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Art students (called Brian) observed - click opera
February 2010
 
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Thu, Feb. 19th, 2009 11:44 am
Art students (called Brian) observed

My next working trip abroad happens at the end of March, when I fly to Norway to give a lecture on my work (March 31st) at the Oslo National Academy of the Arts. I'll also spend a day doing studio visits with the students there, something I've only done once before (at SVA in New York two years ago) but find deeply interesting.

It's one of my great regrets that I never went to art school. I did plan to apply for Central St Martin's in London when I was 18, but somehow let my literary side sway me, and went to Aberdeen to do EngLit instead. I think I'd have ended up doing the same thing -- making pop records, art, books, journalism -- if I'd gone to art school, but I might have done them slightly differently. I might have been a bit less Leonard Cohen, a bit more Brian Eno.



Talking of Eno, I've been re-reading a fascinating book I have in my collection, Art Students Observed by Charles Madge and Barbara Weinberger (Faber and Faber, 1973, out of print and worth $224.58, according to Amazon). This is a sort of thorough, empirical, sociological study of art students at two British art schools at a very interesting moment, the late 1960s (a moment when, as the book says, anti-art became the approved art, bringing all sorts of paradoxes to the fore). I find it fascinating that such a subjective thing as developing an art practice can be studied so objectively, but then I find it amazing that art can be taught at all. The book shows the tutors and students circling each other with wariness, coolness, misunderstanding, despair, appreciation.

There's a central section of assessments of individual students by staff and by the observers. No punches are pulled. "Liz is a stolid, puddingy student of consistent attitudes and a plodding work style. Mediocre certainly...", one begins. "Pam is a stubborn person who is capable of resisting advice or tuition, but not to her advantage," says another. "A neurotic student that adapts defensive attitudes." Students and staff are both given pseudonyms, and we're not told which art college this actually is. We do learn their final degree results, though: Pam gets a 2:1, Liz a 2:2.



The most interesting case study, for me, is a guy called Brian. It's very hard not to think that Brian is Brian Eno, who went to two different art schools at about this time, Ipswich and Winchester, graduating in 1969. As reported by Lester Bangs, "Eno enjoyed tinkering with multi-track tape recorders and in 1968 wrote the limited edition theoretical handbook, Music For Non Musicians. During the same period he established Merchant Taylor's Simultaneous Cabinet which performed works by himself and various contemporary composers, including Christian Wolff, La Monte Young, Cornelius Cardew and George Brecht. This experiment was followed by the formation of a short-lived avant garde performance group, the Maxwell Demon. Eno graduated from Winchester School of Art, where he studied painting, in 1969. But he "started playing with lights at the same time as I started playing with sounds - in my mid-teens," he says. "By 1975 I was deep into making records, and hardly touched any of my lighting experiments until I moved to New York in 1978."



Now let's look at the Brian in Art Students Observed:

Tutors' reports, 1968-69

Brian works hard and I believe he is seriously committed to his type of work, ie electronics. However he is adolescent in many of his attitudes and displays a smugness bordering on obdurate philistinism when it comes to dealing with areas outside his immediate province. He will have to grow up before he will be able to use his expertise towards art rather than be a small-time boffin. (Gibson)

Gives the appearance of knowing what he is doing. He may very well know what he is doing. He is certainly capable of working out precise technical data, and his awareness of his "objects" in this sense is good. What I wonder about is his general awareness of how his work relates to "Art". I get the impression sometimes that he is inclined to take up an "avant-garde" posture. In terms of describing what his work is technically, he is very good, but I am not sure how he means it! A little inclined to "strut". An interesting student. (Coutts)

From the observers' notebooks:

October 13th, 1967. Brian laid his radio-lightwave machine out along the studio. Everyone who walked in front of it interrupted transmission. Philip became interested, helped him fiddle about with the equipment. It reminded me of boys playing with electric trains.

February 14th, 1968. Brian is working upstairs in the staff studio because he needs a white wall. He has made some electronic equipment which operates so that the wall changes colour as you move towards it. He told me that painting is his hobby -- he does it at home! I asked what sort of painting. He said the sort of thing you see in Boots reproductions, mostly meticulous drawings of cars and machinery which he does because he enjoys it and not with any sort of irony. A couple of weeks ago he did a drawing of the sun, taken from Hokusai. Watson told him it was rubbish. Stone told him to go and do some life-drawing, which he took as a very critical remark, so he decided to keep this type of work as something that he does at home.



February 15th, 1968. Watson, Dyer and Brian had a long discussion about Brian's electronic machine. Watson had got Brian a grant of £17 towards building the machine. Brian had come up with some snags and intended to present his work in the form of a written report. Watson argued that this was not good enough; he would learn something by not only producing the machine, but in assessing the effects of its operation. Dyer said now that Brian had proved that the machine was operational there was no point in actually making it. Watson said to me afterwards that Dyer was basically an engineer and that Brian had to decide if he was an engineer or an "artist". Brian had finally accepted his point of view that the machine would have to be finished and operated.

