This Saturday’s ‘Speakers’ Corner’ tackled the thorny issue of art education. If we take as a starting point Beuys’ statement, ‘Everyone is an artist’, then how can art be taught? Beuys lost his teaching position at the Dusseldorf Academy due to his refusal to limit access to his course.

Leo Powell introduced some reflections on his personal experience as an art student today. In particular, he is interested in how our environment affects the way we work and think. He described the problem of certain kinds of seating, for example in a pub, where individuals can find themselves excluded from the conversation. For him, a round table is not just a table but a philosophy. Showing us a series of images, he traced the historic development of art school environments beginning with a seventeenth-century, amphitheatre-style arrangement. From students seated at easels, each working from the model, there was a radical departure in the 1960s when dialogue rather than instruction took centre-stage. In today’s art studio, the laptop – portable technology – is a key component of the working environment.

In today’s art school, the communal, studio space is often empty with many people preferring to work at home where they have easy access to the kettle/internet. Whereas Leo had looked forward to the freedom offered by the art school experience, with the emphasis on the student pursuing his/her own interests independently, he found it a challenge to work in a vacuum. His conclusion was that the most important thing an art school can provide is not studio space or tools but a community. Developments in technology mean that this community can be constructed in different ways. For example, his tutor answered a question sent by email, responding using her Iphone while on the bus. What do these experiences mean in terms of the student-teacher relationship?

In the imagined art studio of the future there are, for Leo, 4 key points to be taken into consideration:

Access to information
You no longer need to physically visit the library and much course work can be delivered virtually. Open access to knowledge means that the traditional authority of the teacher is undermined – and this is a good thing! The teacher becomes a facilitator/catalyst.

Online learning environments make you focus on the content rather than the mode of communication.

The computer used to be seen as an an additional tool in the learning environment – now it is the environment.

If you consider the way Microsoft Office is structured, does being forced to organise everything into files and folders make us work and think like office workers?

The group discussion focussed on notions of time, play, the encounter with real objects (books) and focus. If the teacher-student relationship is irrevocably changed as a result of open access to knowledge, is the ‘inspirational’ teacher still something to hope for? What about the example of Beuys as shaman? What is the role of passion and the emotions in the teaching of art? Are one’s peers the most influential teachers?

Posted by Ryan Coleman on Sunday 20 September 2009