Writings and Proposals

The Grit in the Oyster

I teach for a variety of reasons. Throughout my generally unremarkable school days and later whilst at the various art schools I attended, I was fortunate to come under the wings of several inspirational teachers, who encouraged my natural curiosity and enabled me to stretch my imagination and my aspirations. For them, as thanks and in homage, I teach.

A legacy of my education is a genuine concern for the ever-shifting principles of culture in its widest sense, and in this instance particularly, the possible ramifications for its betterment dependent on prevailing theories and practice in art education. Stemming from this preoccupation, I am committed to a role that has evolved unconsciously over time, to that which could be described as a Visiting 'guerrilla' Lecturer. In this role I have been invited into many art schools in the UK and abroad, and into a myriad of 'Departments' including Illustration, Fine Art, Photography, Sculpture, Design, Printmaking, Multimedia and Time Based Media.

In my visits to art schools, ironically perhaps, I aim to constructively 'disturb' the status quo, questioning what I believe to be the existing erroneously guarded philosophies of cultural hierarchies, which pervade within and between Departments and disciplines. These still tend to discourage cross-cultural transactions in favour of an advocacy of invented scales of intrinsic values, ranking some areas of cultural practice as better than others.

Whilst it is rational that the Sciences have established separate areas of research, requiring highly specialised knowledge, accepted rules and specific tools, in which the 'known' is examined, tested and debated, such segregation is an anathema to the Arts. In the Arts there is no over-arching paradigm guiding us, instead the ideal is the exploration of the non-prescriptive, the unknown and the conjectured.

Following these principles, one of my primary concerns as a teacher is to connect with students as distinct individuals, no matter their apparent philosophical camp or their adopted technique or tool-based discipline. I am interested in investigating the possible within their intuitive and intellectual characteristics and in encouraging them to acquire the appropriate skills necessary for their ideas to be realised successively. Given that an idea precedes its making, I attempt to emphasise the need for a rigourous and critical approach in organising their ideas and research whilst also considering the possibility of materials used as being potential, signifiers, having a meaningful correspondence to an idea, symbolically, metaphorically and associatively.

Generally teaching or mentoring is extremely stimulating. It is made even more rewarding when witnessing a student's unfolding as s/he becomes thoroughly engaged in her/his subject, with confidence growing, sparking with previously unseen and unimagined energy, discovering a truly personal visual and conceptual language. Being a part of this enabling process is gratifying and on numerous occasions is an emotionally uplifting experience.

As a practising artist who necessarily works alone for most of the time, teaching part-time allows me to enjoy a healthy symbiosis between students and their interests and my diverse professional activities. Students' works naturally tends to reflect their cultural milieu, which inspires and informs me as much as I hope my work and ideas may galvanise them.

Making correlative links between the two encourages further explorations through a dialogue of equality. Art schools, despite some devastating changes imposed on them over the last couple of decades, are still bastions of individuality, innovation and real richness of choice. They are necessary hothouses of cultural diversity, where experiments of surrender to the possible can be fostered, bypassing the prescribed of the everyday; where boundaries and rules may be shifted or abandoned and where ideas, be they vague, complicated, unknowable or not yet imagined, are allowed to flourish. To this end, and as long as I am invited to teach, I will continue contributing to this evolving of culture as does the grit in the oyster.

Russell Mills
Visiting Tutor

Written for the catalogue of 'Meta Metier (Teaching and Practice)', a touring exhibition by staff at the Department of Visual Communication, Glasgow School of Art.
The Glasgow School of Art and New School University, Parsons School of Design, New York. 10/03/01 - 11/09/01 - part of the "UK in NY Festival".










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