November 28th, 1968. Brian gave his history of art talk. He said his work was a visual representation of his thoughts on cybernetics. He took the class into the lecture hall, turned off all the lights and played some records. Asked why he had presented the lecture in this form, he said it would have taken him at least three hours to explain his ideas on cybernetics, even supposing the others could understand it, but that the performance was a failure because he had not announced that it was about cybernetics and therefore people had not been thinking about them. (He seems rather arrogant in his assumption that no one can understand what he is concerned with -- he takes his ideas very seriously.) Abbot (in charge of history of art) took the event seriously at its face value and asked questions about its meaning and purpose which Brian was not prepared to answer. She agreed that Brian had learnt something from the feedback (or lack of it) from the event, and that it would be valuable if he did give his three-hour lecture on cybernetics next term, perhaps to the whole school.

February 14th, 1969. Brian told me he had reached a sort of crisis. He hasn't been able to work for the last three weeks and spends his time reading. This was partly due to Gibson's project at the beginning of term. Brian had come back to college with lots of ideas but the project had thrown him off course, he said.

Brian ended up getting a lower second class degree. I wonder what he's doing now?

39CommentReplyShare


(Anonymous)
Thu, Feb. 19th, 2009 10:56 am (UTC)
is vivien westwood inspired by imomus fashion?

http://sankei.jp.msn.com/photos/world/asia/090125/asi0901250801000-p1.htm



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imomus
imomus
imomus
Thu, Feb. 19th, 2009 11:18 am (UTC)
Re: is vivien westwood inspired by imomus fashion?

Looks more like Kumakouji to me!



Edited at 2009-02-19 11:19 am (UTC)


ReplyThread Parent
aidaho
aidaho
honeybunnyroo
Thu, Feb. 19th, 2009 12:26 pm (UTC)

thanks for this post. loved it!

those instructors and observers were pretty harsh. reading the comments makes me think that it must have killed those people to give compliments. i go to art school and have received and witnessed harsh critiques, but most of the stuff you posted from the book seems like too much negative feedback and not enough constructive criticism. the comments about brian were a little better and more thorough.


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electricwitch
electricwitch
For anything, oh! she´ll bust her elastic
Thu, Feb. 19th, 2009 12:35 pm (UTC)

CALE is what he's doing now. When he's not doing Bowie, that is.


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(Anonymous)
Thu, Feb. 19th, 2009 03:42 pm (UTC)

Yes, clearly you are very funny and/or interesting and/or informed.


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desant012
||||||||||
Thu, Feb. 19th, 2009 01:05 pm (UTC)

We need more Leonard Cohens and less Brian Enos when it comes to music, even though I'll always throw an Eno record on over a Cohen one. It's just that nobody bothers with the literary anymore becomes books are long and hard; art and music are immediate (relatively), so everyone chooses that path over the more difficult, less immediately rewarding one. Basically, everyone wants to be a Brian Eno.


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(Anonymous)
Thu, Feb. 19th, 2009 01:18 pm (UTC)

Brian has a blog and writes tedious comment on self importance and how best to promote it in the out there. You want a link dont cha, just pick any they all amount to the same.


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electricwitch
electricwitch
For anything, oh! she´ll bust her elastic
Thu, Feb. 19th, 2009 01:42 pm (UTC)

I want a link so I can post them all to glam_lolz.


ReplyThread Parent
uberdionysus
uberdionysus
Troy Swain: Black Box Miasma
Thu, Feb. 19th, 2009 02:49 pm (UTC)

I wonder if anyone has done a serious study of the ramifications of the professionalization of the art world? I know that a university art degree didn't become usual until after WWII in the U.S.

I wonder who led in university art degrees: the U.S. or Europe? I know that all of the artists up until the Pop artists did NOT go to university. But at the same time, the academy system was broken after Impressionism. Did artists use mentors?


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lazy_leoboiko
lazy_leoboiko
Thu, Feb. 19th, 2009 05:27 pm (UTC)

Anyone recommends more books on the history of art education?


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Hickey - (Anonymous) Expand
endoftheseason
endoftheseason
Thu, Feb. 19th, 2009 03:08 pm (UTC)

"I did plan to apply for Central St Martin's in London when I was 18, but somehow let my literary side sway me, and went to Aberdeen to do EngLit instead. I think I'd have ended up doing the same thing -- making pop records, art, books, journalism -- if I'd gone to art school, but I might have done them slightly differently. I might have been a bit less Leonard Cohen, a bit more Brian Eno."

Sounds as if going to Aberdeen was a very wise choice indeed.


