Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Who Puts An Art School In Corner Brook?

Can someone please explain how this came about? I guess it was before my time or whatever, but I've always wondered how the idea of having Memorial's art school in Corner Brook was taken seriously in the first place, and how, in the name of all that's holy, it actually happened.

At the EVA Awards, it was mentioned that Mary Pratt had a hand in the school being there, but who else is to blame? Surely it wasn't just her.

I just can't imagine, say, Garry Neil Kennedy taking over NSCAD in 1969 and moving the school to, like, Pictou, a small town in rural Nova Scotia. It's baffling.

In my experience, very few graduates from SWGC have a grasp of contemporary work, art history, or theory of any kind. It's like they've been told that none of that is very important, and upon graduating carry around a resentment of challenging contemporary work... as if it's all bullshit or something.

I just don't get it.

I mean, I think part of the problem for visual artists in this province is how divided we are. In St. John's, there's the Rooms, two Artist Run Centres, numerous commerical galleries, film and video production houses and a shit-load of other cultural instituions that are constantly producing work. And the art school, the place where our younger artists are being trained, where there's (theoretically) a well-spring of energy and excitement , is clear on the other side of the island. How does this make sense?

Please discuss.

20 Comments:

Blogger Mireille Sampson said...

Having no idea what your educational background is...

Is the reason for SWGC students lacking in certain areas (and I can't comment much on that as I know only a few, though I will say I respect the work and did not find those particular artists lacking) because it's a school in a small town or because it's not a great school? Perhaps it's just a matter of the laws of averages: not that many graduates are going to be great artists - and certainly not in the early years after graduation.

I worked in an art supply store across the road from ECIADM and I found not only many students lacking, but many instructors as well: there was a photographer teaching painting; I had more than one instructor visiting the store who had less than the basic grip on colour theory; a master printer resigned in disgust and they seem to be on the road to eliminating printmaking - yet ECIADM is supposed to be this great school in a major city with artist-run centres, two printshops (next to ECIADM no less), numerous commercial art galleries and then there's the major provincial public gallery.

Art history is what euro vacations are for;)

6:20 PM  
Blogger Jennifer B. said...

Well, one thing I heard over and over again while I was at Grenfell was that it's great to be located on the west coast because it's free of so many outside influences. I guess that's true to some extent, but, hey, we have the internet now.

I personally think highly of most of the instructors at the school (some of whom have been there since the beginning).
As for the students' lack of knowledge of art history and contemporary art, I'd have to disagree somewhat; although, there was much more emphasis on the History rather than the Contemporary.

I think one problem is that lots of graduates who move to/back to St. John's after graduation feel separated from the art community in the city (not surprisingly) and perhaps feel too intimidated or something to break in themselves. Then too many of them end up working at call centres :/

On a side note, I took up downhill skiing while living in Corner Brook, and that was awesome.

7:11 PM  
Blogger JustinBathurst said...

From what I understand it was a political decision to help spread the university's offerings to the other coast. I think it was probably both positive and negative. Positive: isolation and freedom from most of the cloud of Newfoundland Nationalist Art Doom & Gloom, as well as the 'scene' in St. John's. Negative: isolation from the 'scene' in St. John's.

But hey, as for the note about the graduates, I can say similar things about grads from NSCAD, OCAD, or AnyCAD. I also don't lay blame for any lack of understanding or lack of interest in any subject at the feet of the teachers... the students are responsible for taking charge of their learning.

5:18 AM  
Blogger Mireille Sampson said...

Yes, Justin, the students are responsible for their learning - which is why they pay tuition which pays for the teachers salaries.

I dropped out (not from SWGC) after a year because i had what I wanted out of it and knew how to go about finishing my ed on my own. Anyone who graduates college will continue to learn (hopefully) for the rest of their lives, but they need a foundation. If the students were supposed to be teaching themselves they wouldn't owe their firstborn to student aid.

