Monday, 21 September 2009

!!!!!!!!!!! E ! N ! E ! R ! G ! Y !!!!!!!!!!!!

The afternoon of September 12th was one of shifting currents of thought and energy. In the gallery there was a steady movement of people looking at Beuys.

One couple had returned following an earlier visit and had brought friends back to show them the exhibition, even though they felt they didn’t really like it and thought it didn’t belong in the De La Warr Pavilion. They led me round the exhibition asking animated questions and demonstrated a deep fascination with Beuys’ choice of materials and sculptural arrangements.

The Fat Chair provoked quite a bit of discussion, which led onto talking about how art can be made out of anything and that rubbish can be recycled into artefacts.

I really enjoyed talking to them because they had what I can see, upon reflection, was a kind of constructive resistance to the work that allowed them to question, doubt and be opened up to possibilities of understanding.

After experiencing the Speaker’s Corner discussion all about energy led by Steve Martin, physics teacher, I could describe their engagement with the exhibition as manifestations of kinetic, potential and elastic energy:

They moved enthusiastically from work to work, with an attitude of boundless enquiry bursting through a thin veneer of mocking deprecation of Beuys. This was their kinetic force.

They were keen to have their minds opened and find out more, I felt we could have talked all day. This was the potential energy they exhibited.

And they were willing for their minds to roam, for us all to take part in a spirited and lively conversation that took us in many directions. And in this way they showed what elastic, mind-energy can be like. (I apologise to Steve for stretching an interpretation of his explanation of the forms of energy to its limits.)

Steve’s talk was well attended by up to 25 people. He was very energetic in his demonstration of seven types of energy: kinetic, potential, thermal, gravitational, sound, light and elastic, using an elastic band as a prop. He communicated his enthusiasm for his subject very well to the gathered group.

His basic thesis was that the universe, having been created by a big bang was full of energy and that energy cannot run out, it can only be transferred. Therefore, on the one hand, there is nothing to worry about in terms of an energy crisis because energy is readily available everywhere if we only harness it sensibly. On the other hand, however, humans are constantly showing how wasteful we are of energy and seem incapable at the moment of properly investigating and implementing sustainable forms of energy.

The discussion turned around ideas of how to plan more constructively

for our future energy use and despair at how we, as humans, let greed and profit motivate us in the short term instead of acting sensibly in the present to conserve our future energy needs.

There was a sense in the group of shared interests and some irritation at the actions of others. We formed a kind of microcosm for that moment of people bonded by a common need for rational approaches regarding the production and consumption of energy.

Many thanks to all who were present on the afternoon of the 12th. If any of you would like to add anything here do make your own contribution to the blog.

Sunday, 20 September 2009

Art Education

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?