For me it has been an extremely interesting experience to see the work of the many artists who are showing in the Ambika P 3 Gallery all of whom I had contact with when they were students.
Before we begin on our discussions I think it is important that we need to register that we are able to have these discussions and to experience all the work in the exhibition because of the efforts of Roderick Coyne who came up with the initial idea for the exhibition and has worked unceasingly in organizing it; without Roderick’s efforts and ideas about the structure it should have, this exhibition would not have taken place. Others who have undertaken crucial roles include Michael Maziere the Curator of the Ambika P 3 Gallery and Carolyne who engaged with many of the organizational and communication problems foe me; we also need to thank Malcolm Le Grice for agreeing to chair this meeting.
I have dealt with at greater length in the catalogue good deal of what I will attempt to refer to this evening, this has to be brief because, as Malcolm has said, there are other members of the panel to speak and after that we need time for a discussion. If one spends most of one’s teaching art one has to give attention to the nature of the subject that one is concerned with and the context within which it is produced and reacted to. A requirement of this kind has very wide-ranging ramifications and leads to a concern with many aspects of experience and behavioral interaction. I think that it could be said that in our everyday behavior we exhibit a desire for a predictable and ordered world, this desire involving a tendency to ignore factors that operate against this notion.
It is not difficult to understand how this tendency has developed. Our perception presents us with information concerning both the spaces we are located in and the various items also present. On this information our reading of space and objects allows us to move effectively and safely in the space and around the objects. We store this type of reading so that it can be utilized again and again; we might call it conceptual indexing. The reactivation of these concepts is of course continual and because they are used in this way they become dominant often making a reading in circumstances where they are totally inappropriate.
Fortunately our behavior is not totally determined in this way, from time to time we find ourselves with intense experiences, sometimes from some aspect of the world that surrounds us and sometimes originating in our own psyche. Often these experiences affect us in a very deep and powerful way and we long for them to be permanent so that they could be relived. This strong desire to be able to return at will to these areas of experience is the motivation for the attempt to produce convincing records of what took place. With this ambition comes the requirement to continually increase the ability to produce adequate depictions of various types of experience. When we speak in this way we are of course concerning ourselves with the nature and purpose of art.
Recalling the powerful incentive in our mental processes to continually strive to recognize, to conceptually index what is before us the question is;--as we enter the world of art, depicting intense experiences, how do we avoid what we produce becoming subject to this tendency.
At this point as I have said on many occasions we need to take a journey back in history and in the Critique of Judgement by Kant we come across some notions that are extremely helpful. Kant says “By aesthetic idea I mean that representation of the imagination that induces much thought but without the possibility of any definite thought whatever i.e. concept being adequate to it and which language can never get on level terms with and render completely intelligible.”
In effect Kant is saying that in a work of art none of its various referents in the powerful group that surround the work must be allowed to become dominant. The experience of the work involves a process in which one, in registering a particular referent one moves towards it with the belief that this is the subject of the work. However as this movement is made, from within the circle another demand is made, then another and another. The structure of the work prevents any single reference being used and conceptually indexed thereby allowing one to relax into the belief that one knows precisely the subject matter of the work. The genuine work of art is experienced as the continual movement across a range of very specific and demanding referents none of which is allowed to become dominant. In a work of art one is confronted with an assembly of factors that are only present in very particular and intense experiences.
This assembly process must itself be subject also to the requirement that it does not provide an opportunity for the components to be easily identified.
To attempt to give some clarity to the point that I am trying to make we need to go back, this time it is recent history. My reference is the work of Cezanne. Cezanne’s work is unique not only in the manner in which he emphasizes the continual movement between the visual gestalts that we become aware of if we decide to look reflectively at the objects and space surrounding us. Cezanne’s paintings require that we look at them intently and register the vigorous demands that the continual assembly and disassembly of the gestalt structures make as our eyes move over the depicted landscapes.