And what exactly do you say about a college teacher who buys a computer-ink generated colour wheel in order to teach herself the colour theory she needs to teach her painting class? Or the college teacher who asks the store clerk the question: do you think it would be any different for my students to paint on a coloured surface than a white one? I don't expect them to know everything, but some basics would help.

Lack of interest is entirely a student problem.

Jennifer, I've known townies who never lived anywhere else to have a difficult time breaking in with the local arts crowd. Like many clubs, they can be snobs and cannibals just as much as they can be a supportive network; they're a type of gatekeeper.

11:17 AM  
Blogger Omar Badrin said...

I enjoyed my years in Corner Brook but it didn’t help me as a student being there. I’d have to agree with points Craig made on the potential opportunities that St. John’s would present Fine Art students. When I would return to the east coast after each semester I was dying to look at art in Artist Run Centers and commercial galleries and it’s not like St. John’s was a hub for great contemporary art but there were still things happening. How many commercial galleries or Artist Run Centers are in Corner Brook now? From what I recall there aren’t that many.

3:12 PM  
Blogger JustinBathurst said...

I understand all of what each of you are saying, but I'm just trying to think through the reality of the situation. The art school is in Corner Brook, and not in St. John's. Before that, the college art school (in CNA) was (and still is) in Stephenville, and not in St. John's. I can't speak to the quality of the education coming out of Grenfell's (or CNA's) art school because I did not go there for my education. But still--the art school is likely not going to move anytime soon.

But again--we're all still largely self-made. I have found throughout my time as an artist that people without an interest in contemporary art rarely 'find' this interest simply via education. I don't think that Grenfell is the problem regarding a lack of interest here in NL in contemporary art, which I've keenly felt as much in St. John's as anywhere else in this province. Remember--the grads are just as likely to be from the outports as anywhere else. Could this lack of interest reflect something broader in the province? Perhaps it's not visible to most what the relevance of contemporary art is to the place where they come from?

Regarding the artist-run centres, etc.--without living and working in Corner Brook, how easily can anyone say that there's no contemporary art activity to speak of occuring that would be at least on par with having a single Artist-Run Centre? I'm sure that there are people in Corner Brook trying to change this situation. Not to mention that many international artists make their homes in smaller communities outside of larger centres (I'm thinking mostly of Giuseppe Penone, David Nash, hermen devries, etc.)

Don't take what I'm saying strongly--I'm certainly no expert on the good and bad of Grenfell and it's grads. I'm just suspicious of the idea that the problem is the school or its location. I don't see any problem with the art school being located far away from the provincial centre. Sackville is no burgeoning city either, but Mount Allison and Struts have been quite a big deal for NB as a whole, with quite a bit of support locally. I think the 'support' might be more the problem than anything else. And the support doesn't seem to be coming very strongly from most of the province for contemporary art.

12:49 PM  
Blogger Steve Topping said...

struts seems to have the perfect storm... and that has almost never happened.
-Not Halifax
-On the road to many places,
-centre of the three provincices
-etc

Maybe let grenfell do it's thing and try to open another one in StJohn's. The craft school anybody? It would be great to open an urban school for contemporary pratices.

Oh but it seems StJohn's is not so able to support the only (remotely contemporary) artist centre in the whole province.... Eastern Edge.

Still an art school in StJohn's is an idea with much more potential than Corner Brook. Corner Brooke is cute and all but who the hell goes there on purpose. Now I'm talking people who make an art school relevent.
-Teachers (talented are more likely to want to live in StJohn's)(hey I bet the profs at Grenfell have this thought often)
-Guests and Lectures (would rather go to StJohn's
-Students(hey what about offering a programme like Dawson City Yukon. Offer to train foundation year kids for other schools. That would help with financing the rest.

StJohn's has the eye of the world (well part of it) and people want to go there. It is a great city... worthy of it's own cultural educator.

4:43 AM  
Blogger JustinBathurst said...

