Business as Unusual

GSA occupies an interesting space in Higher Education. It is (very) small by HE standards, and based in Scotland (where tuition fees, for Scottish students at least, don’t yet exist), on the fringes of Europe and the UK, in a city that has a well connected thriving artistic community. It is a designated SSI (Small Specialist Institution – though current director Tom Inns suggests this could be reframed as Specialist Studio Institution), so it’s interesting to think about how organisational logics have an impact on the nature of educational experiences. Some schools of organisational theory suggests that all expanding, complex organisations will grow to the point where they only serve themselves. This is a problem inherent in all public-facing organisations, as discussed in Ivan Illich’s De-Schooling Society. He suggests that this drive towards institutionalism “undermines people – it diminishes their confidence in themselves, and in their capacity to solve problems… It kills convivial relationships … kills creativity”. In the same text, Illich also suggests that “most learning is not the result of instruction. It is rather the result of unhampered participation in a meaningful setting”, and this too cuts to the heart of the art school issue.

Why are we seeing a resurgence of interest in alternative educational experiences, at the same time as the emergence of the MOOC? In the emerging technological landscape, GSA might as well give away all its course content. Alone it is valueless. It would (and will) get devoured – lost in a second – in the race to the bottom of the free open content paradigm. What do these phenomena tell us about the way GSA could find a place for itself in the world? Where does the value lie? Surely its in the ‘meaningful setting’ of the studio, peopled by driven independent students, assisted by staff who are equally able to respond to the studio as the locus of activity – projects, talks, workshops, visitors – looking out of the institution and connecting to the world outside. We’re running a version of the Parallel School in Glasgow soon, and hopefully we might be able to air some of these issues, in an environment of self-directed learning that eschews the hierarchies and accountability, modularisation and commodification that seems to increasingly dominate the mainstream.

And I’ve posted it before, so will post it again (apologies), but the video from Stewart Lee below is very good. While I’m aware that I sound conspiratorial in tone (yes, I know), the pervasive creep of conservatism (with a small ‘c’, not the political party, though there is a big overlap in that particular venn diagram) is best countered locally, where the urge to homogenise, unitise and compartmentalise is as present, if slightly less well signposted, as it is in the policies of an austerity government. Momus, at a talk he did at GSA a few years ago, talked of the ‘delirious’ and the ‘pragmatic’, as two counter forces at work in modern society. Pragmatism has become the ruling logic of our current political debate, the trump card of the reductivists, and is as evident in education as it is elsewhere. The position GSA occupies enables it to say no to business as usual, if it wants to.

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