Exciting and demanding as this experience is my reason for referring to Cezanne was the question of the assembly of very divergent factors, this being achieved without the components becoming easily identified. In addition to what has already been referred to. Cezanne was also very concerned with the actual physicality of things, a sense of touch and weight. Blending with his acute visual sensibility there was also an awareness of the haptic and his later pictures blend these factors together without one of them becoming dominant. His work places significant demands on all those concerned with art.
As we look back through history it becomes evident that we at all times should be concerned not with fashion and publicity but with the intricate factors imbedded in all genuine art work.
As I have already said my reference to some of the fundamental issues concerning aesthetics necessarily has had to be brief; we are looking forward now to what other members of the group of the group have to say and then we will move on to the discussion.
We are here to discuss a teaching programme that began here at St. Martins. in 1969 and continued until 1973.
My involvement with St. M’s goes back to 1960 when I was teaching part-time, In 1964 I was offered a full time senior lecturer’s post to run a combined course for first year students from the Sculpture and Painting Departments. The Coldstream reports of 1960 and 1970 required a new broadly based curriculum that included both history and theory. St Martins was refused its first application because it was considered that there was insufficient coordination between Sculpture and Painting. The full-time post that I was offered came with the responsibility to coordinate the study programs of first year students from the Sculpture and Painting Departments. I decided that a joint first year course was the best way of doing this with teaching being undertaken by a number of new part-time tutors who I obtained with Frank Martin’s agreement. The course ran for two years and in my view was very successful but it was then stopped because it began to have an identity of its own; this was not acceptable either to Frederick Gore, the Head of Painting or to Frank Martin the Head of Sculpture. The course was shut down and Frank asked me to become principal organizer and tutor for the one year post graduate Advanced Course and I worked on this until the end of the 1968 academic year.
In the early part of the summer term of that year Frank Martin said that he would like me to consider running the First year Dip AD. course in the Sculpture Dept. In response to this proposal I produced a three page paper outlining some of the issues that I thought would be the basis for any course that I was concerned with organizing.
Obviously a concern with art teaching requires reflection on the context within which art is produced and reacted to. This requirement directs us to give a good deal of thought to many aspects of experience and behavioral interaction that we might otherwise take for granted. In our every day behavior dealing with our environment and all diverse the events that occur in it we normally and necessarily have to use a range concepts that we have formulated throughout the time that we have been conscious The reactivation of these concepts is of course continual and because they are used in this way they tend to become dominant leading us to make interpretations in everyday life that are often not totally appropriate. I tend to use the phrase “conceptual indexing” to refer to a process in which an experience is thought essentially to be about matters that one already has a significant familiarity with and therefore require only limited attention.
Fortunately our behaviour is not totally determined in this way. From time to time we find ourselves with intense experiences, sometimes from an aspect of the physical world and sometimes originating in our own psyche. The diversity and power of these experiences is such that they cannot be subjected to any form of the conceptual indexing that is usual in everyday life.
Throughout history it has been evident that in many cultures the creation of intense experiences to “free” the mind of normal mental processing has been practiced. These matters were very much in my mind when I was having lengthy discussions with Frank Martin on the way the course should be run. The more we discussed the problem the more interested he became in the Course.
At this time I began to have discussions with Garth Evans and Gareth Jones. who worked in the Department on a part-time basis. They had begun to speak about the situation in Art Schools where verbal exchanges predominate at the expense of interaction through actual examples of painting and sculpture. I decided that their concerns had a certain affinity with mine and I proposed to Frank Martin that their days in the Department should used in the Course I was working on. He agreed and we began a lengthy period of discussions during which we worked out an appropriate location for the Course and many of the procedures that would be required to create the conditions necessary if we were to run the Course in the manner we thought appropriate. At this time I obtained Frank Martins agreement for an additional art-time tutor, he agreed and Peter Harvey joined in and soon made extremely useful contributions to the ideas forming the basis of the course.
When I now reflect on many of the ideas that determined the 1964 Degree course that I had been concerned with and the way in which was organized I realize how many of those ideas influenced how the “ Locked Room” Course was run and organized. A significant feature of the 1964 Course had been a focus on the exchange process between teacher and student and in addition regular attendance on the course was required and rigorously enforced and if students failed to sign in by 10:10 they were penalized.
