I believe that one of the goals of the educational system is supposed to be preparation of the students for the reality outside of the academy. It sounds obvious, but it seems to me sometimes, that this aspect might be quite underestimated.
We tend to think that the alumni should take care themselves, fight their own battles. I agree with that. But let´s think how we can prepare them for this. The time after graduation is often difficult and confusing. The alumni are confronted with feeling that no one in fact needs art and doesn´t really understand what they want to say, questioning the very meaning of their own work.
We should make students ready for that, so they don´t get lost immediately somewhere between struggling to find some job to cover the bills, setting up their studio and trying to find at least some time for their own art, which maybe someone will appreciate enough to buy.
This might sound maybe a bit too tough, but it is not only my own personal experience. I have heard that from graduates far too often. Something should be done about it. This question might not be so crucial in all places, and of course the situation in each country and department has its own specifics.
I will divide this topic into few segments which influence each other and form together the main features of the picture from my point of view.
The position of alumni in the workfield is in large part given by his professional abilities in art, craft and design. I will not write about it now, not because I don´t conseder it important, but because it would be a topic for another essay. The theme which interests me now are the other factors and alumni´s interaction with the professional environment. I will write from our own experiences and situation. Hoping that it will have some use for the others aswell.
Students and Their Tools
One of the factors is how will alumni be prepared for the challenging situation after their graduation. Not only considering their art skills, but ability to establish themselves. Self-presentation, Communication, Art management, Basics of Bussiness knowledge.
Who, how and when should introduce students to these problems?
As I understand, in some countries students come to the academy already quite educated in financial problems and self-presentation. Unfortunately we are not in such a position. I daresay that some of our applicants come with almost no education in this sphere.
The academy started to solve this by offering courses of Art Managment and Presentation skills and they are mostly overcrowded. I believe that there will be more courses in the future.
Those lessons are not focused on how to make the best sellable pieces. They are about how to present the art piece to the wider audience, communicate with media, where to look for fundings to set up studios, to create projects and find a way to live from making their own art or design, which is the goal. We want our students to approach this theme consciously with awareness of its pros and cons.
We cannot protect them by hiding information away from them. Our students have to be intelligent enough to be able to critically evaluate the information they get. All of them will have to deal with the commercial aspect of their work sooner or later and will have to take some position to it.
Another important factor of course is the environment - meaning galleries, museums, curators, market, companies, industry, professional public, collectors, journalists. The world students will meet during the studies and enter after their graduation and with which we all, and our departments, more or less interact.
The Glass Environment - Interconnected Systems
The glass sphere in Czech republic is pretty much interdependent. We are a small country with many glass schools and a rather limited market. What happens on one side affects the other side aswell.
We see it as a simple cycle:
Glass industry situation affects, in addition to everything else, number of applicants to highschools for glass art and craft.
Number of applicants there influences quality and motivation of the students, which consequently and visibly affects the number and quality of applicants to academies.
Alumni from academies can affect company production as designers and as well the quality of highschool education as teachers.
If glass factory closes in region, where most of the people work in glass industry, no one, even from traditionally glass making family, would let their children study glass highschool.
And that starts a kind of chain reaction.
Of course our department doesn´t rely solely on applicants from glass making highschools. But it is in our interest to have a good situation in the glass scene, whether it is for possibility to use high quality workshop for students or graduates or for vacancies for alumni or just for the joy of having good craft around us. It is part of our tradition and we cannot help us not to feel proud and emotional about it.
This is just one of the cogs in a big wheel and it is rather simplified view - there are much more factors of course.
Art scene environment
The aforementioned may apply more to activities related to glass making problematics and a large part to design.
Considering solely fine art I would say that the main problem is where and how to display student works to show it to the potential future collectors and open the way for their prospective cooperation.
As I understood sometimes it is rather difficult to find a gallery which would exhibit student shows or art made of glass in general, and which would in the same time meet the demands on certain quality and representativeness together with a contemporary approach.
It might seem that environment is something we can´t do much about. I believe it is possible. It might be difficult for a single person, but departments and academies have certain possibilities.
Education of new curators
You have to educate your own curators.
That is what I heard once. I was surprised. I never thought about it in this way. I though there is plenty of them and always someone to do the exhibition. Later I understood this simple link - No curators, no shows.
I find very usefull that UMPRUM does that.
The Art History and Aesthetics Department – which provides number of art theory, history and aesthetics classes for students and general public and prepares books for the academy publishing house, have existed since founding of the academy. But some time ago started as well the educational programme (as the only school in Czech republic) for future art historians, critics and curators. The students may apply for two years Master or four years Ph.D. program.
It exists in parallel with art, design and architecture departments and in some parts they intersect.
Each theory student can join for a semester a studio of their choice and cooperate with it in theoretical tasks – texts for catalogues, exhibitions, curating or can as well have personal hands on experience with the media used in the studio – to do some objects in glass for example – which helps him to understand the problematics better.
Those programs have run for almost ten years now and we can already see very good results and influence on the art scene and increasing number and quality of academy shows and activities.
Theory students initiate a number of projects and search for new exhibition possibilities and it doesn´t even have to be a gallery in the traditional sense -sometimes it is just a window gallery, wall gallery, projects in unused places, cooperation on art festivals, happenings and so on.
All of that brings a lot of experiences to both – theory and art students, and of course ground for future cooperation between them or institutions they will eventually represent.
Academy PR and Grant Department
We as well find very usefull to have good and well functioning academy PR Department and Grant Department. Maybe you all have it. We didn´t and since it changed we find it to be great help. For Departments, Academy and the situation in general. Positive publicity in media opens much more posibilities, brings offers of cooperation in projects and so on. Also we are able to use money from grants much more often.
Discussion with highschools, cooperation with companies and studios, work traineeships, teaching traineeships
What we plan now is to enter in deeper discussion with art and design galleries, museums, curators, design and glass companies and focus on the new situation after the crisis, mutual expectations, potential cooperation and traineeships for students during their studies or right after their graduation.
Aswell we are going to organize debate with high school officials on preparation of candidates for entrance examination, about possibilities in collaboration and teaching intership for our students who take part in pedagogy classes.
We expect this to open more opportunities for our students and as well it will hopefuly support the highschools and motivate the highschool students.
Make no reason for doubts: I agree that to educate students in art, craft and design is the most important and should be the main focus of the departments. To raise skilled, intelligent, critic thinking people with deep insight in the problematics of the field who are able to create high quality works and percieve things in wider perspective.
But I also believe, that to know, at least theoretically, how to put their art or design into professional practice should be a part of student´s knowledge when finishing the academy.
Klára Horáčková, UMPRUM, Prague, 2014
UMPRUM : Visual Arts Program - a two-year Master’s Degree course in English with possibility to join studio of students choice.
UMPRUM: Department of Theory and History of Art