We all think better in the shower, don’t we? Though we see things most clearly by looking closely at them, perhaps we invent things best by not. It’s a wonderful quality of art making that stuff surfaces besides one’s intentions, and the general complexity of the endeavor—working at once with materials, ideas, processes, and contexts—opens the space for divergent tasks and, later, discovering what we’ve just made.
Let’s be sure to keep art school, so, ON and OFF topic: It surely matters much less what is “taught” than what kind of time and experience one has, yet that’s no excuse for neglecting rigor. If you find yourself in a facility rife with craft, take the time to look under the hood of materials. If you find yourself at a more academic institution, account for the methods of science, social science, and humanities. Art can truly splice across fields, but remember you can’t splice fog.
I used my own art school years to drag me out of the places I was in and knew. But knowledge was more local then. Now what we can know hangs over us everywhere in the Cloud. Likewise, the increased size of the art world generates a more industrialized market and the view of what’s happening comes in online like a newsfeed. How to keep art school vital as a place? How to engage productively with the “discourse” (inevitably a market and media narrative as much as a conversation of shows and ideas) while recognizing the profound value of a non-productive or counter-productive attitude? (If nothing less than to support the elephant in the room: countering impatience long enough to grant time to grow.)
Groping in my own dark, I keep seizing on two ideas. First, Rancière’s “ignorant schoolmaster” (teaching what you don’t know by simply asking; triangulating between motivation, student, and material). Then there’s Gerard Manley Hopkins, that neurotic doubter buffeted by belief (talk about a model for today’s art-world citizen); his phrasing is simple and his hope plaintive: “root-room.”
MATT SAUNDERS is an artist who lives and works in Berlin.