I guess what I'd rather see happen would be that Grenfell become something along the lines of Black Mountain College in North Carolina... progressive, relatively isolated in a mostly rural setting, and cutting edge. The theatre school has accomplished so much, and perhaps the fine art school has yet to come into its own. I'd like to think that the Black Mountain example has the potential to happen in this province, even if the possibility does seem remote at times.

I know it's asking a lot from Newfoundland & Labrador, but things need to also happen outside of St. John's. People often forget that even a place like Toronto is carried on the back of an enormous hinterland of resources (which includes people, who have largely been purged into Toronto over the years, bringing their cultural background with them as a resource), without which it couldn't continue. Ontario is overrun with options for art school. Newfoundland & Labrador is smaller, but perhaps Steve is right... another art school would likely mean more options and a little friendly competition.

11:15 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'll take a bit of an opposing view here and say it is totally the school and education provided by the teachers that will influence what kind of artists are turned out. Nobody has to like the products of contemporary art. The students reactions to contemporary art in england (that craig mentioned) sounds like ignorance above anything else. You need an understanding of critical theory to be constructively critical of it. Although you will not die without it, you will stand a better chance of survival in an art world built on it. As for isolating students from art while attending an art school? This seems like an absurd thing to be called beneficial. St. John's is not New York. Students in St.John's would not be overwhelmed and over stimulated by the sheer volume of art and trends taking place unable to gain a solid grip on reality.
My advice would be to lengthen the program since it isn't moving anywhere anytime soon. This would help them to make the connections from past art to present. perhaps the weeding out of some uninspired teachers is in order.
Of course there will probably be some romantic opposition to this point of view, the artists that want to widdle away on a piece of wood in some far off place. But I say at least give these students a choice in the matter.

10:00 PM  
Blogger JustinBathurst said...

Anonymous, I never said anything about Black Mountain College in North Carolina being New York either. And it wasn't just a 'retreat' from New York. North Carolina is a completely different world than New York (city and state, which are just as different in themselves). Just like Canada's 'scene' isn't only Toronto, the USA's 'scene' isn't only New York. I bring up Black Mountain College because it's an interesting example of what can happen when you combine the very elements that are being criticized in the case of Corner Brook and the art school there. Just like you mention... imagine weeding out the uninspired (students and teachers, I think) and you have a lot of potential.

That said, I agree wholeheartedly that art students need to understand critical theory in order to constructively criticize it. But let's not confuse that with location. Understanding can occur without being in St. John's.

10:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

hey justin,
sorry to make that comment seem directed towards your black mountain college idea. that's not correct. That sounds pretty cool actually. Somebody mentioned needing to avoid the influence of St.John's art and artists while attending school- that being the great reason for west coast location. This is a little silly. St.John's is practically as small - not like New York or a large center where a new student might become overwhelmed. The filtering process would be alot more difficult and it would be harder to see the good from the bad that's out there. These larger centers seem to be a good location to be around if you are continuing on to grad school. You will hopefully have a better grasp on what is taking place having had an education.. it is why i feel a good education is needed, but that, technically, could happen anywhere.

1:24 PM  
Blogger JustinBathurst said...

Craig,
Well I certainly can't argue with any of that. I have absolutely no idea about the inner workings of Grenfell. If that's the way things are, it's a sad situation to be in. I know I've heard similar rumblings through the grapevine, albeit from other departments speaking about Fine Arts. But I can't believe that the entire faculty would be that way. I hope it's just a case of one or two bad apples (spoiling the whole damn bunch?)...

One comment I will make is: I think it's perhaps time to think about offering an MFA program of some kind in NL, if only to make sure that NLers have more incentive to remain here and, potentially (because it doesn't really guarantee it) teach here as well.

Perhaps over time some of these problems will be overcome. But, hell, I don't know. :)

2:21 PM  
Anonymous le ranter said...

