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“The artist and the University” – Read the critical text by Luiz Camillo Osorio

“Art cannot be taught” declares Luiz Camillo Osorio in the first sentence of his most recent critical text for PIPA Prize. Amidst the rise of undergraduate and graduate Art courses in universities both in Brazil and abroad, how to conciliate the rigid academic model and the artistic practice? Most importantly: how to make this coexistence fruitful? After participating in the reformulation of the Escola das Artes of Universidade do Porto, the curator of PIPA Institute outlines a few possible answers to the matter.


The artist and the University – notes from the Escola das Artes do Porto

Luiz Camillo Osorio

Art cannot be taught. Training for artists, on the other hand, can be discussed. There are free art schools everywhere, but they will not be approached here, in this paper. My point here is to discuss the artist’s place at the University. This relationship is not trivial. The academic model has a rigid structure, forged from a conception of research and knowledge that is nowhere close to the artistic processes. Nevertheless, more and more undergraduate and graduate Art courses are created in Brazilian and international universities. Add to this the fact that the university itself, its pedagogical framework and expectations regarding teaching methods, have been questioned at least since Lyotard’s Postmodern condition. In this sense, this correlation can be interesting for both sides – both for the university and for art, artists and their training.

I have recently been nominated to take part in the Advisory Board formed to discuss the new guidelines to the Escola de Artes at the Universidade Católica do Porto. As soon as he took office as the school’s Dean, the critic, and professor Nuno Crespo decided to rethink it given the Portuguese reality, the globalized world of art and the history of the institution itself. In addition to faculty members, some outside guests – including artists, critics, and theorists – were invited to form the Advisory Board. The idea of discussing possibilities for an art school inside the university fascinates me. Both because of the presence of the artists at the academia, and because such presence can be both positive and negative.

A statement by artist Julião Sarmento, one of the guests, in the first round of debates, kept echoing inside me: “Avoiding forming professional artists is critical for the success of this school.” Now, let’s explain his point in further detail. There is no doubt that an art school should consider the insertion of its students-artists in both the institutional and commercial circuits. However, there are ways for this to happen that do not involve the type of immobilization pointed out by Julião. I have nothing against professionalization, but one can notice that art schools tend to format artists homogenizing a type of contemporary language, as well as defining an uncritical model of insertion to the way art circulates and legitimizes itself, a model in which its experimental possibilities are somewhat restricted.

Having said that, how can you form a (non-professional) artist? How can you guarantee the time he/she will spend at the university as a period of learning, exchange, and experimentation? An important point here is to define what is expected from the artist when leaving the university. Of course, an artist’s access to the institutional and commercial art circuit is relevant. However, it is not the reason behind an artist’s training; it is, instead, a result of a powerful work that will happen later. Unlike an engineer, who must learn a technical and conceptual repertoire common to all professionals in his area, an artist must unlearn the success formulas and build his own repertoire, rather than merely repeating them. Technique in art, at least since Duchamp, is not a know-how, but an operation that articulates history, context and invention; that is, a relational practice that implies combining the maximum of historical learning with the certainty that this is not enough, that knowing is not the same as doing, that the thing escapes, is built along the way.

Therefore, the relationship always happens among artists in an art school. There is a horizontal relationship between teacher and student, but there is also the awareness that in the teacher-student exchange there are paths that have already been travelled and that will help to learn. Putting together an academic programme or curriculum is a major challenge. On the one hand, one must make possible the want-to-do; on the other hand, a post-disciplinary model should be stimulated. As much as one should welcome artists interested in various languages, I no longer see art schools with specific disciplines of painting, engraving, living model, etc. On the contrary, I rather see them as a common and continuing course offered every semester in which projects and processes are discussed, as a set of courses with specific teachers and artists in which contemporary geopolitics, literature, history of technology, design or dance can be approached. Each teacher-artist defines his/her course (highly endorsed by their own practice) and the students-artists enrol in the subjects because of the teachers, not because a curriculum, which should be as flexible as possible, demands.

A determining aspect is the notion that such art school space is a laboratory in which to experiment poetic possibilities regardless of the market and the institutional feasibility, knowing that experimentation should always keep in mind some principle of reality. The art school’s autonomy, as well as its indetermination of the inherent risk in the making of art, must be continuously followed-up by teachers-artists, curators, critics, and theorists. The tutorial relationship between student-artist and teacher-artist must go on through the years of training, and such dialogue should be way more important than following a fixed curriculum.

What is being presented is a training not based on specialization. The artist is a generalist who is always questioning. He does so by mobilizing materialities and sensations that draw us from our daily flow in which all senses are determined by functional logic. Functioning, to a large extent, is not questioning. The opposition between a specialist and a generalist should not be taken as a separation between rigor and inaccuracy, concern for the method and conceptual casualness, demonstrable truths and subjective delusions. What matters is to define two different types of rigor, in which research is less committed with objectivity (defined by the terms of an intrinsic coherence to a specific language game), and more with the questioning of the terms regulating this game, opening new possibilities for debate, other forms of perception, other criteria for evaluation. There is, in artistic production, an interest in turning unfunctional whatever is established, so that other forms of functioning can be invented. In this sense, deviation is the artist’s method. And this is a hard thing to teach.

It is important, however, not to oppose art and science. Both provide room for enriching exchanges. In this respect, as Vienna Academy’s teacher, that is part of the board, Sabeth Buchmann put it, it would be important to maintain the post-disciplinary commitment already implemented in the Escola de Artes do Porto, based on broad areas of teaching and research, such as “Sound and Image”, “Heritage”,and  “Creative industries”, coupling research, project and social participation. Relaxing the curriculum and the periodization of the courses offered would ensure the presence of artists, technicians and researchers with strong professional insertion as resident teachers, in some cases visiting teachers, extending the extra-academic interaction, as well as the teaching and experience exchange processes. Making the art school gallery a living space, and the cafeteria tables a place for debate and interaction. The type of collaboration to be developed among the students-artists in the shared restlessness and search for new possibilities in their artistic development is a fundamental aspect. Because art is always dealing with sensitive material, contact with other sensitivities is an extension of possibilities and a constant learning of one’s own limits. The materiality of the world and the complexity of the real are not pliant; they require confrontation, attention, impetus and listening.

Just the fact of opening up to a debate aiming at reconfiguring its pedagogical project infuses new promising blood into the Escola das Artes da Universidade Católica do Porto. The creation of an international school, in partnership with other departments of the university and other artistic and cultural institutions in town, such as Serralves and Casa da Arquitetura, is a sign that the concern with the insertion of the artists-students in the art scene, must be parallel to the experimental effort. Training must be in contact with institutional spaces. The museum, as well as the university, is committed to the transmission of traditional content that, as we all know, is undergoing a deep identity crisis. Now, back to Lyotard’s text mentioned at the beginning of this article, we notice there, 40 years ago, an inaugural effort to rethink knowledge and the university from unstable models that would force other modes of learning and transmission of knowledge. According to him, “Science is an open system model in which the relevance of the enunciation is in generating ideas, that is, other enunciations and other game rules,” thus approaching the methodological wandering of the arts.

In other words, an art department must be a place where betray models are taught, assuming a transmission by deviation and the conflicting dialogue among generations. The Escola das Artes da Universidade Católica do Porto promises to be a very welcoming space for artists.


Luiz Camillo Osorio is the Curator of PIPA Institute, PIPA’s founder and Board Member. He is a Professor and current Director of the Philosophy Department at PUC-Rio. Camillo was the Curator of MAM-Rio between 2009 and 2015. To read more exclusive texts written by Camillo, click here.

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