Pigment to Pixel, Chapter 1- O’Sullivan
O’Sullivan takes us through a historical review of the developments in art practice and teaching from the Enlightenment.
He talks about the tensions and divergences between what practitioners and academics shared in their conceptions of art (the glory of intellect) and what separated them (the importance of skills and canonical learning as opposed to workshop and studio practice over theory.)
The text assumes a Western perspective, which is not negative, necessarily, but should be noted in terms of limiting the discussion to Western traditions and developments.
O’Sullivan quotes Hughes who refers to the ‘crumbling artifice’ of the academy which could not hope to involve or embrace the evolving and ever changing practice of art making. As Young concludes, art exists and responds to a variety of ‘artsworlds’, internal, external, theoretical and practical. Art as an empirical form of inquiry can be seen to become basic to and useful for theory and educational developments.
O’Sullivan includes references to psychological notions such as ‘not knowing’ and the scientific paradigm that Europe adopted during the Enlightenment. He suggests that art was overtaken by the academy because of the need to know, prove and establish rules of art and art practice.
This led to the ‘codification’ of art by the academy, making art an elitist and separatist discipline from the popular or public domain. Ironically, it was the development of the machine age which required the institutionalised teaching of art to train skilled designers, so reigniting the teaching of drawing, for example, as a life skill, transferable to many ‘modern’ techniques and vocational areas.
From my own reading, Sennet, in Craftsmanship, highlights the impact of technological advances such as architectural drawing programmes and the inability of students trained in this technology to understand their products and processes in ways their skilled drawing counterparts could.
O’Sullivan concludes that the place of art in the institution is an ongoing query, often answered with a question mark. Art within universities remains a low priority, a little believed or valued poor relation to the scientific, quantitative siblings of academic learning. What could happen for Art to be received and promoted as a cultural and educational essential? We would surely have to arrive at an understanding of ourselves as artists and the earth as one of our creations?