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dabroots
dabroots
dabroots
Thu, Feb. 19th, 2009 03:43 pm (UTC)

Ha! Thanks for posting these accounts of young Brian. They're great fun, and insightful.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Thu, Feb. 19th, 2009 05:12 pm (UTC)

On a cautionary note, I want to stress that we don't know that this is the young Brian Eno. But even if it's not, we get a glimpse of a world containing the actual Young Brian, and many alternative Brians as well -- let's call them Possible Brians, or Obscure Brians.


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(no subject) - (Anonymous) Expand

sketchesfromexpain.blogspot.com
sketchesfromexpain.blogspot.com
Thu, Feb. 19th, 2009 06:58 pm (UTC)

The observers and the analysts sound exactly like a Chris Morris voiceover or a short story by George Saunders.


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(Anonymous)
Thu, Feb. 19th, 2009 07:01 pm (UTC)
Art school Momus

Would Art school Momus have got a 2:1? Which media would he have worked with? Would he be regretting not doing EngLit?


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Thu, Feb. 19th, 2009 07:19 pm (UTC)
Re: Art school Momus

Well, I actually wanted to study either Industrial Design or Graphic Design at art school. At the Central School, in fact. I wouldn't have been a fine artist. I think I'd have got a 2:1 in Graphic Design. And I think I probably did make the right decision, choosing Literature over that (and taking a First in the end). But in a parallel world I'd like to have studied Fine Art, and ideally at the end of the 1960s.

I'd really like to see this BBC Four documentary, by the way, but it isn't on any file-sharing sites (the one on Prog Rock, in the same series, is).


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(Anonymous)
Thu, Feb. 19th, 2009 11:49 pm (UTC)

The reference to 'thoughts on cybernetics' means it can only be Eno.

********> Cybernetics and early Eno

The feedback loop is THE primordial concept for control in
cybernetics (or Operation Research, Systematics, Whole Systems).

At some point in his early days, while playing with recorders,
Eno discovered that the complex tape-loops he was building in the
music making domain were an exact representation (in the real
world) of a cybernetic machine.

For example, the diagram on _Discreet Music_ shows a canonical
cybernetic system.

Therefore, Eno realised, any results or conclusions reached or
attaigned in OR would/could/should map _more or less_ perfectly
unto his music construction projects.

His best insight then, IMHO, was not only that he could use the
results of cybernetics to build better machines for making music.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Fri, Feb. 20th, 2009 12:22 am (UTC)

This is becoming an interesting detective story, but I'm still not entirely convinced the pseudonymous Brian is actually the real Brian (why would they have said they were using pseudonyms, and then not done it?).

When Eno talks about his art school years, he mentions the influence of Tom Philips and Roy Ascott at Ipswich, but doesn't have much good to say about Winchester (which would have to be the school involved, if Brian is our Brian).

"After [Ipswich] I went to Winchester," Eno told one interviewer, "which was a much less interesting college; better equipped, very much under the sway of the St Ives School, which at Winchester represented everything I didn't want. I very much developed my own course. One of the things that started to happen when I was there was that I was in touch with other students in other colleges. And if something interesting was going on in one of the other colleges I would go there for the week, and in fact became a sort of guest student at several colleges. At Winchester itself I used to hire composers and various people to come down and do things; George Brecht, Christian Wolf, a lot of interesting people who were around at the time."

Eno also mentions that he was President of the Students Union for a while, and ran the entertainments committee. The work he was doing involved tape recorders, light installations, and paintings made by lists of instructions.


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(Anonymous)
Fri, Feb. 20th, 2009 01:32 am (UTC)

The place to check all of this is Michael Bracewell's "Re-make/Remodel" (Faber), which covers the early Eno in great detail. I'll see if Michael thinks it's at all likely that this is our Brian, the ur-Brian. (Though maybe it's better not to know?) For me, the most curious element is the involmenent of Charles Madge, surrealist poet and co-founder of Mass Observation.

Brian. (no...)


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Fri, Feb. 20th, 2009 02:42 am (UTC)

Hello Brian, I know which one you are! Say hello to Michael from me when you speak to him.

I didn't coco that it was the Mass Observation Madge, but it makes perfect sense; it's Art Students Observed, after all. I almost wrote in the piece that it was "in the tradition of Mass Observation", too! Anyway, an opportunity to link to my piece on Mass Observation!


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(Anonymous)
Fri, Feb. 20th, 2009 04:25 am (UTC)

I'd like a momus-song on art schools, milking the great regret of Momus' life!
Perhaps charting an alternate life, like in the blogpost where Momus imagined the consequence of becoming a pop nabob.
So, since you missed art school, Momus, here it is:
By tuesday 23/2, everyone is to hand in a personal interpretation of the theme "Momus goes to art school". The assignment will be presented in the format of a mixed-media pop song, incorporating at least one of the classical techniques we have studied this semester.
Good luck.
-professor David


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