The Politics of Inevitability and the Art Education

Photograph: ©JStadnicki, 2018

There is no way one can observe the social transformations within a community and society without resorting to strong political clues in order to understand the sources of those transformations. And clearly, when things go wrong, we blame the politics, the legislators, the government. But when the political sphere moves away from the reality of the working and the middle classes, the laws and the policies have no real impact on the wide majority. The decision-making groups have little will to support change and the economic downturn Britain has been experiencing for over a decade seems to move towards a silent collapse. And nobody appears to take responsibility. The blame placed on the government rules like a shadow, hiding underneath the roots of bad financial decisions, personal greed and managerial incompetence.

Let’s consider the situation the art sector is in at the moment.  The issue came into focus with the news of the devastating fire which, this second time, damaged the Glasgow School of Art beyond repair. There you have £35m down the drain, or rather turned to ashes, and everybody is powerlessly looking at the building asking, with disbelief, ‘how could this be possible’. The fate of the Glasgow School of Art seems, for now at least, sealed by confusion and uncertainty. Who is to blame this time?

Extrapolating the Glasgow tragedy, who is to blame for the uncertain fate of hundreds of art schools across the country slowly but surely decapitated by unachievable targets and percentages? We are looking at another type of devastating fire slowly cooking to ashes the art sector, in general, and the art education, in particular. The drive to achieve the funding targets, the attendance and the achievement rates, the literacy and the numeracy benchmarks. What do they all mean? Certainly, they mean nothing to those involved in the art sector (students, artists, writers, musicians, teachers) but mean everything to those in charge to justify the bureaucracy which supports their livelihoods and to satisfy the pleiades of regulators and inspectors. The focus of this type of education is not the youth’s creativity but to produce a nation of self-absorbed adults ready to slot into whatever social square has been allocated to them as soon as they joined the education system.

And here we face again another type of politics. The ‘politics of inevitability’ as Snyder eloquently describes it, which makes the art education vulnerable and a victim of the constantly expanding globalisation. Since the mid ‘80s, the way we talk about art has fundamentally changed as well as the way the education system works to serve the economy, under the bright colours of neoliberalism.  And, one would say, what is the problem with that? The education and the arts remain the essential social institutions within a healthy society and preserve what we call our ‘decency’. They remain our ‘sane barometer’ if you like, which support the configuration of our future and the values this future will act upon.

I remember a recent conversation I had with a head of school who recognised that things have taken a turn for the worse, with the Brexit uncertainty looming, but, as he said, ‘what can one do against a whole government, with a mortgage to pay?’ And here we are again in the blaming game equation. The well-suited head back in his leather chair, the young artist back revising for another maths test. New financial cuts are drowning the hope of an economic recovery and the silence of those suffering its effects sounds more and more like a resigned agreement. Not once we feel that the history allows us to see patterns and to understand that action is a possibility. History permits us, ‘to be responsible; not for everything, but for something’ as the poet Czeslaw Milosz said. This responsibility has always worked against loneliness and indifference.

©Maria Stadnicka, June 2018, Gloucestershire, UK

 

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Photography: ©John Stadnicki, 2018

Thought

Tomorrow will come with a sunny spell,

the rain will stop at the border so

we will begin the long-waited rebellion,

as they say,

at the right moment.

 

To satisfy our need for greatness,

we will politely ask the just questions and

sit on the pew

in return for the hand-written answer.

 

We will finally go home,

or so we believe,

to master the only remedy left for pain – patience.

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Photograph: @John Stadnicki, ‘Street Cafe’

Thought

In a country where all books are forbidden,

the hurricane spits out a new world

with a new legacy of destruction.

People stop by the house with a light on and a blue door,

the house with boarded-up windows where

the mandolin player keeps an eye

on his own basement revolution.

These are the days when the truth learns to

travel on cigarette papers, between prison cells,

before the police arrives

to evacuate.

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Ink on paper: ‘Fisherman’, Maria Stadnicka

Exile

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Witness to a repeated history

in exile I learn a new language

facing the border control

at Heathrow Airport I wear my mother’s coat

ready for a winter of politics

when I need to

I keep my mouth shut I change my name

to look just like her

white and uncomfortable

the blinding sun has been washed and

smells of violets

people are happy

in such a beautiful land

nobody minds me

amongst

wrapped-well-packed boxes

brushing the dust off velvet cutlery

the only remains

of life before baptism.

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photographs: copyright@John Stadnicki, 2016

On the Treadmill

I have come to recognise God in a violent song,

played in the evening with broken forks and knives.

If I refuse to kneel, the winter starts at the end of September,

on Tuesdays, when I pass by the Jewish quarters.

My road to confession starts, just the same, in the morning chill.

The stones, the trees, the sky have a message,

of that I am certain, arrived at the wooden door of the hermitage.

And I knock and I knock.

A raven finally opens the white background.

The raven says with calculated words that, at present,

this government is busy.

Important wars need attending, in a land like no other.

I am given a form and I hear the padlocks.

I jump on the treadmill to keep warm.

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Photo: copyright@John Stadnicki, 2016

Of Hats and Social Change

It might be that the Panama Papers will become as iconic in history as the fashionable Ecuadorian ‘panama hat’; a striking and a bit ostentatious item, which everybody wants but nobody knows how to properly wear it. Not in Britain. For obvious climatic restrictions.

 

However though, on Monday morning, Britain received such a hat, delivered by the mediatic postal service, whilst not wide awake yet, post Easter holiday, when the weather forecast was not that brilliant anyway. Would it worth the bother, for the sake of seven or eight hours of sunshine a week? Should it return to sender and have the money back?

 

The British rich and the poor found out, with some surprise, that once they had signed for the goods, the sender remained unknown. And, as the box opened, millions of other items emerged. Things which we all ‘kind of’ knew about, but wished we hadn’t. The truth.

 

The shock of discovering your master licking his honey smeared fingers in your own pantry. The shock of being discovered and still trying to say ‘sorry it won’t happen again’ type of thing.

 

In a society where the wealth and the poverty cohabit undisturbed, in their own universe, parallel with each other, it becomes increasingly difficult to formulate an opinion about social injustice, corruption, and privileged few. Almost impossible to do something about it. This explains the public opinion’s delayed reaction to the recent ‘Panama Papers’. But does it justify it? And even if, let’s say, something could be done about it, what resolution would not involve fundamental change and transformation, on both sides?

 

Given the realities of international and national politics, each of us is, to some extent, victim of conflicting demands between truth and power. Observers of social reality, rather than makers of it. Furthermore, the unfortunate circumstances, which define the current trends, deepen in a climate where radical thinking and critical debate do not address the core values on which we built our social structures and institutions.

 

With the current revelations in mind, it is rather justifiable, once more, the duty to bring in focus the possibility of change, which, ‘to some extent’, comes from our desire ‘to create the future rather than merely observe the flow of events. Given the stakes, it would be criminal to let real opportunities pass unexplored.’ (Noam Chomsky, 2014, ‘A Genuine Movement for Social Change’)

 

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