Tag Archives: art education

Repeatable Unrepeatable

What if everyone did that? What if everyone painted like Picasso or Pollock? What if everyone painted like Jenny Holtzer or photographed like Bill Henson? What if everyone made readymades like Duchamp? What if everyone spray-painted on walls in the city? Repeatability, reproducibility of results, is an important issue for science and ethics but what about art?

The history of art, unlike the history of science, is a cumulative narrative, where every work of art adds to what has come before. There have never been revolutions in art as there are in science; there has been nothing equivalent to the Copernican revolution (although Duchamp’s contribution might be the equivalent of quantum physics). The mistake was made when modern artists started to use the language of science in the first place in talking about ‘experiments’. Contemporary artists have avoided this word, using the more professional word ‘practice’.

There are different kinds of repeatability in the visual arts to the performing arts. The American choreographer, Merce Cunningham when on tour in India asked by Indian academic: “Do Americans like your kind of dance?” And after some confusion the question was clarified…for after dinner dancing?” Merce Cunningham’s choreography is repeatable for a trained dancer but not repeatable in a popular fashion. Democratic repeatability, that is repeatable by ordinary people, is different to repeatable by a trained elite.

Although the original is identical to the cliché except for its position in the sequence. Artistic creativity is held to be idiosyncratic, in the sense that it is isolated to an individual. This has helped sustain the idea and value of an artist’s individual signature style that grew from 17th Century artists, when artists first started to market their own work rather than rely on commissions.

Currently in the visual arts the results are regarded as irreproducible. Unlike in ethics or science the same events do not create the same results. The great results of visual art are not universalizable and can never be replicated. If someone else made portraits like Warhol they would be simply a derivative initiator (you can now get a Warhol effect on canvas at most commercial photo printers).

Obviously it has not always been this way; originally students would learn by imitating their master to the point of exactly reproduction. In the past if you could paint or sculpt like an established master then you did and would be praised for it. Following previous great art as an example is a very different issue for modern and contemporary visual art. We need to ask the question why are we not intended to follow the example of great contemporary artists? What part of their art is repeatable? Should we use great modern art as examples in art education? What if everyone behaved like Damien Hirst?


Fine Arts Education

The apprenticeship system has always worked in the arts with a student learning from a practicing master artist. The idea of masses of students in an institution learning how to be artists is a modern invention. Institutional fine art education has produced some notable artists, like Andy Warhol, but the question is still worth asking: do all these degrees really help the contemporary art world? And what are the alternatives to a fine arts degree?

There are so many things missing from fine arts degrees that are expected of contemporary artists: business skills, media management public speaking, to name a few. Many contemporary artists are working in areas that could be described as sociology or with digital media that art school studies seem to be a deficit to their education. There are many notable artists without an institutional fine arts education, for example most artists prior to the 20th Century.

What about getting a broad education before specializing? I received most of my education for free, taxpayer funded (and now look what I’m doing with it giving it back for free in this blog) but that’s another story. The idea of paying for a fine arts degree, along with all the materials and other expenses is no longer economically or socially viable.

A studio-based education is still possible for artists. I’ve meet one young artist, Joseph Flynn at Blender Studios who is avoiding art school. It is not that Joseph Flynn dislikes education; he has an interest in many things from science to the humanities. Doyle, who runs Blender Studios, describes Flynn as an “apprentice”. Flynn has“created my own personal Uni as a conceptual artwork entitled ‘University of Joe’“complete with his own rectified sweatshirt. Flynn lists his mentors as: Lewis Miller, Adrian Doyle, Regan Tamanui, Tim Sterling and Joel Gailer. I asked Joseph Flynn how his self-education had developed and he emailed me this reply.

Joseph Flynn, "Come Together", pencil & ink on paper, 2009

Joseph Flynn, "Come Together", pencil & ink on paper, 2009

“When I finished school I moved straight to Melbourne from Perth at the end of 06 and rejected the idea of being molded to the teachers ideas and ideals of art and set out on my own course of learning about art and it’s relationship to the real world outside of an institutionalized arena. My next step was getting a studio and I found one, in the heart of St Kilda. And at that same time 1998 Archibald winner Lewis Miller moved in and became my friend and mentor, I went on the learn the ropes of painting. I then moved out of that space and to somewhere down the road all the while keeping in touch with Lewis and borrowing many art texts and books. After a while paying rent became an issue so I moved my studio into the largest room in the house I live, which then became too depressing and conflicting with home life. So I set out to find a new studio and came across the Blender. At that time I was 19, but very ambitious. Doyle wasn’t going to accept me at first, but later decided to on the basis that he knew I was a true artist and also quite nagging. It’s almost been a year now that I’ve been at Blender and it is the current location for the ‘University of Joe’.”

So before enrolling for a fine arts degree consider the alternatives.


