Glasgow School of Art

United Kingdom

Critical Speculations on Art School Education



Critical Speculations on Art School Education


In his 2009 book Art School (Propositions for the 21st Century) Steven Henry Madoff affirmed his belief that the art school “lives in a state of exception”. For Madoff, the art school serves as a space outside the realm of the everyday – in which professional, industrial or commercial realities are suspended – and the student-citizen within it enjoys the privilege of their “creative prerogatives over and above the norms outside its walls.” It is an argument that could be applied in varied forms to all forms of higher education.

Some might agree that this is an ideal condition for those with a creative disposition, and research shows that the knowledge, understanding and skills that an art school education imparts are applicable in many different fields, sometimes unrelated to the student’s original subject. A bleaker picture points to dispiriting longitudinal creative and cultural graduate outcome statistics, mounting student debt, and course closures across a range of university arts and humanity departments in the UK, and further afield. These urgent realities cannot be suspended, and as a consequence there continues to be debate about the value and purpose of an art school education.

We take the view that education, and art school education in particular, is part of a broader democratic project, in which one of our goal as educators is to support the development of critical thinking skills, so that students become agents of change (spatial, technological, social, cultural, environmental, political etc.) and active communicative citizens. This conference strand seeks to explore and reflect on the changing role of the art school as a critical space. We invite multiple perspectives on the role, methods and approaches in the education of the arts, design, humanities and social sciences that respond to the following questions:

What is the purpose of an Art School education and how is it cultivated? Can it continue to reside in a state of exception, and what is its future? What makes a critical space in an Art School and related institutions, and how do we support that as educators through our curriculum? What pedagogical strategies are useful to support the critical engagement of students in the arts, humanities and the social sciences? And, following graduation, where is the space for a critical thinker, and is that skill valued?


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Research Context


Glasgow School of Art (GSA) is Scotland’s specialist university-level institution for the visual creative disciplines. GSA was founded in 1845 as one of the first Government Schools of Design and was seen as a centre of creativity promoting good design for the manufacturing industries. GSA’s role has continually evolved and been redefined to reflect the needs of the communities that it is part of, embracing fine art and architecture education in the late 19th century, and today, digital technology. Then, as now, our purpose remains the same – to contribute to a better world through creative education and research.

Glasgow School of Art’s teaching and research is structured around its five academic schools: The Mackintosh School of Architecture, The School of Design, The School of Fine Art, The School of Simulation and Visualisation, and The Innovation School. Glasgow School of Art is a diverse and international community. Through the success of our graduates, the quality of our teaching and research, and our heritage, we enjoy both global significance and influence as a leading centre for studio-based learning and research. Alongside our global position we continue to contribute to Glasgow’s position as one of the UK’s most successful city economies. Central to this contribution are our students, our graduates and our staff – creative practitioners and academics of international and national significance.

It is in this context that Glasgow School of Art rose to rank eighth in the world for art and design in the QS World University Rankings, a position it has sustained in 2020 and 2021.



Jake Jackson, Tutor, Fine Art Photography | Dr. Eleanor Herring, Lecturer, Design History & Theory

More information: Glasgow School of ArtGSA Research

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