You Can Look Girl, But You Can't Touch

You Can Look Girl, But You Can't Touch


Last week I read an article that made me realise I hadn’t yet formed an opinion on Germaine Greer. As a general rule, I like to think that anyone who makes an insane outlandish statement is probably doing it for a. attention, b. fame, or c. to re-ignite a spark of importance/attention/fame that they once had and are totally bored/broke rn so why not.

A particular splurge I will be focusing on can be summed here:

‘I think perhaps we should stop teaching art. I think we shouldn’t be teaching kids how to do it.’

Turns out she was talking specifically about secondary schooling. Once I had read a couple of articles about why she has suddenly formed such an outrageous opinion, I texted mum something along the lines of ‘terrible memory: who dis’ (because I’m shocking at names) and ‘shld we b tkin hr srsly’?

I probably added a few vowels here and there because we’re no longer in the character-limiting-texting/Nokia world, but that was the gist of things. Mum confidently told me that she was a very important feminist voice of the 90s and deserved respect, but only up to a point. I googled her face and it rang a few bells. Probably because she looked a little bit like Jaqueline Wilson too, and Madam Hooch. They're all mixed up in there together. 

In our present state as the general public we are no longer that surprised by headlines, the outrageous comments etc etc because of the internet (probably). We see this sort of thing every day and we’re becoming immune to it. Our numbness to outlandish statements is in a cyclical state. We're outraged, but we're not surprised.

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For those of you that don’t know, Greer has an MA in Romantic Poetry. Romantic Poetry guys. That’s up there with Art on the ‘difficulty-to-teach’ scale. She came out with this nonsense when talking to a group of art teachers, and one of them spouted out that Tracey Emin can’t draw. Probably spurred on by the teacher’s naive (but personal) opinion, she goes on to say:

“I don’t think you can do art at school. You do art at home.”

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She later said that awarding marks for art is “wrong”. There are so many “wrong” things about these statements it’s difficult to pick an entry point. Rose Wylie (an absolute babe of a painter) issued a response:

“The whole thing about art is that it’s liberal, and there’s no language. There’s no problem with language, there’s no problem with translation, and children can get a sense that it’s your own, you can be exhilaratingly successful without any cost, without any need and without any dependence on anyone else.”

These comments are particularly current. Back in May, 104 ESTABLISHED UK artists all chummed together and signed an open letter protesting the marginalisation of the arts in the new English Baccalaureate qualification. You can read it here

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The Arts & Culture sector is literally worth £92 billion quid a year and therefore (even from a government point of view) should be open and promoted. They even gave us Master’s students at the RCA a £3,000/year fee bursary because they thought we were a worthwhile investment (we are). You cannot possibly get involved in/on (and try to change) the ‘good’ of art in schools if your career does not depend on it. The irritating EBACC believes THE ARTS are not necessary for a well-rounded education. Well, here are some of the 104 established artists kicking off:

'To remove the potential for young people to re-imagine themselves within a disruptive context abandons them to a synthetic world of image reception rather than image production.' (Liam Gillick - part of the YBAs)

'Discovering art at school changed my life, it took hold of me and occupied me completely. I discovered something very special.' (Zarina Bhimji -Turner Prize Nominee 2007)

'The Ebacc policy is clearly creating a hostile environment for the arts in state schools and numbers studying arts subjects are dwindling. We will all be poorer as a result.' (Rose English, performance artist) 

'I had ideas – big, wild, unruly ideas – and that was the class where I could talk about them. The art room gave me a voice as well as place to experiment, fail and succeed. It taught me that all ideas were valid and worth exploring, to think, to dream and realize.' (Sam Taylor-Johnson - Photographer/Filmmaker)

I understand (as much as you can with GG) that there is difficulty in teaching creativity through the understanding of right and wrong because it is not a factual subject – it is subjective. Subjectivity and the creative practice do, however, need a space to expand, experiment and to have opinions formed – this cannot be achieved just in the home. Truly artistic careers are uncertain at best. Most people don't understand the importance of sitting in your studio for 10 hours on end trying to think of what colour you choose next, having done no physical work but mentally you've just completed a solid marathon.

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Art as part of the curriculum means that it is equal to Maths, Science and English in understanding the world around us and how we interpret it. We make art as a way of thinking. Thinking through our processes, our concepts, our experimentation.

One of the main issues related to art is embarrassment. You take a chance and it’s embarrassing. When I was first writing, I was very embarrassed by it. I thought it was young and underdeveloped but my tutors encouraged me. Sometimes you succeed, sometimes you don’t. Talent is something you need to be comfortable with. If we start to define ourselves and our practice through our failings, then our art would remain stationary. Our creative spirits would be wasted on our own fears.

When you see a process do something that didn’t turn out how you’d expected – that is the addictive element. A frantic push-pull between control and spontaneity that gives art its life. Art from a young age is super beneficial to this development. 

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However, most of us have questioned the type of teaching we receive in schools. In my 2nd year at Newcastle University I was never really satisfied with anything I produced. I was very much interested in collage and painting but nothing of worth was being made. This is when I started exploring the concept of Print more directly. Unfortunately at this point, my tutors were not as supportive. The technical demands the print required ultimately were seen as something that were restricting. The feeling of dislocation was more pronounced, and they did not see my work as something that was suitable for a Fine Art course.

It was not playful enough, it was not challenging contemporary ideas within the fine art world. Gavin Robson was a tutor at Newcastle a couple of years back, and he is a man I truly admire. He said I shouldn’t listen to my tutors. He told me that effectively the art education system is one that we should ignore and instead make use of the creative environment it offers. I should keep on making work and doing what I love, because he saw potential in it.

I applied straight away to an MA course because I had a full driving force with ideas coming out of me left right and centre. No surprise that the RCA was exactly what I had imagined. A safe space to explore ideas, to fill my time talking to lecturers, visiting artists, student artists from all backgrounds and with many different opinions. We all had the same goal. 

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In the end, the RCA gave me space and support to really grow. They initiated the confidence I needed to say, 'yes, I am going to be a very successful artist' and 'I'm going to be fucking good at it'. My new work is exploring and working with the digital, with failure as the glitch, and how the digital layering process can be used and understood. It couldn’t have got to this point without my spectacular year 9 class teacher (I was 13) Mr Mulholland telling me I had talent and potential. How many people get told that in Maths?! Taking art out of the syllabus is total bollocks. But adjusting the way we look at the syllabus? – yes. Making sure we have supportive teachers and environments? – yes.

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Risk in the creative field carries such huge importance and we need the safe space to do that. I ask you Greer – Instead of making stupid, broad & conclusive statements, next time can you use your very intelligent brain to understand there is more to it than just quitting?

So, I believe for now this rant is over. But let me just say - serious eye roll emoji. Throw your headlines about all you like babe, you're not getting anywhere near us.