Issue Number: 91
The class of '06
In a class of their own The RA Schools final-year students showcase their art this summer. Here Maurice Cockrill RA, Keeper of the RA Schools, explains what makes the place so special and praises the outgoing graduates
When Sir Joshua Reynolds and a score of his contemporaries founded the Royal Academy of Arts in London in 1768, one of their aims was to foster future generations of British artists. The Royal Academy Schools, which lay at the heart of their new institution, was Britain’s first art school, and it continues to flourish. Today, with its energetic population of students and teachers, the Schools contribute to making the Royal Academy an academy in its truest sense.
What makes the RA programme unique is its free, three-year (rather than the standard two-year) postgraduate degree, and the photos on the following pages celebrate the progress of the third-year students as they prepare work for their degree show. This – the RA Schools Show – has become an annual summer rite. It marks a moment of transition for the students and a chance for the public to glimpse emerging talent.
The three-year course has been in existence continuously since 1918, and allows young artists to realise their creative potential in a way that shorter courses do not permit. Interestingly, when I asked students why the three-year course was so special, they said they recognised its importance in the second year, when perhaps they changed direction or attempted a new idea that didn’t work. That extra year gives them the chance to try and fail and try again; it offers them time and space for reflection and experimentation that is crucial to their development as artists.
Our 60 students are largely from the UK, although a good proportion come from overseas, and together they form a critical mass of diverse young artists. A proportion of the artwork they produce involves newer media, such as photography, video, installation or digital print, these co-existing happily with the so-called traditional forms of painting and sculpture. We intend to revitalise the practice of drawing here and also have plans to redevelop and expand studios and other facilities for students, including a new library, lecture theatre and an exhibition space. Such improvements, as well as running costs and students’ fees, are supported entirely from generous private donations because, unlike other similar establishments, the Schools receive no government funding.
Beyond the curriculum, the RA Schools benefit from the wider community of the RA. Many Academicians participate in the Schools, including the Professor of Painting, John Hoyland, and Sandra Blow, Eileen Cooper, Gus Cummins, Ivor Abrahams and Ian McKeever. Architect RAs such as Ian Ritchie come into the Schools to help students make models and complex structures. Trustees, such as Simon Robertson (now head of Rolls-Royce), give advice on how artists can manage their own businesses, while guest lecturers such as critics Mel Gooding and Tom Lubbock, and dealer Max Wigram, talk to the students about how to survive and thrive in a competitive contemporary art world. Our aim is to prepare students for their future lives as artists. Students also have free access to the RA’s exhibition and general education programme.
A school is the sum of its students and these young people represent its inchoate character, its pace, collective energy and direction – striving, variegated, mutable, but strong and unerring. They are ambitious, but for the work first and foremost, and not for the career, because the latter no one can predict or control. They will create remarkable images and objects, in a sense out of the past, but actually from out of this – their hurtling 21st century. I salute them.
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