Art School Was a Weird One for Me

by Anonymous

Art school was a weird one for me. I remember feeling very invalid, unschooled and also, and probably most poignantly, too ‘uncomplacent’.

I think white complacency is a hallmark of contemporary art. It operates in how comfortable white people can engage with autonomy, because they have grown up in a world that has largely reflected themselves, meaning they don’t have to internalise and reject a sense of difference. Therefore when it comes to making work, I often noticed a correlation between whiteness and creative autonomy: it’s far easier to call a piece of tin foil a comment on gender politics; an orange a spoon, when you don’t have an ethnicity that is currently being fetishised in the art world at that time, or you’re desperate to be heard for your artistic voice, but that voice has always been a way of shouting and screaming to be heard in a predominantly white world. Because people of colour are born with a debt to the western world, there is a duty to work harder and more strategically to be seen in and have access to spaces of power.

Therefore, particularly in my experience at art school, I always felt as if my work had a stench. An uncomplacent stench. A stench so strong, no matter how hard I tried to adopt a sense of white complacency to assimilate myself with my coursemates, it was never uncomplacent because it was trying to achieve something specific, often met with a very indifferent reception, or with a few wry smirks.

I think my desire to paint comes from, as a result of the aforementioned reasons, a desire to have a clear and standardised communication system, whereas a lot of other media have less linear ways of engaging with the viewer. Therefore I found it quite degrading and tough when I would communicate ideas and then follow it up with, ‘and I’d love to make this into a painting’, which would be met with a wholly astonished and slightly disgusted ‘why on earth would you do that?!’

The sad irony about this is that there was no way I would’ve been interested in art to the extent I was if I didn’t go to a Pre- Raphaelite exhibition at Tate Britain about a decade ago. White painters painting white people inspired by white literature caused me to catch the ‘painting bug’, an inspiration and a desire to communicate emotionally loaded stories that had implicitly fuelled the obsession and interest all the way to higher education: a white institutional space that was reluctant to support that type of work. I understand that contemporary art has infinite forms.

If one wants to take a political standpoint about the importance of black lives, then they don’t need to make paintings. However, black people growing up with a British-art historical education are going to feel duty-bound to replicate what they have seen in order to be heard critically, due to the deficit of the luxury of means of communication that white people are privileged with, and I don’t think this is a dynamic that many tutors in art school are aware of. It’s a very subtle and implicit dynamic, but if there’s more education for tutors working in that space there could definitely be more assimilation between artists, perhaps even with unknown cultural biases, and the work that they make, so that they are empowered, rather than embarrassed, to try creating work in new ways.

The Poor Print

Established in 2013, The Poor Print is the student-run newspaper of Oriel College, Oxford, written by members of the JCR, MCR, SCR and staff. New issues are published fortnightly during term. Our current Executive Editors are Siddiq Islam and Jerric Chong.

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