Street Art in Singapore

Street art in Singapore, government funded stencil art classes for Singaporean high school and junior college students, a skate park with legal graffiti walls, are we talking about the same SE Asian city state with a reputation for law and order? Street art is an international art movement but would it be true to assume that Singapore does not readily embrace it. I was curious and so I started to exchange emails with Kamal Dollah, a Singaporean artist and art educator who writes a teaches graffiti and blogs about it: Kamal Dollah’s Art Journal. Here is a dialogue that I’ve extracted from our emails that we intend to publish on both our blogs.

Kamal: It sounds crazy but I got my government backing to teach kids graffiti. My friends in USA could not belief that I got away with this. When I wrote this graffiti programme for the schools in 2004, I did not expect it to be approved for funding as its never been done before anywhere. My view is, you can bore these kids with Picasso and Rembrandts or you could get their attention and still teach them about colours, shape, form, calligraphy and some soft skills like respect and responsibility. Writers have ethics too and somehow that sinks into their head better than any civic class.

Mark: I know that Singapore is serious about vandalism and I didn’t see any graffiti last time I was there. So I thought if there is legal work going on then Singapore is proof that the extreme anti-graffiti lobby are wrong when they say that legal aerosol work encourages tagging and other illegal graffiti. Is this true?

Kamal: Well the anti-graffiti lobby may be right. The situation is different here because this is a high maintenance place. Graffiti get removed very fast. I believe you are familiar with the ‘broken-window theory’. There will always be un-established writers, punks and anti-establishments that will do illegal work.

Mark: Where is the legal street art mostly seen by the public in Singapore?

Kamal: Legal walls are provided by a government agency that oversees youth activity. You can spray anywhere in the skate park located in Orchard Road.

Mark: Do you mean that the skate park on Orchard Road is open to anyone to spray, go down and add your stencil when you finish it, or is there an application process? Has it ended up a mess or has a code of conduct emerged?

Kamal: The skate park in Orchard Road and the Youth *scape park is open to anyone to tag or bomb. No permit or application necessary. They also hold exhibitions and concerts for youth. Street artist hang out there mostly and learn from each other.   Visiting writers from abroad has also done their pieces there.
Believe it, these walls are not messed up with vulgarities but beautiful pieces. This happens when artists are serious enough to own their space.

Mark: In Australia and America, there are little shops selling street style clothing, t-shirts, stickers, skateboards, magazines etc. with poster racks of street artist prints, paintings hanging above the cloths racks or a tiny gallery out the back. Does Singapore does have any of this commercial side of street art?

Kamal: There is a concentration of boutique shops specialising in street wear and that area is bombed pretty bad. Its called Haji Lane. It’s a small lane with small shops with reasonable rent. These businesses come and go. I suppose its the same in every city as we are a connected global village. Yes there are young entrepreneurs here that have tried to commercialise the craft. There is always someone pushing idea for a new magazine, crew, label etc.

Mark: Have any art galleries started to regularly show street art? The only two Singapore galleries that I’ve visited are Plastic Kinetic Worms and the Singapore Art Museum.

Kamal: Plastic Kinetic Worms just closed last year I think. They were pushing the envelopes of contemporary art when they existed but it is not right to say they promoted street art, I doubt they even noticed what happened on the street. Graffiti was not on the radar of high art even though occasional block busters like Keith Haring and Basquiat emerged on the streets in the 80s, recently Banksy and most recently Shepard Fairey (Obey). Art institutions rarely could see the diamond from the rocks. There are occasional exceptions like when the Singapore Art Museum invited eleven writers to bomb their wall in 2006 in conjunction with an exhibition on street art but that wall only lasted two weeks as some conservatives wanted it cleaned prior to the IMF and World bank meeting in town. We also have a supportive National Arts Council. They do recognise that youth like street art and fund some of these artists as long as they prove artistic merit. We do have a healthy exposure to the arts here. I hope that clears any assumption that we are oppressed citizens of a police state. Maybe not you, but that’s what most foreigners (even some locals) like to think.

Mark: In Australia the contradictions between the illegality graffiti and its image of cool urban youth are confusing. It would be good not to have to deal with the confusion and contradiction and just be able to enjoy the images.

Kamal: In Singapore there is no contradiction between graffiti and graffiti graphics as like I said, the city is clean and people generally are not victimised by it. The concept of graffiti is not frowned upon here because it is not so much viewed as vandalism as the public don’t suffer from it and graffiti is associated with youthful trend and art. That makes graffiti appear cool and established artist get engaged for gigs at promotions and public events. Most of the event are organised by government agencies to attract youth. Most writers know of the harsh penalty for vandalism under the Singapore law and how efficient law enforcement is, so it is really pointless to ‘get-real’ when there are legal alternatives. My observation, Singapore is different from other SE Asian countries as we are a small city. The graffiti impact here is very well contained.

Kamal Dollahs banner

Banner at the Skatepark near Sommerset MRT in Orchard Road, Singapore          – by the National Youth Council.


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