My older daughter has a few weeks left to decide whether to spend next year on an art foundation course or to begin a degree in philosophy and economics. She’s leaning towards the former. The art world and its educational entree aren't what I’d expected; they're far more intellectual and competitive than one can imagine, particularly at the prestigious art schools. At one of the open days I heard a talk from the foundation program head who said that the two most important things which the admissions team wanted to see in a successful portfolio were these:
- Demonstrable problem solving
You might have thought, as did I, that they would be looking for superior skill, talent, individuality, creativity, ‘a statement’, a philosophical view or truth, goodness & beauty. But no, those qualities weren’t even mentioned. And it occurred to me that those two personal characteristics encompass a great deal and can tell you much about someone’s character. Commitment means that you’re in something for the long haul - you’re willing to take risks, make mistakes, dedicate your time to learning, be resilient in the inevitable event of setbacks and you’re willing to forgive and move on where necessary. It was the problem solving bit that I found so interesting for an art school to be preoccupied by, but this is so critical. The greatest artists have all been technical innovators – even Constable, whom you might think of as a painter of quaint pastoral, set pieces of nostalgia. But he was actually doing quite radical things with his subject matter and technique that were groundbreaking for his time - we just weren’t there to understand the artistic, philosophical and social norms of the day.
Or Michelangelo. He’d never worked in the medium of frescoes before his commission of the Sistine Chapel. The engineering difficulties of scaffolding and lighting were immense in their own right. And his first attempts at the ceiling ended in disastrous flaking and smudging of paint. But he didn’t pack it in. It took him four years to complete this one commission. Of all the works of art I’ve seen and admired in all of the museums and churches I’ve been able to visit, the Sistine chapel remains for me a most outrageous and disarming work of art. Its beauty , for me, is just about indescribable; I could see in those monumental figures the anguish and near madness of a genius at work.
Commitment and an innovative approach to problems - these are what an art school wants to see in the artists of the future – those who will make a meaningful contribution to the common good. I think these two qualities are needed in a person in just about any endeavour you can think of, from entrepreneurs to scientists, from community activities to personal relationships, from legacies of the past to an innovative and creative future.