Art world strategies : neoliberalism and the rise of professional practice in fine art education

Kenning, Dean (2017) Art world strategies : neoliberalism and the rise of professional practice in fine art education. In: For, about, nearby : the value of diversity and difference in fine art practice, research and education; 14 - 15 Sep 2017, London, U.K.. (Unpublished)


This paper will explore the impact professional practice in art school could have on the critical and political ambitions of art practice in society. The student fees-loans regime has transformed Higher Education in the UK with specific consequences for the study of Fine Art. One aspect of this has been the expansion of professional practice with a focus on post-graduation career success. This focus demands conformity to market conditions, with professional practice rhetoric targeting subjectivity and behavior, gearing students of creative subjects towards certain ‘ways of speaking, ways of engaging, ways of comporting the self, expressing enthusiasm, withholding a critical disposition’ (McRobbie). Fine Art is not immune, with students encouraged, explicitly or implicitly, to develop self-valorizing strategies with regard to visibility and prestige in an ever more professionalized, career-oriented and competitive contemporary art market. This strategic orientation can easily lead to forms of aesthetic conformity, cultural homogeneity, advantageous quietism and a lack of distance from which to counter market ideology ¬– exacerbating the sense of much contemporary art as an aestheticization of neoliberal politics. The very fact that the study of fine art is fed by beliefs and desires that contradict the financial justification given for full fees should make us wary of this growing business rhetoric. The positivistic language of enterprise, often seems incongruous when set alongside art’s capacities for ‘negativity’ – those forms of critical questioning, difficulty, doubt, resistance and paradox, so central to the teaching of fine art. But rather than doing away with professional practice in a gesture of bohemian withdrawal, my proposal will be that a critical professional practice fully integrated into the pedagogical model of practice and theory would offer the opportunity for a re-politicization of aesthetics, bringing into question both the neoliberal rhetoric of enterprise and the economic realities of the contemporary art system.

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