A significant part of the initial projects were concerned with ensuring that students became deeply involved with the material that was provided for them to work with. These projects were being carried out at the time when a good deal of the work that was surfacing in the art world could be characterized by a statement that Sol LeWitt made, he said “the initial idea is the most important factor with the actual materialization of the this idea as something that can be carried out without any further critical engagement.”
This was certainly not the case with the work carried out by the students working on the “materials project” during the first term. They worked intently after they registered how the course operated and it was possible to see them engaging in a great deal of creative discovery.
When the initial first year of the Course was completed my assumption was that they would move on to the second year tutors who would find them able to produce very creative work. It did not turn out like this, the students appeared not to be very impressed with the initial second year project they were given and they redesigned it. This offended the tutors concerned and they complained to Frank Martin that I had made the students un-teachable. Frank was concerned because a number of these second year tutors were well known sculptors; he decided to divide the first year into two sections labeled as A. and B. Students could decide when they were accepted in the Sculpture Dept. which Course to go on. I thought this was a negative move since it gave the students who chose the A Course a chance to conceptually index something of the nature of the Course they were proposing to undertake.
It was this decision to organize teaching in this way that made me decide to leave St Martin’s and I went to teach at the RCA.
Anthony Davies who has recently been employed by CSM to research and establish an archive of St. Martin’s sculpture department’s history, organised a two-day conference entitled “The A Course: An Enquiry” which took place at Central St. Martin’s School of Art on Friday 26th and Saturday 27th March 2010. The conference was held at the Charing Cross Road site in the studio in which the original “Locked Room Course” was conducted in 1970.
The three surviving members of staff responsible for initiating the “Locked Room Course” and subsequently developing the “A” Course, Peter Kardia himself, Garth Evans and Gareth Jones, were invited to form a panel. (Peter Harvey, the fourth member of the team being deceased). There was a large audience formed of some ex-members of staff including Ken Adams and Roderick Coyne as well as many ex-students including some who were featured in the “From Floor to Sky” exhibition as well as many students from the contemporary institution. Among those students who attended from the original “Locked Room” or “Materials Course” were Nicholas May, Peter Venn, Ian Kirkwood, Richard Deacon, John Burke, John Crosley and David Milledge. The event was recorded on video tape. The schedule for the two days was carefully formulated by Anthony Davies in consultation with the panel members over the preceding few weeks. The programme which was strictly adhered to was as follows;
March 26th - 27th 2010
Schedule devised by Garth Evans, Gareth Jones, Peter Kardia and Anthony Davies
The RCA Society will be launching a further ‘From Floor to Sky’ debate at the Royal College of Art. This will be part of the Society’s celebration of the 40th anniversary of ‘RCA Re-Defined’ (‘Yellow Paper’ 1970) and its ongoing series of discussions about the future of art and art education.
Central St. Martin’s, Charing Cross Road
Friday 26th March and Saturday 27th March, 10am-6pm
A forum will be held featuring the surviving members of staff, Garth Evans and Gareth Jones, who with Peter Kardia originated in the sculpture department of St. Martin’s School of Art, the ‘Locked Room Course’ in the academic year of 1970, which in the succeeding year became the ‘A’ Course. The discussion will focus on the teaching legacy of this influential course. It is planned that on the following day, Sunday 28th March, the discussion will move to P3 to review the work featured in the ‘From Floor to Sky’ exhibition.
There is limited capacity at this event, full details at Shaping Sculpture.
Tate Britain Auditorium
Wednesday 10 March, 18.30–20.00
£7 (£5 concessions), booking recommended.
Peter Kardia was a radical and controversial teacher at both Saint Martins and the Royal College of Art during the 1960s and 1970s. Featuring artists and art educators, this discussion will examine contemporary art pedagogy and consider the continued impact of Kardia’s revolutionary innovations.
Speakers: Richard Deacon, Peter Kardia, Jean Matthee and Richard Wentworth. Chaired by Malcolm Le Grice.
Read an article on the talk.