive skills into transcendental realms”, as a catalogue for a college exhibition once put it. NCAD must not lose sight of that objective.