Perhaps weighing in a little late here, but as a past grenfell student having just recently been informed of this website, and now discovering this discussion, I felt compelled to comment. Like Omar, I enjoyed my years in Corner Brook, and personally I wouldn’t trade them for anything. Don’t get me wrong, as a city, CB can stink-literally, and there’s hardly a thriving art community there. I too have often lamented over the location of the school, but I really feel than like with anything I guess, you take away from an experience, what you put into it. I was often baffled at some fellow students’ general disdain for contemporary art, but I never saw the school as a cause for this. Grenfell does perhaps fail in never really pushing all of its students toward contemporary practice as a whole, but I think the teachers, like the students, work with what they get. I think some people go off to learn landscaping painting, and the corresponding printmaking skills for future reproduction of their landscape paintings, and when they realize that it’s not that kind of art school they either drop out, or just make due and play along as best they can, with the occasional moans and a general disinterest in contemporary art. Although annoying to share a studio with at times, they never stopped me from getting what I wanted out of the programme.
So, I don’t know where you get all of your info, but there are some really great profs at Grenfell, and they know which students are really there to learn about and be engaged by art. I had professors who encouraged me to get out and experience contemporary art, to apply for exhibitions in artist-run-centres, who feed me articles on the side, and who were constantly pushing me to open my mind to new art and ideas. And although it may hold varied relevance to some contemporary practices, they also taught (in my case) the essentials of drawing, sculpture, painting, printmaking etc. Which is more than I can say for some other schools, whose BFA grads that I’ve since encountered, didn’t know the technical basics of using the tools to create, -whatever they may be.
During my trip to Harlow, there were a couple of the usual bores who complained, but in my experience, the majority of my group just ate it up. We went to gallery after gallery, art school after art school, and the appetites for contemporary art only grew. Those who didn’t like it, just didn’t like, and not because of any ignorance. They had taken the same classes as the rest of us and had been given the same opportunities, but instead chose to carry on their love affair with more traditional works, that they could more easily equate with their own work. Coming from small town NFLD and having studied in a place like Corner Brook, I appreciated and benefitted from the experiences all the more. I think I took away from the Harlow trip more than the average urban educated art student would have. Probably something to do with sensory deprivation :) The Harlow trip was amazing and I think it is a Grenfell advantage that is often overlooked.
I’ve known tons of Grenfell students and friends even, who continue to whine on about how the school left them unprepared, how shitty all the professors were, and all the same old shit . . . and what I usually have to say is: Did you ask questions? Did you try talking to the profs about art, did you tell them you wanted more, did you go to the visiting artist talks, did you ever even open an art magazine in the four years you were there? Corner Brook is cut off. You know that going in. It’s not a city known for its culture. Sure we didn’t have readily available contemporary art for viewing, so those of us who cared, made our own. Through necessity there comes a stronger desire to create. There really is something to be said for isolation. It provides, . . . something . . . and I’m not even sure if I know what that something is, but perhaps it’s like this, -there is a fuel for creation that exists, that is of a different caliber than that which is found in urban centers. That sounds a bit silly . . . but hey! -I’ve never been known to be profound.
Also, no one at the school ‘taught’ me to have, “a real resentment for St. John’s . . . ” that had been instilled years earlier growing up in rural Newfoundland, which really when you consider it, a majority of the Grenfell students have . . . well, it was like that when I was there anyway. Most people in NFLD probably resent St. John’s for the same reasons a lot of Canadians resent Toronto. I could talk at length about this as well . . . but I’ll spare you.
Sure, students and profs at Grenfell are well aware that there is (and this entire discussion only seems to reiterate this), a lingering resentment amongst the St. John’s arts community over the school being placed in CB, some of which goes back to there being no Newfoundland artists originally hired to teach there (I’ve had several older artists lecture me on the topic ). Yet, it was something I was both encouraged and compelled to overcome. The anti-Grenfell attitude or as I called it “the grenfell curse,” is quite the hurdle, and I, along with many others, have faced it when moving to St. John’s after art school. It initially made me angry, since the students nor the profs, for that matter, chose to build the school where it is, why should they be punished for choosing to study there. Which for most was a decision made simply as a result of not wanting to leave the province to go to university.
Like someone said here, the school’s probably not moving anytime soon. I think people need to get over this, and offer the students an olive branch. Encourage more exchange/dialogue, between the school and the St. John’s arts community. The students have it hard enough, going to art school in a town that doesn’t support them. It would be nice to have the support of the province’s only concentrated arts community.
Also, if anyone moves to an urban centre...from anywhere..and are baffled by what they see in the galleries...that's their own damn fault. Last time I checked Grenfell wasn't in a cave. Who are these whiners. I'm actaully usually proud of having gone to Grenfell, it's my fellow alumni that make me wish I had transferred schools. It's them not the school that make us both look bad.
Anyway, I can rant on about this for hours, I’ll quit before it’s too late. I tend to talk in circles.

