Changes and Reform in Art School Education…

Changes and Reform in Art School Education in the Nordic Countries from 1900 to the present

Session Chair:

Marta Edling

Department of History

Uppsala University

Roundtable session with invited commentators:

Jorunn Spord Borgen Research Council of Norway
Hester Westley Research Department of Tate National, UK

Beth Williamson Research Department of Tate National, UK

Stina Hagelqvist Department  of Art History, Stockholm University, Sweden

Nordic art education has, from Modernism and onwards, had close contacts with the contemporary art world. This relationship with the field of artistic production renders the Nordic art schools an interesting position within Europe during the period. Many of the major art schools in, for example, France and Germany seem to have been much more alienated from contemporary artistic life (Ruppert and Fuhrmeister 2007, Segré 1993). The contacts also seem to have safeguarded the schools a relatively autonomous position within the system of higher education and offered protection from the more fierce academic pressure visible in the art education integrated in university systems in the UK (Candlin 2008) and the US (Singerman 1999).

The schools of the Nordic fine art academies have rather recently had their histories written. However, research is still scarce and we need to know more of the actual physical and ideological changes in pedagogy and organization that were established to meet the challenges raised by the continuous dialogue with the contemporary art scene.  The educational practices choreographed by shifting artistic dominant discourses were not only manifested as a curriculum, but also operational as the organization of spatial structures (workshops, spaces for collective and/or individual practical and/or theoretical work ), and organizing the formal relations between subject positions (e.g. professors, technical assistants, students, etc.), as well as establishing hierarchies of artistic values within pedagogic practices (between materials and/or boundaries between genres).  Since the schools have also had an important gate-keeping function for entrance to the professional field, and the shaping of the professional habitus, we also need critical studies of the recruitment processes and how art education contributes to the reproduction of the artistic field as a social powerbase with symbolic and gendered hierarchies (Göransson 1998, Edling and Börjesson 2008).


Architectural Education and the Formation of Architects

Anders Bergström

KTH School of Architecture. Royal Institute of Technology

Architectural education has many features in common with art education. Still, in most countries, architecture departments are acting as one-faculty universities, although they might be parts of large organisations; their autonomy partly secures a privileged and secluded, almost monastic character of the department. This means that architectural education has a great impact on the formation of architects. Furthermore, the knowledge of architecture is more or less based on the values implemented during the early years of an architect’s training. Thus, practice, research and education become closely knit together into a systematic relation. Reyner Banham was probably the first historian to acknowledge architectural education as an important factor in the development of modern architecture. In his Theory and Design in the First Machine Age (1960), Banham introduced what might be seen as a hermeneutical triangle, identifying academy, arts & crafts and polytechnics as the main traditions in modern architecture. However, these traditions were received, combined and synthesized in different ways in each country and at each particular school. This explains why both curriculum and pedagogy are seemingly alike in an international comparison, although there might be important differences between the schools, difficult to analyse and acknowledge. A detailed study of the formation of architects from within the profession, taking into account the combined relations of education, research and professional practice does not exist at the moment, although the interest in architectural education is currently resulting in books, projects, seminars and networks of different kinds.


Artistic Education and the Production of Exclusivity

Mikael Börjesson

Sociology of Education and Culture (SEC)

Uppsala University

In my paper I argue that artistic education should be understood as a system that produces social exclusivity. An important condition for this is that the higher artistic programs have restricted admission. There are limited numbers of positions that have not expanded considerably over time despite the huge numbers of applicants per position. At the same time, the underlying and preparatory levels have increased significantly, which has further intensified competition for the most coveted positions at the higher arts education. The increasing pressure on the most desirable programs has made the system even more efficient in the generation of a social magic around the top positions.

When students in the programs in fine arts (and other artistic training for that matter) are compared with students in other longer professional programs, it is obvious that the students at the arts programs have much less of acquired general educational qualifications. However, they come in approximately the same degree as students in other longer professional programs from well-to-do homes. The artistic training thus serves as an alternative track for groups with large amounts of cultural and educational capital who do not wish to embark on the traditional way of these social layers, i.e., studies in medicine, law, engineering, etc. The artistic professional program thus has a unique status as an elite education: they have much prestige, limited intake and of great importance for future careers, but unlike the other elite programs, general educational capital in the form of good high school grades and good results on the Scholastic Aptitude Test has no value.


Art and Bologna. The Development of Research in Swedish Fine Arts Education since the 1990s

Marta Edling

Department of History

Uppsala University

There was a noticeable intellectual turn in Swedish fine art colleges in the early and mid-1990s. Students had already in the 1980s started to follow the theoretical interest in the surrounding professional field, and in the early 1990s it was common practice at the schools to question traditionally defined work concepts, materials, genres and values. The interest in art theory and French philosophy also led students to demand more seminars and introductions to the new ideas. At the same time, changes in the government of higher education in the reform of 1993 were beginning to make an impact. New management ideals created a demand for follow-ups, quality reports and evaluations. The Bologna process, initiated in the same period, slowly intensified this formalizing tendency: after the turn of the century the schools were expected to “tune” their programmes, regulate their exams, courses and curriculum, and state expected “learning outcomes” according to common European standards. The schools also adjusted to the three cycles of the Bologna system, and PhD programmes were established. The new emphasis on theory and reflection thus coincided with the formalization of programmes and exams, and the strong development of artistic research (the third cycle in the Bologna system) must thus be understood as a result of a synergy effect of these two tendencies.


A Free Academy. The Transformation of Fine Art Education in Scandinavia in 1930s

Maria Görts

Dalarna University

Art education in the Nordic countries changed in the 1920s and 30s due to the new experiences the artists had from studying in Paris at the so-called free academies. The shift occurred within the old Royal academies in Sweden and Denmark – the only institutions for higher art education at the time – and modernised instruction for decades to come. The new regulations persisted, even if questioned at times, well into the postmodern situation in the 1980s.  I will discuss the main aspects of this shift and its consequences for art education in Scandinavia, including issues concerning the strong position of the professor in the studio tradition, the informal structure of instruction, and the impact of the art field in artistic training.

The Scandinavian higher fine art education is fairly homogenously organised as a state-regulated education with extensive independence. Even though the differences are manifold and obvious, the common features are just as manifest. These are, above all, the superiority of the presumption of artistic freedom – a premise that has affected the framing of the instruction – and the reluctance to speak about a model of instruction. Contrary to this idea, however, criticism has occurred from the 1960s and onwards, and claims have been put forward to formalise the education.


Teaching: The Maddest Artform. A Reykjavik Experiment in Art Historical Perspective

Æsa Sigurjónsdóttir

Art History Department

University Iceland

The New Art department at the Reykjavik Art and Crafts school was established in 1975 as an experimental hub under the direction of artist Magnús Pálsson. The teaching was inspired by Fluxus art practices, and artists such as Dieter Roth, Robert Filliou, Hermann Nitsch, Jan Voss, and Douwe Jan Bakker, played an important role as teachers, tutors or mentors. Several artworks were created in collaboration between artists and students and many of Iceland´s most prominent and successful contemporary artists got their training at this New Art department.

The paper deals with this controversial period in art education and the mythology it has engendered. Through archives and interviews, the aim of this research is to explore various approaches between theory and practice, which enabled this experiment to form a new generation of innovative artists.