5:33 PM  
Blogger craigfrancis said...

le ranter,

Beautiful. Thanks for such a well considered and intelligent response.

I wish everyone ranted this succinctly.

5:50 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

le ranter,
good to read from an art student who went there. I made a couple comments based on what was said earlier. And i feel that there needs to be more dialogue between artists in a way that doesn't alienate people right off the bat. I'm glad not everyone has such a contempt for the art that was seen on your trip. I still contend that doing an undergrad in a huge center would have too many negative affects on someone that is not accustomed to being around so much actual art and art practices. It is alot to digest and grasp all at once, it is not really a matter of living in a cave or not. for anyone i think.

10:15 PM  
Blogger JustinBathurst said...

That's great to read, le ranter. You've been able to confirm some of my suspicions for me. I didn't attend Grenfell and have no real 'in' to the school. It's good to hear this side of the story.

4:42 PM  
Anonymous Vanessa wade said...

To Craig and all you other art bloggers out there:We should all stop bitching about the snobby calendar art minded NL art scene and focus on establishing our own.We need to get more people interested.Furthermore,we need to be more creative about promotion of contemporary art.If the old snobs won't let us play in their club house then let's start up our own.I know we have Eastern Edge,but we could have a hell of a lot more if all of us put our heads togather and collaborated.

11:43 AM  
Anonymous Jennifer Pohl said...

I don't have time to read all the comments with a baby waiting for me to nurse, but just had to say corner brook and st. john's were both homes to me and i love them both. Corner Brook was a wonderful place as a student... the seclusion made for a great place to grow.. and i appreciated having a second wellspring to grow and be nurtured as a professional artist. There are many places and faces to this province... not to be glib, but my baby is crying for me now.

Hopefully I will love yellowknife just as much. Not quite Florence or Paris, but just exotic enough, and looking forward to seeing the land the group of seven painted..

all the best... jp.

11:07 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Craig, get over it! St. John"s is not the centre of the universe for art or anything else>

Following through on your theory, we'd be better off moving the art school to the realo hub of the universe---Toronto!

11:55 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Many Moons ago two meetings were held in the Province (one in St.Johns, one in Corner Brook) to see what the public's interest was in having a University Art School in the fore mentioned locals. Less than 30 people showed up to the St.Johns meeting. Almost 300 showed up to the Corner Brook Meeting.
I am a graduate from the Fine Arts program in Corner Brook and am currently living in St. John (where I was born). Is the School or faculty perfect, no, but what is. Gerry Squires went to Art School in Ontario and Christopher Pratt went to Art School in New Brunswick, they have, amongst many others, done pretty good from themselves by being schooled on the mainland. I would certainly identify their artwork with Newfoundland.
With regards to the comment limiting Art History to being the substance of a European Vacation, that's just plain dumb.
People have been shitting on Grenfell's Fine Arts programs before the School was ever opened (A Newfoundland Herald article comes to mind), A well know Newfoundland Actor shat on it as well (His Daughter is currently enrolled in Grenfell's Theater program). I guess people will always shit on it. At least know what you are shitting on
Since the existence of the School in Corner Brook we have finally begun to see the Art's in Newfoundland and Labrador flourish and finally evolve from it's stalemated former self. How much more could the Duckworth St.Baymen recycle the pink white and green, resettlement Curse Of 49 formula.

11:52 PM  

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